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Taft–Hartley Act: Wikis


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The Labor–Management Relations Act, 80 Pub.L. 101; 61 Stat. 136, informally the Taft–Hartley Act, is a United States federal law that monitors the activities and power of labor unions. The act, still effective, was sponsored by Senator Robert Taft and Representative Fred A. Hartley, Jr. and legislated by overriding U.S. President Harry S. Truman's veto on June 23, 1947; labor leaders called it the "slave-labor bill"[1] while President Truman argued it would "conflict with important principles of our democratic society,"[2] though he would subsequently use it twelve times during his presidency.[3] The Taft-Hartley Act amended the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA; informally the Wagner Act), which Congress passed in 1935. The principal author of the Taft-Hartley Act was J. Mack Swigert[4] of the Cincinnati law firm Taft, Stettinius & Hollister.


Effects of the act

As stated in 29 U.S.C.A. 141, the purpose of the NLRA is:

[T]o promote the full flow of commerce, to prescribe the legitimate rights of both employees and employers in their relations affecting commerce, to provide orderly and peaceful procedures for preventing the interference by either with the legitimate rights of the other, to protect the rights of individual employees in their relations with labor organizations whose activities affect commerce, to define and proscribe practices on the part of labor and management which affect commerce and are inimical to the general welfare, and to protect the rights of the public in connection with labor disputes affecting commerce.

After the Act, management was allowed to run its company in what it viewed as the most efficient way.[5] The amendments enacted in Taft-Hartley added a list of prohibited actions, or "unfair labor practices", on the part of unions to the NLRA, which had previously only prohibited "unfair labor practices" committed by employers. The Taft-Hartley Act prohibited jurisdictional strikes, wildcat strikes, solidarity or political strikes, secondary boycotts, secondary or "common situs" picketing, closed shops, and monetary donations by unions to federal political campaigns. It also required union officers to sign non-communist affidavits with the government. Union shops were heavily restricted, and states were allowed to pass "right-to-work laws" that outlawed union shops. Furthermore, the executive branch of the Federal government could obtain legal strikebreaking injunctions if an impending or current strike "imperiled the national health or safety," a test that has been interpreted broadly by the courts.

Taft–Hartley was one of more than 250 union related bills pending in both houses of Congress in 1947.[3] As a response to rising union radicalism and Cold War hostilities, the bill could be seen as a response by business to the post-World War II labor upsurge of 1946. During the year after V-J Day, more than five million American workers were involved in strikes, which lasted on average four times longer than those during the war.[6] The Taft-Hartley Act was seen as a means of demobilizing the labor movement by imposing limits on labor's ability to strike and by prohibiting radicals from their leadership, people who were typically more active in union activities.[7]


Closed shops

The outlawed closed shops were contractual agreements that required an employer to hire only labor union members. Union shops, still permitted, require new recruits to join the union within a certain amount of time, but only as part of a collective bargaining agreement and only if the contract allows the worker at least thirty days after the date of hire or the effective date of the contract to join the union. The National Labor Relations Board and the courts have added other restrictions on the power of unions to enforce union security clauses and have required them to make extensive financial disclosures to all members as part of their duty of fair representation. On the other hand, Congress repealed the provisions requiring a vote by workers to authorize a union shop a few years after the passage of the Act when it became apparent that workers were approving them in virtually every case.

Union security clauses

The amendments also authorized individual states to outlaw union security clauses (such as the union shop) entirely in their jurisdictions by passing right-to-work laws. A right-to-work law prevents unions from negotiating contracts or legally binding documents requiring companies to fire workers who refuse to join the union. Currently all of the states in the Deep South and a number of traditionally Republican states in the Midwest, Plains, and Rocky Mountains regions have right-to-work laws (with five states – Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas and Oklahoma – going one step further and enshrining right-to-work laws in their states' constitutions).


The amendments required unions and employers to give 60 days notice to each other and to certain state and federal mediation bodies before they may undertake strikes or other forms of economic action in pursuit of a new collective bargaining agreement; it did not, on the other hand, impose any "cooling-off period" after a contract expired. The Act also authorized the President to intervene in strikes or potential strikes that create a national emergency, a reaction to the national coal miners' strikes called by the United Mine Workers of America in the 1940s. Presidents have used that power less and less frequently in each succeeding decade. President George W. Bush invoked the law most recently in connection with the employer lockout of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union during negotiations with West Coast shipping and stevedoring companies in 2002.

