Employment and Labor Law

— Labor Laws and Dates —

Today’s labor law comes primarily from the 1930s “New Deal” era. Few major labor laws have been passed for some time.

The Clayton Act (1914)

This antitrust law included several major provisions applicable to organized labor. It stated that, ” the labor of a human being is not commodity or article of commerce,” and that nothing in the Act “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 (RLA) (1926)

The RLA required interstate railroads to bargain collectively and prohibited union discrimination by the railroads. In 1936, the RLA was amended to broaden its application to airlines.

Norris-LaGuardia Act (1932)

This Act sanctioned unions’ rights to organize, strike, and to utilize other economic levers to “level the playing field” in their dealings with employers. The law prohibited government enforcement of “yellow dog” contracts (an agreement in which workers promised not to join a union or to discontinue their current union membership).

The Act prohibited courts from restraining or enjoining unions or employees from joining a union, organizing a union, assembling, striking, publicizing labor disputes, or providing aid for labor disputes.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) (1935)

Also known as The Wagner Act, the NLRA regulated employer conduct and continues today as the heart of the legal guarantees that ensure individuals’ rights to organize and join unions, to collectively bargain, and to strike.

The NLRA also established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and established its two primary functions: to conduct and police secret ballot elections and to investigate and prosecute unfair labor practices.

The NLRA defined employer conduct that would be considered an unfair labor practice. This conduct included:

  • Dominating or otherwise interfering with formation of a labor union, including the provision of any financial or other support.
  • Interfering with or restraining employees engaged in the exercise of their rights to organize and bargain collectively
  • Imposing any special conditions of employment which tended either to encourage or discourage union membership.
  • Discharging or discriminating against an employee because he had given testimony or filed charges under the Act.
  • Refusing to bargain collectively with unions representing a company’s employees.

Labor-Management Relations Act (LMRA) (1947)

Also known as the “Taft-Hartley Act,” this amendment to the NLRA was the first law to regulate organized labor’s conduct in any meaningful way. It helped to level the playing field which the unions had dominated previously. Apart from establishing for “national emergency” strikes, excluding supervisors from the protections of the NLRA, and prohibiting closed shops, the LMRA defined what union conduct would be considered an unfair labor practice. The prohibited conduct included:

  • Restraining or coercing workers’ rights to bargain through representatives of their choosing
  • Coercing employers in their choice bargaining representative
  • Refusing to bargain collectively
  • Barring workers from employment for being denied union membership for reasons other than not paying their dues
  • Striking to force an employer or self-employed person to join a union
  • Engaging in secondary boycotts
  • Levying excessive initiation fees
  • Featherbedding–agreements to or the practice of paying for work that was not actually performed

The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA)(1959)

Sometimes referred to as the “Landrum-Griffin Act,” the LMRDA again amended the NLRA. It defined additional unfair labor practices, banned organizational or recognition picketing, and provided for some state jurisdiction for labor cases in which the NLRB failed to exercise control.