History of US Labor Law

--> [FROM: Congressional Digest, June-July 1993] <--

		 F e d e r a l   L a b o r   L a w s

   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 fur- her 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 contracts.

(*) 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

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 the union.)

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
    company's employees. 

    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
    non-union members.

   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 performed).

The Taft-Hartley Act included a number of other provisions. These included:

(*) authorization of suits against unions for violations of their
    economic contracts;

(*) 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

(*)  a prohibition on strikes against the government;

(*)  the banning of various types of employer payments
to union officials.


 (*) 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 Act, including:

(*) 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.

Congressional Digest (*) June-July 1993