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William Brennan Institute for Labor Studies


The Railway Labor Act, the National Labor Relations Act, Nebraska's Industrial Relations and State Employee Collective Bargaining Acts were all enacted to promote the general welfare of the nation and state. Each was passed to help employees, employers, and the general public by promoting the common good of all three groups.

Those graduating from Nebraska's public and private K-12 system are, for the most part, going to become employer or employee. To adequately prepare them for their future roles in the economy and society it is important that they understand something about the history of the employer/employee relationship.

For all employers and employees, the employer/employee relationship is critical. It will, directly and indirectly, affect not only the quality of their lives, their families' lives, but that of the communities in which they live as well. It can even be argued that this employment relationship will directly and indirectly affect every other important relationship that employee and employer will have in their working lives and beyond.

Because of the importance of this relationship to the economy and society, its history should be taught in our schools. Without that history, students may never know how the relationship was "humanized" as it developed from its antecedents in the master/servant and master/slave relationships. The history of the employment relationship is intimately tied to the development of organized labor in the United States. And while union density has risen and fallen several times over the nation's history, the impact of the American labor movement had supporting enactment of employee rights and civil rights legislation has improved the lives of many beyond those employees who may directly benefit from collective bargaining.

It is for these reasons that the Institute believes that all students would benefit from the inclusion of this subject in the social studies and civics curricula.

Teaching About Labor

Contributed by American Federation of Teachers AFT/AFL-CIO

If schools teach about labor history at all, it's usually in conjunction with Labor Day. But labor history can provide rich classroom material year-round. The AFT website includes a collection of resources teachers can use to teach about the history of labor movement.

Teachers Corner – Lesson Plans and helpful links

Additional On-Line Curricula for Teaching Labor in the Schools