Treatment of supervisors

The amendments expressly excluded supervisors from coverage under the act, and allowed employers to terminate supervisors engaging in union activities or those not supporting the employer's stance.[8] The amendments maintained coverage under the act for professional employees, but provided for special procedures before they may be included in the same bargaining unit as non-professional employees.

Right of employer to oppose unions

The amendments codified the Supreme Court's earlier ruling that employers have a constitutional right to express their opposition to unions, so long as they did not threaten employees with reprisals for their union activities, or promise benefits as an inducement to refrain from them. The amendments also gave employers the right to file a petition asking the Board to determine if a union represents a majority of its employees, and allow employees to petition either to decertify their union, or to invalidate the union security provisions of any existing collective bargaining agreement.


The amendments gave the General Counsel of the NLRB discretionary power to seek injunctions against either employers or unions that violated the Act. The law made pursuit of such injunctions mandatory, rather than discretionary, in the case of secondary boycotts by unions. The amendments also established the General Counsel’s autonomy within the administrative framework of the NLRB. Congress also gave employers the right to sue unions for damages caused by a secondary boycott, but gave the General Counsel exclusive power to seek injunctive relief against such activities.

Federal jurisdiction

The act provided for federal court jurisdiction to enforce collective bargaining agreements. Although Congress passed this section to empower federal courts to hold unions liable in damages for strikes violating a no-strike clause, this part of the act has instead served as the springboard for creation of a "federal common law" of collective bargaining agreements, which favored arbitration over litigation or strikes as the preferred means of resolving labor disputes.


The Congress that passed the Taft–Hartley Amendments considered repealing the Norris-LaGuardia Act to the extent necessary to permit courts to issue injunctions against strikes violating a no-strike clause, but chose not to do so. The Supreme Court nonetheless held several decades later that the act implicitly gave the courts the power to enjoin such strikes over subjects that would be subject to final and binding arbitration under a collective bargaining agreement.

Finally, the act imposed a number of procedural and substantive standards that unions and employers must meet before they may use employer funds to provide pensions and other employee benefit to unionized employees. Congress has since passed more extensive protections for workers and employee benefit plans as part of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA").

Entertainment industry

The term Taft-Hartley has a special meaning in the entertainment industry. Specifically, for film and television actors, an actor not in the union who becomes a "principal performer" (says a line) is immediately eligible to join the Screen Actors Guild and is covered under the SAG contract with the production company for 30 days, at which point he or she must either join SAG or cease working on any union productions. Once joining the union, the actor may not work on any non-union production, per the terms of the bylaws. This allows SAG to get around the rules forbidding closed shops by providing a mechanism for new members to join the union.

Opposition to the Act

Union leaders did not like the bill when it was proposed. Harry Truman vetoed Taft-Hartley, but Congress overrode his veto. More Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the bill and the override than voted against it.[9] Despite this, union leaders in the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) continued to support Democrats and vigorously campaigned for Truman in the 1948 election based upon a (never fulfilled) promise to repeal Taft-Hartley.[10] Organized labor nearly succeeded in pushing Congress to amend the law to increase the protections for strikers and targets of employer retaliation during the Carter and Clinton administrations, but failed on both occasions because of Republican opposition and lukewarm support for these changes[citation needed] from the Democratic President in office at the time. Ralph Nader, presidential candidate from 1992 to 2008, said on his web site in July 2002, "Taft-Hartley entrenched significant executive tyranny in the workplace, with ramifications that are more severe today than ever. ... It is past time for the repeal of Taft-Hartley."

See also

Further reading


  1. ^ Barrel No. 2 - TIME
  2. ^ Harry S. Truman: Veto of the Taft-Hartley Labor Bill
  3. ^ a b Preis, Art (1964). Labor's Giant Step: The First Twenty Years of the CIO. Pathfinder Press. ISBN 0873482638. 
  4. ^ Cincinnati Enquirer, 9/4/2000
  5. ^ Frum, David (2000). How We Got Here: The '70s. New York, New York: Basic Books. p. 21. ISBN 0465041957. 
  6. ^ Cochran, Bert (1979). Labor and Communism: The Conflict That Shaped American Unions. Princeton University Press. 
  7. ^ Smith, Sharon (2006). Subterranean Fire: A History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States. Haymarket Books. ISBN 193185923X. 
  8. ^ Gruenberg, Mark (June 11, 2007). "Taft-Hartley Signed 60 Years Ago". Political Affairs Magazine. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 
  9. ^ Nicholson, Phillip (2004). Labor's Story in the United States. Temple University Press. ISBN 1592132391. 
  10. ^ Davis, Mike (2000). Prisoners of the American Dream: Politics and Economy in the History of the US Working Class. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 1859842488. 


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