Since 1926, Congress
has enacted three major laws that govern labor-management relations for private
sector and federal employees. An issue for Congress is the effect of these laws
on employers, workers, and the nation’s economy. The Bureau of Labor
Statistics estimates that, nationwide, 9.2 million employees are
represented by unions. In the 112th Congress alone, more than 30 bills
have been introduced to amend federal labor relations statutes. The proposals
range from making union recognition without a secret ballot election
illegal to further modifying runoff election procedures. This legislative
activity, and the significant number of employees affected by federal
labor relations laws, illustrate the current relevance of labor relations
issues to legislators and their constituents.
The three major labor relations statutes in the United States are the Railway
Labor Act, the National Labor Relations Act, and the Federal Service
Labor-Management Relations Statute. Each law governs a distinct population
of the U.S. workforce.
The Railway Labor Act (RLA) was enacted in 1926, and its coverage extends to
railway and airline carriers, unions, and employees of the carriers. The
RLA guarantees employees the right to organize and collectively bargain
with their employers over conditions of work and protects them against
unfair employer and union practices. It lays out specific procedures for
selecting employee representatives and provides a dispute resolution
system that aims to efficiently resolve labor disputes between parties,
with an emphasis on mediation and arbitration. The RLA provides multiple
processes for dispute resolution, depending on whether the dispute is based on
a collective bargaining issue or the application of an existing collective
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was enacted in 1933. The NLRA’s
coverage extends to most other private sector businesses that are not
covered by the RLA. Like the RLA, the NLRA guarantees employees the right
to organize and collectively bargain over conditions of employment and
protects them against unfair employer and union activities. However, its
dispute resolution system differs from the RLA’s in that it is arguably
more adversarial in nature; many disputes are resolved through
adjudication, rather than through mediation and arbitration.
The Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (FSLMRS) was enacted in
1978, and its coverage extends to most federal employees. The basic
framework of the FSLMRS is similar to that of the NLRA; however, employee
rights are more restricted under the FSLMRS, given the unique nature of
their employer, the federal government. Federal employees have the right to organize
and collectively bargain, but they cannot bargain over wages or strike.
Additionally, the President has the power to unilaterally exclude an
agency or subdivision from coverage under the FSLMRS if he determines that
its primary work concerns national security.
This report provides a brief history and overview of the aims of each of these
statutes. It also discusses key statutory provisions for each statute.
Date of Report: May 11, 2012
Number of Pages: 51
Order Number: R42526
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