by Melanie Sandoval
When Franklin Delano Roosevelt assumed the Presidency for the first time in 1933, the United States was in the depths of one of the worst economic depressions it had experienced. Roosevelt knew that in order to relieve the suffering of the American people, great strides needed to be taken to improve the economy and boost the morale of the country. In order to accomplish this goal, he instituted the New Deal Program that focused on “the three R’s”: relief, recovery, and reform. Although he believed that his plan would benefit every citizen of the United States, many questioned whether his so-called “expansionist” programs were constitutional. One of Roosevelt’s main reform policies that came under question was the National Labor Relations Act (1935). Also known as the Wagner Act, this unprecedented piece of legislation fought to form a better relationship between labor and management (Roosevelt 1).
The central purpose of the National Labor Relations Act was to encourage the “self-organization of employees…for the purpose of collective bargaining” (Roosevelt 1). It was designed to foster the “development of the employment contract on a sound and equitable basis…to remove one of the chief causes of wasteful economic strife, and…for every worker…freedom of choice and action which is justly his” (Roosevelt 1). In addition, the National Labor Relations Board was established to “oversee the regulation” of the National Labor Relations Act and “from time to time…make, amend, and rescind…rules and regulations as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of this Act” (United States 3-4). While Roosevelt acknowledged that the Act would not be able to end all labor disputes, he firmly believed that it would serve as a critical step toward a better relationship between management and the work force (1).
The bulk of the National Labor Relations Act focused on the protection of employee rights and the elimination of unfair labor practices. The Act guaranteed employees the “right to self-organization, to form, join or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining” (United States 5). Along these lines, the Act deemed it necessary to prevent unfair labor practices in order to ensure that commerce went unobstructed. Some of the practices included preventing the application of certified employee rights, refusing to bargain collectively, and interfering “with the formation or administration of any labor organization” (United States 1-5).
Although most workers supported the National Labor Relations Act, the majority of employers fought against it, hoping that the Supreme Court would deem it unconstitutional. In the case of the National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. (1937), the employers’ main argument was that “the Wagner Act violates the Tenth Amendment in attempting to regulate interstate activities…, [violates] the Fifth Amendment by depriving employers arbitrarily of the freedom of contract…, and [violates] the guarantee of freedom provided by the First Amendment” (“The Wagner Act” 1). In the end, however, the Supreme Court ultimately upheld the constitutionality of the Wagner Act, a decision that was a decisive moment for American political and economic spheres (Waltman 1).
While the National Labor Relations Act still had a long uphill battle to fight, it proved vital to America’s labor force. Without this piece of legislation, unions would not have organized and formed into the driving force they became in the corporate decision-making process. This Act formed the backbone of the rights of workers and, although it was later amended in 1947 by the Labor Management Relations Act, it is still in effect to this day (United States 3). This one reform embodied Roosevelt’s hope for a better employer-employee relationship and was an important step toward a brighter future for the American people.
Roosevelt, Franklin Delano. “Franklin Roosevelt’s Statement on the National Labor Relations Act (The Wagner Act).” Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum – Our Documents. National Archives and Records Administration in collaboration with Marist College and IBM. 1 Feb. 2006 <http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/odnlrast.html>.
“The Wagner Act.” New York Times. 9 Mar. 1937: 1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times. ProQuest. Marymount U Lib., Arlington, VA. 2 Feb. 2006 <http://www.proquest.com/>.
United States. Natl. Archives and Records Administration. Transcript of National Labor Relations Act (1935). 2 Feb. 2006 <http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?doc=67&page=transcript>.
Waltman, Franklyn. “Politics and People: Wagner Labor Act Decisions Seen as Turning Point in United States History.” The Washington Post. 13 Apr. 1937: 1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers The Washington Post. ProQuest. Marymount U Lib., Arlington, VA. 2 Feb. 2006 <http://www.proquest.com/>.