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Taft-Hartley Act (1947)

Taft-Hartley Act (1947)

Holly A. Reese

Excerpt from the Taft-Hartley Act

It is the purpose and policy of this Act, in order to 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 Taft-Hartley Act (61 Stat. 136), also known as the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, was created after a great number of large-scale strikes had nearly disabled the automobile, steel, and packing industries, among others. These work stoppages had caused a ripple effect through the economy, leading to public panic. The Taft-Hartley Act, an amendment to the Wagner Act of 1935, was designed to benefit all parties to a labor agreementthe employer, employees, and the labor union. Whereas the Wagner Act had spoken only of the right to participate in union activities, the new act included the right to refrain from union activities. It was clear that this new act was designed to level the unfair playing field formerly tipped in favor of labor unions.


To reach that result, the act placed restrictions on unions that were already imposed on the employer. For example, the act made it illegal to restrain or coerce employees wishing to exercise their rights to self-organization. Also made illegal were secondary strikes, secondary boycotts, and sympathy strikes, which were designed to influence employers other than those with whom the union had a contract. Many union leaders and supporters were unhappy with these new laws, and would seek repeal or revision on many different occasions.

The act gave the employer a First Amendment right to free speech that had been severely limited by the former laws. This change allowed the employer to speak out against unionization as long as the speech did not contain threats or promises to employees. The act also limited the liability of employers based on acts of managers or supervisors to those who would be considered part of these supervisors' official duty. Therefore an employer could not be held liable for a supervisor who was harassing union members for reasons unrelated to the supervisor's actual job duties.

In addition, the Taft-Hartley Act allowed states to enact right-to-work laws, which made it illegal to set union membership as a condition for employment. Many states did choose to enact such laws. Other changes included removing supervisors from the bargaining unit so as to avoid the possibility of conflicting interests, and placing guards in a separate bargaining unit without any rank-and-file members. There were also special rules for professional workers allowing them to choose whether or not they wished to be part of a separate bargaining unit.

Finally, the act required a both sides of a labor contract to bargain in good faith, which means they must meet at regular times and try to reach an agreement on a range of issues related to the employment contract. The parties must also create a written contract that includes any agreed-upon provisions. Additionally, the act created the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) to assist in the settlement of labor disputes and increased the number of National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) members from three to five.


During World War II labor organizations had increased their membership at a record pace. The government relied on the labor unions during the war and even made agreements with them to prevent strikes and keep production from slowing down or grinding to a halt. During this postwar period there were concerns that labor unions had grown too powerful, as evidenced by the impact that the large-scale strikes had had on the nation.

Whether in times of war or peace, the relationship between employer and employee can have an enormous impact on commerce. Because labor disputes can interrupt commerce, it is of great importance to the federal government to maintain open communication between labor unions and employers. The Constitution's commerce clause, which allows the federal government to regulate interstate commerce, was the constitutional basis for the act.


Proponents of the act mostly fell into two categories. The first group included those who were opposed to all collective bargaining of any kind. The second group consisted of people who were generally not opposed to collective bargaining but who felt the labor unions had gained too much power during the war. Both groups thought the government should put limitations on the unions that would coincide with the limitations already in place for employers. Still others felt that labor organizations had become a cover for racketeering (fraudulent business schemes involving intimidation) and other unsavory activities.

Prior to the Taft-Hartley Act, courts had gone back and forth on the issue of supervisors and their role in bargaining activities. Legislative debate over the act focused much attention on the exclusion of supervisors from the bargaining unit. Legislators in favor of the act believed that a firm exclusionary rule was necessary, and it was ultimately included in the final version of the act. Another debated topic was the exclusion of members of the Communist Party from union leadership. Many feared labor unions were predominantly controlled by communists, although that was most likely an overstatement. The act did contain such an exclusion, but it was later repealed.


On the political front, President Harry S. Truman was calling for changes to the Wagner Act, while cautioning against legislation that could be considered punitive against the unions. The 1946 election brought a Republican majority to both houses of Congress for the first time in sixteen years. That majority wanted more changes than Truman had suggested and set about writing a new bill, which ultimately became the Taft-Hartley Act. Representative Fred A. Hartley, Jr., the chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor, sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives. Senator Robert A. Taft, the chair of the Senate Labor and Public Welfare Committee, sponsored the bill in the Senate. The bill passed both houses, although the vote was much closer in the Senate than in the House.

President Truman then vetoed the bill on June 20, 1947. He felt that the proposed bill gave the government too much involvement in labor management relations. He also said that the reporting requirements for unions were overly burdensome and the bill would not have the effect desired by Congress. The House disagreed with Truman and quickly overrode the presidential veto. Two days of debate later, the Senate followed suit and the Taft-Hartley Act became law.


