Taft-Hartley Act

Taft-Hartley Act, also referred to as The Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, significantly diminished the capacity of unions to recruit new members while also, ostensibly, protecting the rights of workers to join unions. Although it was dramatically amended in 1959, employers and small businesses who have union workers or contract with union vendors should have a fundamental understanding of how contemporary labor-management relations have been influenced by The Taft-Hartley Act.

Political Background

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, American industry and business leaders feared the growing influence of organized labor. Unions were aggressively recruiting new members, and in 1946, more than 5 million workers in various industries walked out on jobs demanding higher pay and better benefits, bringing industries to stand-stills in concerted, effective strikes.

Because federal emergency regulations prohibited strikes in many “critical” industries during the war, labor-related agitation had been simmering below the surface for years. With veterans returning from the war, many industries were slumping as the economy retooled into a peacetime footing. Industry feared the growing power of the labor movement spearheaded by increasingly effective unions.

There was also another ambient concern about the rising efficacy of unions in the American economy: Fear of communism as embodied in the growing postwar menace presented by the Soviet Union. In this heated environment at the dawn of the Cold War, Republicans had gained control of the House of Representatives and Senate for the first time since 1931 with a platform to unshackle business and industry from the labor-friendly controls imposed by the Democrats under President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Depression and World War II.

It was in this atmosphere that The Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 was sponsored by U.S. Sen. Robert A. Taft (R-Ohio) and Rep. Fred A. Hartley (R-New Jersey) and adopted, eventually becoming more popularly known as The Taft-Hartley Act – one of more than 250 union-related bills introduced into both houses of Congress in 1947.

The Taft-Hartley Act Amended the Wagner Act

The Taft-Hartley Act was actually adopted as an amendment to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935, also referred to as The Wagner Act, which was named for former New York Senator and Robert F. Wagner, a Democrat who was an avowed proponent of organized labor.

Among the primary components of the Wagner Act was to ensure the right of American workers to join labor unions if they choose to do so and benefit from collective bargaining in negotiations. The Wagner Act also forbade corporations and business owners from meddling in the internal affairs of unions, intimidating workers pondering joining a union or punishing those who did. It also established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and empowered it with the authority to issue "cease and desist" orders to corporations and business owners it determined to be in violation of the law.

Taft-Hartley Act Stipulations

The purpose of the Taft-Hartley Act, according to sponsors and supporters, such as the National Association of Manufacturers, was to “restore a more balanced relationship between labor and management.”

The Taft-Hartley Act’s design was to defuse the gathering momentum of the organized labor movement by restricting unions’ capacity to stage concerted actions, such as strikes, and by preventing communists from taking control of labor organizations as the “red scare” of the early Cold War was gaining momentum. Rep. Richard Nixon.

Among its other stipulations, the Taft-Hartley Act allowed the President to appoint a board to investigate union disputes if he deemed that a strike would endanger national health or safety. Under its provisions, the President could by executive decree demand all union-shuttered workplaces be reopened with criminal penalties imposed on those who refused. The act stipulated that a workplace can only be unionized if a majority of workers agree to do so in a vote. The law forbade unions from organizing localized strikes and targeting other businesses and industries in “secondary boycotts.” The law also prohibited employers from collecting union dues in what was referred to as the “check-off system” and banned unions from contributing members’ money to political campaigns.

In addition, the Taft-Hartley Act accorded the U.S. Attorney General the authority to issue an 80-day injunction if a strike, or even a pending strike, "imperiled the national health or safety." It also required union leaders to give employers and workplace managers no less than 60 days’ notice in advance of a strike.

Taft-Hartley Act also required unions to disclosure their financial and political associations. It also mandated that, in some industries and workplaces, that an employer can require employees to join unions in order to work in plants and factories.

Taft–Hartley Act also limited employers’ liability when the acts of workplace managers and on-site supervisors violate the legal protections accorded workers. This stipulation states that an employer will not be held criminally or civilly liable if a management official engages in behavior that could be defined as harassment of union members for reasons other than his or her actual job duties.

Taft–Hartley Act also created the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) with a stated mission to procure settlements in labor disputes and increased the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) sitting panel members from three to five.

