Government Relationship with Unions

Has the American government been a friend or foe to unionism?

The government should do what they can to limit the power of Unions because Unions hurt our economy and slow down industrial growth.


The government should pass legislation designed to protect unions. Unions protect workers, the common man. Without unions business does what it wants and can hurt the worker.

These two statements summarize the conflicting points of view in the debate over labor unions. While each side can argue that labor unions either help or hurt the economy neither can dispute the fact that unions have been a very successful force in winning concessions for their members. It is interesting to note that despite the political power of unions and their apparent popularity our government has not always embraced and supported unionization. As a matter of fact for many years at the beginning of the labor movement the government was opposed to unions.

The government positions on unions can basically be broken into three time periods:

1. Anti Union – 1830’s – 1932 – During this time the government sided with factory workers as it embraced the Laissez Faire/Rugged Individualist mentality.

2. Pro Union – 1932 – 1945 – During the time the government passed
laws that supported union activity. The Depression changed the way
people looked at government help and the way we viewed governments responsibility as a whole. The notion of rugged individualism died as did the laissez faire economic philosophy.

3. Seeking a Balance -1945 – Present – Since the end of WWII the government has tried to find a fair balance between unions and
management. The goal has been to keep a level playing field. Often
the government (even the President himself) has acted as a mediator.

4. Today – Many feel the government has begun to swing the pendulum in favor of management again, what will the future hold…no
one knows.

Major Union Legislation

Anti Union Legislation – Before 1933

The antiunion attitude of government before the New Deal was seen in the way the federal courts interpreted existing law and in the use of federal troops or state militia during a strike. Management would often seek injunctions from the court. An injunction is a court order barring a specific activity. In this case the injunctions would be against the formation of unions or against a strike or other union activity. In order to grant an injunction the court must base its decision on existing law. In this case the law referred to was the Sherman Antitrust Act.

The Sherman Antitrust Act a basic federal enactment regulating the operations of corporate trusts declared illegal “every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce.” In interpreting the Sherman Act the courts decided that unions represented a “restraint of trade and thus granted injunctions against them in violation of the Sherman Act.

Pro Union Legislation – 1932 – 1945

In 1932 the Norris-La Guardia Anti-Injunction Act was passed severely limiting the power to issue injunctions in labor disputes. The passage of the Norris-La Guardia Act signaled the beginning of a shift away from the governments anti union sentiment.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) a federal law enacted by the United States Congress in July 1935 to govern the labor-management relation is generally known as the Wagner Act, after Senator Robert R. Wagner of New York.

The general objective of the act to guarantee to employees “the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid and protection.”

To safeguard these rights the act created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which, among other powers, has the authority to prevent employers from engaging in certain specified unfair labor practices. Examples of such practices are acts of interference, restraint, or coercion upon employees with respect to their right to organize and bargain collectively; domination of or
interference with the formation or administration of any labor organization, or the contribution of financial or other support thereto; discrimination in regard to hiring or dismissal of employees or to any term or condition of employment, in order to encourage or discourage membership in any labor organization; discrimination against any employee for filing charges or giving testimony under the provisions of the act; and refusal to bargain collectively with the representative chosen by a majority of employees in a bargaining unit deemed appropriate by the NLRB.

Before the enactment of the NLRA, the federal government had refrained almost entirely from supporting collective bargaining over wages and working conditions and from facilitating the growth of trade unions. The new law, which was proposed and enacted with the firm support of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, marked a significant reversal of this attitude. First the American Federation of Labor and later the Congress of Industrial Organizations took advantage of governmental encouragement by carrying out nationwide organizational campaigns. Largely as a result of such efforts, the number of organized workers rose from about 3.5 million in 1935 to about 15 million in 1947.

The Wages and Hours Act passed in 1938 established a minimum wage
of 25 cents per hour and a maximum workweek of 40 hours for industrial workers. Workers were to receive overtime at a rate of time and a half. Child labor was restricted. This federal law applied only to businesses engaged in interstate trade but soon most states had passed similar laws.

