Should 'Agricultural Laborers' Continue to Be Excluded from the National Labor Relations Act?

74 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2007

See all articles by Michael H. LeRoy

Michael H. LeRoy

University of Illinois College of Law


This Article proposes that Congress amend the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to remove its definitional exclusion of agricultural laborers as employees. When Congress created this exclusion in 1935, it gave this matter only passing thought while focusing on industrial employment. It justified this exclusion on the premise that collective bargaining would be too burdensome for the typical farm, which was small and family-run.

This Article presents data showing that family farms are in steep decline, while "factory farms" are increasing. These large-scale farms are similar to industrial firms in their scale and organizational mode, and therefore, should not be exempted from the national collective bargaining law. In addition, this Article presents data showing that farm workers earn poor wages; moreover, data presented here show that wage increases for farm workers have consistently trailed gains for non-farm workers. Thus, this Article concludes that farm workers fit the profile of an employee that Congress intended to benefit from collective bargaining.

This Article also shows that, in the absence of federal collective bargaining for farm workers, states have entered this regulatory field. The result is a conflicting array of laws. Conflict among the states is aggravated by the fact that many farm workers migrate across state borders for their work, and are therefore subjected to conflicting duties and rights.

This Article's proposal to include farm workers under the NLRA would provide these laborers a voice in determining their pay and working conditions and would create more uniform policies for this important sector of the American economy. This proposal would protect agricultural employers, too. This Article presents data showing that two-thirds of all farm employment involves family members. Since the NLRA also excludes family employment from coverage, small family farms would continue to be shielded from the burdens of collective bargaining. In addition, under current policies, farm-worker boycotts are not subject to the NLRA's strict prohibitions against secondary boycotts; thus, inclusion of farm workers and their unions would insulate large agricultural employers from this potent economic weapon.

Keywords: Agricultural labor, collective bargaining

JEL Classification: J43, J53, J58, K31, L66

Suggested Citation

LeRoy, Michael H., Should 'Agricultural Laborers' Continue to Be Excluded from the National Labor Relations Act?. Emory Law Journal, Vol. 48, No. 3, 1999, U Illinois Law & Economics Research Paper No. LE07-023, Available at SSRN:

Michael H. LeRoy (Contact Author)

University of Illinois College of Law ( email )

504 E. Pennsylvania Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820
United States

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