Six Key Amendments of The Taft-Harley Act

The Taft-Hartley Act instituted six amendments to the Wagner Act:

  • An affirmation that the Wagner Act’s intent to protect workers’ rights to form or join unions and to engage in collective bargaining with their employers remains intact.
  • A section that shields workers from being coerced into joining unions and imposes penalties for discriminating against employees who refuse to join unions.
  • A statement that a corporation or business owner cannot deny a prospective employee a job solely based on their decision not to join a union – except in certain exempted industries.
  • A provision that gives employers the right to sign labor agreements with union officials that requires certain employees in specific industries to join their organizations no later 30 days after they are hired.
  • A stipulation stating that unions must “bargain in good faith” with employers.
  • A prohibition of “secondary boycotts” by unions, stating that unions cannot coerce or urge other entities from engaging with that employer if a labor organization union is embroiled in a dispute with an employer.

Restrictions on Unions in The Taft-Hartley Act

Taft-Hartley Act instituted amendments that expressly precluded organized labor groups from manipulating their members or their employers. The act imposes restrictions on unions from forcing their members to pay “excessive” membership fees and dues as a requirement to joining.

The act forbids unions from demanding that employers pay for work that its members did not perform or failed to complete satisfactorily.

Among the Taft-Hartley Act amendments is a free speech clause for employers and workplace management, protecting their legal capacity to express their views and opinions about labor issues. The act includes a condition that management and employer views can be construed as “unfair labor practices” if the employer threatens to withhold wages and benefits or otherwise retaliate against workers.

Regulations on How Unions Can Conduct Elections

The Taft-Hartley Act accorded union workers the legal capacity to determine the status of their existing unions in a vote if they are unhappy with its performance. The act gives workers the right to vote on whether or not they want to grant their union the authority to negotiate agreements on their behalf, and to vote on proposals to withdraw from union representation if they are unsatisfied with results.

The Taft-Hartley Act also provided employers with the right to vote on union demands, excluded worksite supervisors from participating in bargaining groups and exempted certain workers defined as professionals from the labor classification. It requires that the employer and employees, as represented by the unions, must stipulate all worksite conditions and job-related issues in written contracts that are to be legal, actionable documents.

The act gave federal courts jurisdiction to enforce collective bargaining agreements and empowered federal courts to hold unions liable for any damages to property and economic capacity when strikes violate an invoked no-strike order.

Many of the Taft-Hartley Act amendments addressing union shop elections were repealed in 1951 while the intrusion of federal courts into labor disputes through injunctions and rulings fostered the development of "federal common law" in collective bargaining agreements, favoring arbitration over litigation or strikes as the preferred method of resolving labor disputes without disruption or discord.

The Landrum–Griffin Act of 1959

The Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA), also referred to as The Landrum–Griffin Act of 1959, extended Taft-Hartley Act reporting requirements, established a “Bill of Rights” for union members and further defined disclosure of union financial statements and expenditures to ensure fair union shop elections.

Among the Landrum- Griffin Act amendments to the Taft-Hartley Act:

  • State labor relations boards and state courts were accorded legal purview over cases declined by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
  • “Hot cargo” pacts – in which a rival employer takes concerted actions with unions in advance of a boycott against another during a subsequent labor dispute – in provisions that tightened secondary boycott injunctions.
  • Prohibited unions from picketing “for recognition or organizational purposes.”
  • The construction industry was allowed to establish pre-hire and seven-day union shop contracts.
  • “Permanently replaced” strikers were accorded the right to vote in union elections within one year after the start of a strike.
  • The requirement for an affidavit mandating union officials swear in an oath that they are not communists was repealed.
  • Established a code of conduct assuring union members will have certain rights within their union while imposing enhanced reporting requirements on unions, union officers, employers, and consultants.

Employers’ Rights in A Union Workplace

Compliance with state and federal employment laws can be a complex and frustrating issue for many businesses and corporations, especially for startups and entrepreneurs who may not have a background in dealing with organized labor and unions. Legal websites, such as UpCounsel.com, can provide information and access to local law firms and individual attorneys, as well as specialists on a state and national scale, that can offer guidance on employment and labor laws.

To ensure you are following all the required procedures, ensure your employee policies and practices have been reviewed by attorneys who specialize in these type of laws --  employment attorneys. Upcounsel.com provides a comprehensive guide – “Employment Law Explained” -- directory of attorneys who are practitioners in distinct fields of business law, including such specialties as small business law in specific states and in putting together an employee handbook that covers all the bases.

The directory features profiles on individual attorneys that outline his or her experience, education backgrounds as well as a general outline of fees. UpCounsel has verified that any attorney listed on its site has been endorsed their state Bar associations with a “Good Standing” rating. In fact, if you are an entrepreneur or starting your own business for the first time, UpCounsel offers a guide – “What Should Go in your Employer Bill of Rights?” – that could provide the parameters and insight to assist in avoiding issues with union workers.

If you have questions about the Taft-Hartley Act, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.