The Social Security Act passed in 1935 also provided protection to workers. There were three phases to the program: (1) benefits to cover the risks of old age, death, dependency of children, disability and blindness; (2) medical care for the aged (added in 1965); and (3) unemployment benefits.

Legislation that Balanced Unions and Management – 1946 – Present

In 1947 Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act limiting the actions of Unions and balancing the tend begun by the Wagner Act. The Taft-Hartley act amended (changed by adding to) the Wagner Act and set up standards of conduct for both unions and management. These were the major provisions of the act:

a. Unions were required to bargain with employers fairly and in good faith just as the Wagner Act had decreed that management must bargain similarly with unions.

b. Unions were required to give notice before striking. If a strike threatened the national interest the President could request and injunction to delay the strike for 60 days (cooling off period).

c. Unfair labor practices by unions were listed and prohibited. These included the refusal to bargain in good faith, attempting to cause an employer to discriminate against an employee because of the employees refusal to join a union, charging excessive initiation fees and union dues and encouraging employees to take a job related action for the specific purpose of achieving objectives deemed unfair to employers.

d. Unions could be sued and held legally responsible for the actions of their members.

e. Secondary boycotts, when a union agrees not to do business or
handle products from non union shops or from shops currently involved in a job action where prohibited.

F. Financial contributions to political campaigns were forbidden.

g. The closed shop, which required that all employees be union members before they could be hired, was declared illegal. The union shop, which required that all employees become union members after a certain period of time on the job was allowed.

h. The checkoff of union dues without the written consent of employees; contributions by employers to union health and welfare
funds not under joint labor-management administration was prohibited.

I. It required labor unions desiring to use the facilities of the
NLRB to file certain organizational and financial data with the NLRB,
and it required the officers of such unions to file affidavits
certifying that they are not members of the Communist party.

j. It emphasized the right of all employees not to join a union
and not to participate in collective action.

The Landrum-Griffin Act was passed in 1949 as the result of a Senate investigation into the relationship of unions and organized crime. Racketeering (Organized illegal activity such as bootlegging or extorting money by threat or violence from legitimate businessmen; a dishonest scheme or trick, illegally attempting to control businesses by threat of force or violence.) And undemocratic practices in unions were uncovered. This law was designed to protect union members rights by curbing racketeering and eliminating other corrupt practices such as stealing union controlled pension plans.

Most Recent Trends in Union Management Relations

Union management relations are the interactions between labor unions and the employers of their members. These relations can be cooperative or конфликтные, and they are shaped by a variety of factors, including the legal environment, the economic climate, and the culture of the workplace.

In recent years, there have been a number of trends that have impacted union management relations. These trends include:

  • The rise of the gig economy
  • The increasing diversity of the workforce
  • The globalization of the economy
  • The technological revolution
  • The changing expectations of employees

These trends have created new challenges and opportunities for both unions and employers. Unions are working to find new ways to organize and represent workers in the gig economy and in diverse workplaces. Employers are facing increasing pressure to improve working conditions and benefits in order to attract and retain workers in a competitive global market.

The Rise of the Gig Economy

The gig economy is a growing sector of the economy that is characterized by short-term, contract-based work. This type of work is often performed by freelancers, independent contractors, and temporary workers.

The gig economy has posed a number of challenges for unions. It has been difficult to organize workers in the gig economy, as they are often dispersed and have little in common with each other. Additionally, gig workers often have little bargaining power, as they can be easily replaced by other workers.

Despite these challenges, some unions have begun to make inroads into the gig economy. For example, the Teamsters Union has organized ride-hailing drivers and delivery workers. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union has organized grocery store workers who are employed through temporary staffing agencies.

The Increasing Diversity of the Workforce

The American workforce is becoming increasingly diverse. In 2021, women made up 47% of the labor force, and people of color made up 43% of the labor force.

The increasing diversity of the workforce has created new opportunities for unions. Unions have a long history of fighting for the rights of women and minorities in the workplace. As the workforce becomes more diverse, unions are well-positioned to represent the interests of all workers.