Enforcement of the Taft-Hartley Act comes in large part from the NLRB. With the advice and consent of the Senate, the president appoints the general counsel, who is responsible for conducting hearings in front of the NLRB. When one party wants to file unfair labor practice charges against the other party, that party may also do so in any federal court with proper jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court considered a part of the act in United States v. Brown (1965). The Court ruled that the laws preventing members or former members of the Communist Party from holding office in a labor union to be unconstitutional. Courts have gone on to define and shape various portions of the act while maintaining its congressional intent and integrity.


The Taft-Hartley Act has been amended many times over the years, with the majority of amendments occurring in the 1950s. For example, in 1951 the act was amended to allow union shops to be formed without the formality of an authorization election. Later, in 1974, the act was amended to include corporations or associations that operate nonprofit hospitals and healthcare facilities.

The Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA) was an extension of the Taft-Hartley Act and its reporting requirements. It established what is considered a bill of rights for union members. It also requires full, fair, and participatory elections, as well as disclosure of union financial statements and expenditures. It follows the Taft-Hartley Act's intent to protect employers and employees while providing adequate means of dispute resolution.


The Taft-Hartley Act remains a powerful tool for labor-management relations. From its narrow adoption, and despite its many opponents, the 1947 act continues to provide valuable protection to employees, employers, and labor unions. Although labor strikes are still a very real consequence of failed labor negotiations, the rules of the Taft-Hartley Act have reduced the severity and frequency of such strikes.

See also: National Labor Relations Act; Norris-LaGuardia Act.


Cox, Archibald, Derek Curtis Bok, Robert A. Gorman, et al. Labor Law: Cases and Materials, 13th ed. New York: Foundation Press, 2001.

Iserman, Theodore R. Changes to Make in Taft-Hartley. New York: Dealer's Digest Publishing, 1953.

Jasper, Margaret C. Oceana's Law for the Layperson: Labor Law. New York: Oceana Publications, 1998.

Raza, M. Ali, and A. Janell Anderson. Labor Relations and the Law. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1996.


National Labor Relations Board. <>.

The Wagner Act

The Taft-Hartley Act was an amendment to an earlier piece of legislation known as the Wagner Act, or the National Labor Relations Act. Passed in 1935, the law was named for Robert F. Wagner, a champion of the poor, minorities, and organized labor who served as a New York State senator, a New York State Supreme Court justice, and a U.S. senator from New York. Throughout his career Wagner was a major advocate of pro-Labor legislation, establishing public works programs, promoting industrial safety, and sponsoring numerous bills, including the Social Security Act. The legislation bearing his name contained three principal elements: First, it guaranteed American workers the right to join the labor union of their choice and to engage in collective bargaining; second, it prohibited companies from interfering with labor unions or punishing union members; and third, it established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB oversaw union elections, in which workers voted whether to be represented by a union, and if so, which one. The NLRB also heard grievances from workers who felt they had been treated improperly and was empowered to issue "cease and desist" orders to employers found to be violating the law. Extremely radical in its time, the Wagner Act is considered a cornerstone of American labor law.

National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation (1937)

Immediately after it was established in 1935, the National Labor Relations Board was the object of a wave of lawsuits and injunctions initiated by businesses and anti-labor organizations seeking to challenge its legality and prevent it from operating as out lined in the Wagner Act. In 1937, in the case of the National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Wagner Act and ensured the continued operation of the NLRB. The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, hinged on the idea that labor unrest could disrupt interstate commerce, so Congress was indeed within its rights to provide a mechanism such as the NLRB to help prevent strikes. At the same time, the ruling described relationships between employers and employees as being inherently unequal and maintained that collective bargaining was an appropriate tool to redress the inequality. The Court prohibited employers from blacklisting union members, employing spies to report on union activities, and other unfair practices.

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Taft-Hartley Act


TAFT-HARTLEY ACT (1947). Passed by Congress over the veto of President Harry Truman, the Taft-Hartley Act enacted a number of significant amendments to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. The 1935 law, known as the Wagner Act, may have been the most radical legislation of the twentieth century, recognizing and giving federal protection to workers' rights to organize, to form unions, to engage in strikes and other "concerted activities," including picketing, and to bargain collectively with their employers. The Wagner Act overturned a vast body of older, judge-made laws, which had enshrined, as a right of private property, employers' freedom to refuse to deal with unions or union workers. Now, the Wagner Act required them to bargain collectively with employees, and it forbade them to interfere with workers' new statutory rights. No longer could employers punish or fire pro-union employees or avoid independent unions by creating company-dominated unions; and no longer could they refuse to bargain in good faith with the unions that workers chose to represent them. What was more, the 1935 legislation created a new federal agency, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), to supervise union elections and bring "unfair labor practices" charges against employers who violated the Act.

