Major Union Legislation

Major Union Legislation

The attitude of government towards unions has
shifted throughout history as have citizens attitudes in

Throughout the mid eighteen hundreds and into
the industrial revolution America embraced a laissez faire approach
as it hurtled towards industrialism. Even in the progressive era from
1900 to 1917 unions received scant little support with the notable
exception of the Sherman antitrust act in 1914. It was almost as if
unions were rebels against a very conservative society. America at
this time was VERY conservative and unions represented a change in
the status quo. Unions also, for many Americans, represented a step
towards Communism and when the Red Scare arose in reaction to the
Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 many Americans saw Unions as the vehicle
for socialist and communist ideology. The reality is that they where
not entirely wrong as such union organizers as Eugene V. Debs were,
in fact, socialists.

Times, as Dylan said, they are a changing and
change they did. When the depression hit, Roosevelt’s New Deal began
to revolutionize the way Americans looked at workers. The depression
made us realize that workers were a part of the industrial and
economic landscape. Workers, we finally recognized, were at the heart
of the economy because workers spend. Government also changed its
tune as we moved from a laissez faire philosophy that believed in
supply side (trickle down) economics to an activist government that
believed in Keynesian (pump priming) economics. During this pro union
era notable legislation, described below was passed that ever
increased the power of unions.

As World War II and the depression ended unions
had gained a strong foothold in America. We emerged from the war as
the undisputed world military and economic power and if we were to
remain as such we would need to shift from a wart time to a post war
economy. This is a difficult transition and recognizing that unions
had perhaps gained an upper hand that might stifle this transition,
government moved to limit the power of unions and perhaps balance
things out a little. Laws such as the Taft Hartley Act, described
below, achieved this balance.

Where do we stand today… history will be the
judge but many observers feel that as the role and importance of
unions in a post industrial economy lessens, that the government has
adopted an anti union stance. Again, this is merely supposition and
is subject to much debate.

Anti Union Legislation – Before

The anti union 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.

In 1914 Congress passed the Clayton
Anti Trust Act.
This act was designed
to strengthen the anti trust provisions of the Sherman Act but had a
clause in it that stated that Unions were not a conspiracy in
restraint of trade. Samuel Gompers, founder of the AFL referred
to the Clayton Act as the “Magna Carta” of union

In 1932 the Norris-La
Guardia Anti-Injunction Act
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

Pro Union Legislation – 1933 – 1939

The National
Labor Relations Act (NLRA)

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

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.” The NLRA establishes procedures for the
selection of a labor organization to represent a unit of employees in
collective bargaining. The act prohibits employers from interfering
with this selection. The NLRA requires the employer to bargain with
the appointed representative of its employees. It does not require
either side to agree to a proposal or make concessions but does that
each side bargain in good faith. Proposals which would violate the
NLRA or other laws may not be the subject matter of collective
bargaining. The NLRA also establishes regulations on what tactics
(e.g. strikes, lockouts, picketing) a side in negotiations may employ
to further their bargaining objectives.

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

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

Legislation that Balanced Unions and Management – 1946 –

In 1947 Congress passed the Taft-Hartley
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

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 80

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 threat 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

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

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. The law also set forth
provisions that enabled workers to refuse to join the union. In
this case a agency shop is established. This is a
union shop where some workers pay an agency fee to the union that
still bargains collectively on their behalf but they do not
contribute that portion of dues that might have gone to poltical

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

The Landrum-Griffin
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.


Landmark legislation involving public employees
exists in New York State. Due to the potentially severe impacts to
citizens of a halt in essential government service provision, New
York State law has long prohibited public sector strike. From 1947 to
1967, employees of all levels of government in New York State were
governed by the Condon-Wadlin Act which prohibited public sector
strikes and assessed harsh penalties to strikers. The law made public
employee unions illegal and strictly forbade striking. In fact,
striking workers were fired, fined and often jailed. This strategy
did not, however, prevent such serious strikes as the 1966 New York
City transit worker strike which effectively crippled the city and
cost an estimated $100 million per day. By the late 1960s, a number
of public sector employee strikes in the State pushed the government
to shift from a penalty-based system to a prevention-based one.

The new law passed in 1967, the Taylor
, permits union organizing, and provides a system within which
to resolve labor-management conflict short of striking. Public
employers are required to recognize and negotiate in good faith with
the union representatives of a bargaining unit, thus public employee
unions were legally recognized. The law establishes certain mandatory
bargaining issues, which public employers must negotiate with union
representation. Broadly stated, mandatory bargaining issues are terms
and conditions of employment.

The Public Employees Relations Board(PERB)
interprets which issues are terms and conditions of employment under
the law. PERB is also mandated to facilitate union recognition and
labor-management contract negotiations, and to arbitrate any
unresolved disputes. PERB is thus similar to the NLRB but for public
employees within New York State.

The Taylor law does, however, outlaw striking
by public employees. Public employees who engage in a strike are
fined two days pay for every day they are out. Authorizing unions are
also subject to the loss of the dues payoff provision and the
incarceration of union leaders as well a fines.


Most Recent Trends in Union Management

Recently there has been an anti union trend.
Many states bar public employees from striking, and there has been a
rash of what might be called “union busting,” or the attempt to break
and destroy a particular union. The single best example of union
busting is President Ronald Reagan’s firing of the members of PATCO,
an air traffic controllers union. PATCO members had been in conflict
with management for several years. Since PATCO was a national union
they had to deal with several different management structures in
states throughout the country. When PATCO struck President Reagan
feeling that the public safety was in danger, fired the striking
workers and replaced them with military personnel