However, the increasing diversity of the workforce has also posed some challenges for unions. Unions need to find ways to reach out to and organize workers from all backgrounds. Additionally, unions need to be sensitive to the different needs and concerns of their diverse membership.

The Globalization of the Economy

The globalization of the economy has created new opportunities and challenges for both unions and employers. On the one hand, globalization has made it possible for companies to move jobs to countries with lower wages and labor costs. This has put downward pressure on wages and benefits for workers in developed countries.

On the other hand, globalization has also created new opportunities for unions. Unions can now work together to organize workers across borders and to bargain with multinational corporations. For example, the International Labor Organization (ILO) has developed a number of conventions and standards that promote decent work and social justice for all workers.

The Technological Revolution

The technological revolution has also had a significant impact on union management relations. Technology has led to the automation of many jobs and to the creation of new jobs that require different skills.

Technology has also made it easier for workers to communicate and organize with each other. Social media platforms have given workers a platform to share their stories and to build solidarity with each other.

The technological revolution has posed some challenges for unions. Unions need to find ways to organize and represent workers in new technology-based industries. Additionally, unions need to help workers develop the skills they need to succeed in the changing economy.

The Changing Expectations of Employees

The expectations of employees have also changed in recent years. Employees are now more likely to value work-life balance, flexibility, and opportunities for professional development.

Unions are working to meet the changing expectations of their members. For example, many unions are now negotiating contracts that include provisions for telecommuting, flexible scheduling, and paid parental leave. Additionally, many unions are offering their members educational and training programs to help them develop new skills and advance their careers.

The most recent trends in union management relations have created both challenges and opportunities for both unions and employers. Unions are working to find new ways to organize and represent workers in the gig economy and in diverse workplaces. Employers are facing increasing pressure to improve working conditions and benefits in order to attract and retain workers in a competitive global market.

Unions can play an important role in helping workers to navigate the changing economy and to achieve their goals in a number of ways.

  • Unions can help workers to bargain for better wages and benefits. Unions have a long history of negotiating contracts that include higher wages, better health care benefits, and more paid time off. In today’s economy, unions are also negotiating for new benefits, such as paid parental leave and telecommuting.
  • Unions can help workers to protect their jobs and safety. Unions can advocate for safer working conditions and for job security measures, such as seniority and severance pay. Unions can also help workers to file grievances and to challenge unfair treatment by employers.
  • Unions can help workers to have a voice in the workplace. Unions give workers a collective voice in decision-making at work. This can help workers to improve their working conditions and to have a greater say in their jobs.
  • Unions can help workers to build community and solidarity. Unions provide workers with a sense of community and solidarity. This can help workers to feel more supported and empowered at work.

In addition to these traditional roles, unions are also playing new roles in the changing economy. For example, unions are working to organize workers in the gig economy and in diverse workplaces. Unions are also working to advocate for policies that benefit all workers, such as raising the minimum wage and expanding access to affordable healthcare.

Here are some specific examples of how unions are helping workers to navigate the changing economy and to achieve their goals:

  • The United Steelworkers (USW) is working to organize workers in the gig economy, such as ride-hailing drivers and delivery workers. The USW is also working to negotiate contracts with these workers that include benefits such as health insurance and paid sick leave.
  • The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is working to organize workers in diverse workplaces, such as healthcare facilities and nursing homes. The SEIU is also working to negotiate contracts with these workers that include benefits such as language assistance and cultural competency training.
  • The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is working to advocate for policies that benefit all workers, such as raising the minimum wage and expanding access to affordable healthcare. The AFT is also working to organize workers in new industries, such as charter schools and online education.

Unions are an important part of the American economy. They help workers to achieve their goals and to build a better future for themselves and their families.

HOMEWORK QUESTIONS (click the link for the answer key)

1. How did the courts justify the granting of injunction before 1933?

2. How was the granting of anti union injunctions limited?

3. How and why was the NLRB created?

4. How did the Taft-Hartley Act create a balance between unions and management? Cite at least five examples.

5. Explain the difference between a closed shop and a union shop.

6. Why was the Landrum-Griffith Act passed?