FROM: Congressional Digest, June-July 1993
Present Federal law regulating labor-management relations is largely
a product of the New Deal era of the 1930s. While Congress has acted
to raise the Federal minimum wage and has considered labor law reform
affecting both private and public employees, no major new labor laws
have been passed over the past several decades.
Early Labor Laws
[*] The Clayton Act
In response to pressure to clarify labor's position under untitrust
laws, Congress, in 1914, enacted the Clayton Act, which included
several major provisions protective of organized labor.
The Act stated that "the labor of a human being is not commodity or
article of commerce," and provided further that nothing contained in
the Federal antitrust laws:
shall be construed to forbid the existence and operation of
labor... organizations... nor shall such organizations, or the
members thereof, be held or construed to be illegal combinations or
conspiracies in restraint of trade under the anti-trust laws.
(*) Railway Labor Act
In 1926, the Railway Labor Act (RLA) was passed, requiring employers
to bargain collectively and prohibiting discrimination against
unions. It applied originally to interstate railroads and their
related undertakings. In 1936, it was amended to include airlines
engaged in interstate commerce.
(*) Davis-Bacon Act
In 1931, Congress passed the Davis-Bacon Act, requiring that
contracts for construction entered into by the Federal Government
specify the minimum wages to be paid to persons employed under those
(*) Norris-LaGuardia Act
The Norris-LaGuardia Act, passed in 1932, during the last year of the
Hoover Administration, was the first in a series of laws passed by
Congress in the 1930s which gave Federal sanction to the right of
labor unions to organize and strike, and to use other forms of
economic leverage in dealings with management.
The law specifically prohibited Federal courts from enforcing so-
called "yellow dog" contracts or agreements (under which workers
promised not to join a union or promised to discontinue membership in
In addition, it barred Federal courts from issuing restraining orders
or injunctions against activities by labor unions and individuals,
including the following:
(*) joining or organizing a union, or assembling for union purposes;
(*) striking or refusing to work, or advising others to strike or
(*) Publicizing acts of a Labor dispute; and
(*) providing lawful legal aid to persons participating in a labor
New Deal Era Reforms
(*) National Industry Recovery Act
In 1933, Congress passed the National Industry Recovery Act (NRA) at
the request of newly inaugurated President Franklin Roosevelt. The
Act sought to provide codes of "fair competition" and to fix wages
and hours in industries subscribing to such codes.
Title I of the Act, providing that all codes of fair competition
approved under the Act should guarantee the right of employees to
collective bargaining without interference or coercion of employees,
was held unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1935.
(*) The Wagner Act
By far the most important labor legislation of the 1930s was the
National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935, more popularly known as
the Wagner Act, after its sponsor, Sen. Robert F. Wagner (NY-D). This
law included reenactment of the previously invalidated labor sections
of the NRA as well as a number of additions.
The NLRA was applicable to all firms and employees in activities
affecting interstate commerce with the exception of agricultural
laborers, government employees, and those persons subject to the
Railway Labor Act. It guaranteed covered workers the right to
organize and join labor movements, to choose representatives and
bargain collectively, and to strike.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), originally consisting of
three members appointed by the President, was established by the Act
as an independent Federal agency. The NLRB was given power to
determine whether a union should be certified to represent particular
groups of employees, using such methods as it deemed suitable to
reach such a determination, including the holding of a representation
election among workers concerned.
Employers were forbidden by the Act from engaging in any of the five
categories of unfair labor practices. Violation of this prohibition
could result in the filing of a complaint with the NLRB by a union or
employees. After investigation, the NLRB could order the cessation of
such practices, reinstatement of a person fired for union activities,
the provision of back pay, restoration of seniority, benefits, etc.
An NLRB order issued in response to an unfair labor practice
complaint was made enforceable by the Federal courts.
Among those unfair labor practices forbidden by the Act were:
1 ) Dominating or otherwise interfering with formation of a labor
union, including the provision of any financial or other support.
2) Interfering with or restraining employees engaged in the
exercise of their rights to organize and bargain collectively.
3) Imposing any special conditions of employment which tended
either to encourage or discourage union membership. The law stated,
however, that this provision should be construed to prohibit union
contracts requiring union membership as a condition of employment in
a company -- a provision which, in effect, permitted the closed and
union shops. (In the former, only pre-existing members of the union
could be hired, in the latter. new employees were required to join
4) Discharging or discriminating against an employee because he had
given testimony or filed charges under the Act.
