The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project is a university-chartered research center associated with the Department of History of The George Washington University

The George Washington University

The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project
Teaching Eleanor Roosevelt Glossary

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), also known as the Wagner Act, passed through Congress in the summer of 1935 and became one of the most important legacies of the New Deal. Reversing years of federal opposition to organized labor, the statute guaranteed the right of employees to organize, form unions, and bargain collectively with their employers. It assured that workers would have a choice on whether to belong to a union or not, and promoted collective bargaining as the major way to insure peaceful industry-labor relations. The act also created a new National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to arbitrate deadlocked labor-management disputes, guarantee democratic union elections, and penalize unfair labor practices by employers. The law applied to all employers involved in interstate commerce other than airlines, railroads, agriculture, and government.

The act contributed to a dramatic surge in union membership and made labor a force to be reckoned with both politically and economically. Women benefitted from this shift as well, and, by the end of the 1930s, 800,000 women belonged to unions, a threefold increase over 1929.

ER was an outspoken advocate for labor and a champion of the Wagner Act. She defended it in her columns, press conferences, and lecture tours. In 1947, when the Taft-Hartley Act was passed, it successfully killed the NLRB and replaced it with a new five-member board whose mandate was of far less value to labor than that of its predecessor. ER denounced Taft-Hartley and the conservatives seeking to undo the New Deal's pro-labor policies. In the September 1, 1950 issue of The Advance (the newspaper of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America), ER stated that "instead of clamping down on the labor movement, Americans' should be extremely grateful to unions.'"


Black, Allida M. Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996, 79.

Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume Two, 1933-1938. New York: Viking Press, 1999, 266.

"Fact Sheet on the National Labor Relations Board." United States National Relations Board. Internet on-line. Available from

Graham, Otis L., Jr., and Meghan Robinson Wander. Franklin D. Roosevelt, His Life and Times. New York: Da Capo Press, 1985, 275.

Norton, Mary Beth, et al. A People and A Nation: A History of the United States. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001, 712.