Featherbedding and the National Labor Relations Act Of 1935
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was passed in 1935 to promote the rights of workers and to encourage collective bargaining. The NLRA was amended in 1947 by the Taft-Hartley Act. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was created by Congress to enforce the NLRA. The NLRB may order violators of the NLRA to stop their illegal activities. The NLRB may also direct the offender to provide relief, such as rehire, to the employees or entities harmed by the wrongful actions. Both labor unions and employers may be guilty of unfair labor practices under the NLRA.
Featherbedding occurs whenever a labor union requires an employer to hire more employees than is necessary to perform a particular job. It also occurs when employees who are no longer needed are required by the union to be retained or when unions demand that employers hire workers who are overqualified for a particular position.
The NLRA and Featherbedding
The NLRA specifically forbids labor organizations from causing or attempting to cause employers to pay money for anything of value, in the nature of an exaction, for services which are not performed or are not to be performed. Such activities are considered unfair labor practices under the NLRA.
Although this provision was designed to counteract featherbedding, it has been construed narrowly by the courts. The United States Supreme Court has declared that the provision is so narrow because Congress found it “difficult to define with more particularity just where the area between shiftlessness and overwork should lie.”
Consequently, the NLRA limits only those situations where a labor union exacts pay from an employer in return for services not performed or not to be performed. If work is actually done by an employee, with the employer’s consent, the union may demand that the employee be compensated for the time spent doing the work, even if fewer employees could have done the work as well in the same amount of time. Such demands are not, according to the United States Supreme Court, unfair labor practices under the NLRA.
The NLRA is, instead, designed to forbid blatant featherbedding situations where, for example, a labor union informs an employer that it must hire eight people and that if it hires only six, it must pay for the additional two employees anyway. Only this type of featherbedding is proscribed by the NLRA. Where an employer is required to pay employees for work that it did not need, so long as the employer approved the work and the employees completed the work, the featherbedding provision of the NLRA is not violated.
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