The National Labor Relations Act is the primary law governing relations between unions and employers in the private sector. The statute guarantees the right of employees to organize and to bargain collectively with their employers or to refrain from all such activity. Generally applying to all employers involved in interstate commerce--other than airlines, railroads, agriculture, and government--the Act implements the national labor policy of assuring free choice and encouraging collective bargaining as a means of maintaining industrial peace. Through the years, Congress has amended the Act and both the National Labor Relations Board and courts have developed a body of law drawn from the statute.
In 2003, 12.9 percent of wage and salary workers were union members, down from 13.3 percent in 2002 according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of persons belonging to a union fell by 369,000 over the year to 15.8 million in 2003. The union membership rate has steadily declined from a high of 20.1 percent in 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available.
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