5) Refusing to bargain collectively with unions representing a
The NLRA included no provisions defining or prohibiting as unfair any
labor practices by unions. The Act served to spur growth of U.S.
unionism -- from 3,584,000 union members in 1935 to 10,201,000 by
1941, the eve of World War II. The 1941 figure represented more than
2? percent of the nonagricultural workforce in the U.S.
(*) Anti-Strikebreaker Law
The Byrnes Act of 1936, named for Sen. James Byrnes (SC-D) and
amended in 1938, made it a felony to transport any person in
interstate commerce who was employed for the purpose of using force
of threats against non-violent picketing in a labor dispute or
against organizing or bargaining efforts.
(*) Walsh-Healy Act
Passed in 1936, the Walsh-Healy Act stated that workers must be paid
not less than the "prevailing minimum wage" normally paid in a
locality; restricted regular work ing hours to eight hours a day and
40 hours a week, with time-and-a-half pay for additional hours;
prohibited the employment of convicts and children under 18; and
established sanitation and safety standards.
(*) Fair Labor Standards Act
Known as the wage-hour law, this 1938 Act established minimum wages
and maximum hours for all workers engaged in covered "interstate
Post World War II Laws
(*) Taft-Hartley Act
It was not until two years after the close of World War II that the
first major modification of the National Labor Relations Act was
enacted. In 1947, the Labor-Management Relations Act -- also known as
the Taft-Hartley Act, after its two sponsors, Sen. Robert A. Taft
(OH-R) and Rep. Fred A. Hartley, Jr. (NJ-R) -- was passed by
Congress, Vetoed by President Truman (on the basis that it was anti-
Labor), and then reapproved over his veto. This comprehensive
(*) established procedures for delaying or averting so-called
"national emergency" strikes;
(*) excluded supervisory employees from coverage of the Wagner Act;
(*) prohibited the "closed shop" altogether;
(*) banned closed-shop union hiring halls that discriminated against
Taft-Hartley retained the Wagner Act's basic guarantees of workers'
rights to join unions, bargain collectively, and strike [Gee,
thanks!--HB], and retained the same list of unfair labor practices
forbidden to employers. The Act also added a list of unfair labor
practices forbidden to unions. These included:
(*) restraint or coercion of workers exercising their rights to
bargain through representatives of their choosing;
(*) coercion of an employer in his choice of persons to represent
him in discussions with unions;
(*) refusal of unions to bargain collectively;
(*) barring a worker from employment because he had been denied
union membership for any reason except non-payment of dues;
(*) striking to force an employer or self-employed person to join a
(*) secondary boycotts;
(*) various types of strikes or boycotts involving interunion
conflict or jurisdictional agreements;
(*) Levying of excessive union initiation fees;
(*) certain forms of "featherbedding" (payment for work not actually
The Taft-Hartley Act included a number of other provisions. These
(*) authorization of suits against unions for violations of their
(*) authorization of damage suits for economic losses caused by
secondary boycotts and certain strikes;
(*) relaxation of the Norris-LaGuardia Act to permit injunctions
against specified categories of unfair labor practice;
(*) establishment of a 60-day no-strike and no-lockout notice period
for any party seeking to cancel an existing collective bargaining
(*) a requirement that unions desiring status under the law and
recourse to NLRB protection file specified financial reports and
documents with the U.S. Department of Labor;
(*) the abolition of the U.S. Conciliation Service and establishment
of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service;
(*) a prohibition against corporate or union contributions or
expenditures with respect to elections to any Federal office;
(*) a reorganization of the NLRB and a limitation on its power;
(*) a prohibition on strikes against the government;
(*) the banning of various types of employer payments to union
(*) Landrum-Grifln Act
The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, also known
as the Landrum-Griffin Act, made major additions to the Taft-Hartley
(*) definition of additional unfair labor practices;
(*) a ban on organizational or recognition picketing;
(*) provisions allowing State labor relations agencies and courts to
assume jurisdiction over labor disputes the NLRB declined to consider
at the same time prohibiting the NLRB from broadening the categories
of cases it would not handle.
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