A fact-based drama about a fed up textile worker who attempts to unionize her job. The real life character, Crystal Lee Sutton, gained fame for her efforts at the J.P. Stevens Plant in 1975. Sally Field won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role. Norma Rae Webster (Sally Field) is tired of her job's terrible conditions, low pay and lack of concern for employees safety and well being. After New York union organizer Reuben Warshowsky (Ron Liebman) talks to the workers, Webster realizes that unionization is the only way to make change. Webster's union activity is met with strong resistance from plant executives. Her home life also begins to suffer as her marriage to Sonny (Beau Bridges) becomes strained.
Some of Webster's co-workers are also resistant to the union idea. Many feel that merely having a job is good enough. Even Webster's own father, Vernon (Pat Hingle) fears for her safety. She is subject to a great deal of harassment even from individuals that she thought were her friends. Webster's father, who has worked at the plant for many years under the most deplorable conditions, drops dead of a heart attack at his machine.
As Webster's life and marriage begins to spiral out of control, she can rely on Warshowsky, who provides her with emotional support. The conflict of Webster and her bosses finally reaches a head. Webster stands on top of her machine with a piece of cardboard with the words "Union" written on it. The machine operators one by one cut their machines off until the room is completely silent.
Webster is fired and escorted out of the building by the police. The day comes for the union vote. Workers wait with nervous anticipation for the results. The vote is won to unionize the plant.