Labor-Management Relations Act

Taft-Hartley Act
Effective 1947
Title(s) amended 29
U.S.C. section(s) amended 401-531
Legislative history

The Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 Taft, Stettinius & Hollister.


Taft–Hartley was one of more than 250 union-related bills pending in both houses of Congress in 1947.[4] The bill was a conscious effort to decrease the gains made by the labor movement, particularly by the National Labor Relations Act, or NLRA/Wagner Act, which was established as Constitutional despite Republican efforts in 1937 to destroy it. With this failure, the Republicans turned to crafting their own bill to mitigate the influence of labor unions. The architect of the bill, Fred Hartley, was known for his dislike of unions. After World War II, 25 percent of the workforce was unionized (around 14.8 million workers had union contracts, 10 million of them being union security agreements), and with the war now over, their promise not to strike so as not to impede the war effort had expired.

As a response to the rising union movement 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.[7] The law was promoted by large business lobbies including the National Association of Manufacturers.[8]

Effects of the act

As stated in Section 1 (§ 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.

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 and mass 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 closed 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. Though smaller unions were negatively affected as a result of the act, the labor movement as a whole was not greatly impeded by Taft-Hartley. Arguably, the controversial act also helped President Harry Truman get reelected, given that the act galvanized labor unions into opposing Republicans.

Jurisdictional strikes

In jurisdictional strikes, outlawed by Taft-Hartley, a union strikes in order to assign particular work to the employees it represents. Secondary boycotts and common situs picketing, also outlawed by the act, are actions in which unions picket, strike, or refuse to handle the goods of a business with which they have no primary dispute but which is associated with a targeted business. A later statute, the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, passed in 1959, tightened these restrictions on secondary boycotts still further.

Campaign expenditures

According to First Amendment scholar Floyd Abrams, the Act "was the first law barring unions and corporations from making independent expenditures in support of or [in] opposition to federal candidates".[2]

Closed shops

Main article: closed shop

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

Main article: union shop

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 states in the Midwest, Plains, and Rocky Mountains regions have right-to-work laws (with five states—Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi and Oklahoma—going one step further and enshrining right-to-work laws in their states' constitutions).


The amendments required unions and employers to give 80 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 2001.

The Act also prohibited federal employees from striking.[9]


Main article: McCarthyism

The amendments required union leaders to file affidavits with the United States Department of Labor declaring that they were not supporters of the Communist Party and had no relationship with any organization seeking the "overthrow of the United States government by force or by any illegal or unconstitutional means" as a condition to participating in NLRB proceedings. Just over a year after Taft-Hartley passed, eighty-one thousand (81,000) union officers from nearly 120 unions had filed the required affidavits.[10] In 1965, The Supreme Court held that this provision was an unconstitutional bill of attainder.

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.[11] 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 Act revised the Wagner Act's free speech policy to allow employers to deliver anti-union messages in the workplace.[8] These changes confirmed an earlier Supreme Court 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 nor offer any incentives to employees as an alternative to unionizing. 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.

National Labor Relations Board

The amendments gave the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board 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; this same provision applies to so-called "background actors" (extras) who work on a SAG covered production for 3 or more days. 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

President Harry Truman vetoed Taft–Hartley, but Congress overrode his veto. Majorities of both parties voted for the bill as well as the override.[10] Union leaders in the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) vigorously campaigned for Truman in the 1948 election based upon a (never fulfilled) promise to repeal Taft-Hartley.[12] 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 from the Democratic President in office at the time.

See also

Organized labour portal



  • September 6, 2004.
  • Faragher, J.M.; Buhle, M.J.; Czitrom, D.; and Armitage, S.H. Out of Many: A History of the American People. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006.
  • McCann, Irving G. Why the Taft-Hartley Law? New York: Committee for Constitutional Government, 1950.
  • Millis, Harry A. and Brown, Emily Clark. From the Wagner Act to Taft-Hartley: A Study of National Labor Policy and Labor Relations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1950.

External links

  • Text of the Taft-Hartley Act
  • A film clip ]
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