What are the differences between the Railway Labor Act and the National Labor Relations Act?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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There were many similarities between the two laws. Both laws were intended to bring about labor peace. The Railway Labor Act, passed in 1926, established a procedure for labor disputes to follow in an effort to avoid work stoppages. The first step in the procedure was to conduct a series of conferences between labor representatives and management. If these failed, the dispute would go before an adjustment board, which would make a decision that both parties would recognize as binding. Railroads found plenty of loopholes in the law, however, and still managed to avoid negotiations with anyone other than "company unions," organizations that they basically controlled.

The National Labor Relations Act, also known as the Wagner Act, was a central component to Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. It went far past the Railway Labor Act in that it specifically recognized the right of all workers in industries involved in interstate commerce to form unions. This basically did away with the "company union" that survived under the Railway Labor Act. Management was, by law, obliged to negotiate with unions, which would be chosen to represent workers in an election by secret ballot. The National Labor Relations Board, previously powerless, was reorganized with a tremendous amount of power, including the ability to subpoena different parties in labor disputes. The law passed with overwhelming support in the Democrat-dominated Congress, and FDR, who had initially opposed the measure, signed it into law in 1935.

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