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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Federal Labor Relations Statutes: An Overview

Alexandra Hegji
Analyst in Social Policy

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 bargaining agreement.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was enacted in 1935. 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: July 16, 2012
Number of Pages: 51
Order Number: R42526
Price: $29.95

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