The enforcement tools at the Board's disposal were never formidable; nonetheless, the spectacle of federal support behind vigorous industrial union drives both emboldened workers and enraged much of the business community and its supporters in Congress. During the dozen years since Congress passed the Wagner Act, the labor movement had quintupled in size, reaching roughly 15 million members, or 32 percent of the nonfarm labor force. A substantial majority of the workforce of such key industries as coal mining, railroads, and construction belonged to unions. Thus, by 1947 organized labor had become "Big Labor" and a mighty power in the public eye, and the complaints of business that the National Labor Relations Act was a one-sided piece of legislation began to resonate. The Act safeguarded workers' rights and enshrined collective bargaining but provided no protection for employers or individual employees against the abuses or wrongdoing of unions.

Changes after World War II

The end of World War II (1939–1945) saw a massive strike wave, which helped turn public opinion against "Big Labor." Thus, when the Republicans won both houses of Congress in the 1946 elections, new federal labor legislation was almost inevitable. Indeed, in the decade preceding 1946, well over 200 major bills setting out to amend the Wagner Act had been introduced in Congress. These bills had rehearsed the main themes of the complex and lengthy Taft-Hartley Act. The gist of Taft-Hartley, according to its proponents, was to right the balance of power between unions and employers. The Wagner Act, they claimed, was tilted toward unions; Taft-Hartley would protect employers and individual workers. For the latter, the new law contained provisions forbidding the closed shop and permitting states to outlaw any kind of union security clauses in collective agreements. Already, several states, led by Florida and Arkansas, had adopted so-called right-to-work measures, outlawing any form of union security—not only the closed shop, but also contract provisions that required workers who declined to join the union to pay their share of expenses for bargaining and processing grievances. By sanctioning right-to-work statutes, Taft-Hartley did not injure "Big Labor" in the industrial heartland, so much as help thwart union advance in traditionally anti-union regions like the South and the prairie states.

The Taft-Hartley Act Brings Changes

For employers, the Act created a list of union "unfair labor practices," where previously the Wagner Act had condemned only employer practices. Taft-Hartley also greatly expanded the ability of both employers and the Board to seek injunctions against unions, thus undermining some of the protections against "government by injunction" that labor had won in the 1932 Norris-LaGuardia Act. It gave employers the express right to wage campaigns against unions during the period when workers were deciding and voting on whether to affiliate with a union. Previous Board policy generally had treated these processes as ones in which workers ought to be free to deliberate and decide free from employer interference. The new law also banned secondary boycotts and strikes stemming from jurisdictional disputes among unions. These provisions chiefly affected the older craft unions of the American Federation of Labor, whose power often rested on the capacity for secondary and sympathetic actions on the part of fellow union workers outside the immediate "unfair" workplace.

By contrast, Taft-Hartley's anticommunist affidavit requirement, like its sanction for right-to-work laws, fell most heavily on the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The statute required that all union officials seeking access to NLRB facilities and services sign an affidavit stating that they were not communists. The requirement rankled because it implied that unionists were uniquely suspect. The law did not require employers or their agents to swear loyalty, but it did demand that the representatives of American workers go through a demeaning ritual designed to impugn their patriotism or they would be unable to petition the Board for a representation election or to bring unfair labor practice cases before it.

Finally, the Act changed the administrative structure and procedures of the NLRB, reflecting congressional conservatives' hostility toward the nation's new administrative agencies, exercising state power in ways that departed from common-law norms and courtlike procedures. Thus, the Act required that the Board's decision making follow legal rules of evidence, and it took the Board's legal arm, its general counsel, out of the Board's jurisdiction and established it as a separate entity.

The CIO's general counsel, for his part, warned that by establishing a list of unfair union practices and by imposing on the NLRB courtlike fact-finding, the new law would plunge labor relations into a morass of legalistic proceedings. Already under the Wagner Act, employers had found that unfair labor practice cases stemming from discrimination against union activists, firings of union-minded workers, and the like could all be strung out for years in the nation's appellate courts, rendering the Act's forthright endorsement of unionization a hollow one.

Since the late 1930s the NLRB itself had been retreating from its initially enthusiastic promotion of industrial unionism. Now, with Taft-Hartley, the Board or the independent legal counsel, who might be at odds with the Board, would have even more reason to maintain a studied "neutrality" toward union drives and collective versus individual employment relations, in place of Wagner's clear mandate in behalf of unionism. The great irony, the CIO counsel went on to say, was that so-called conservatives, who had made careers out of criticizing the intrusion of government authority into private employment relations, had created a vast and rigid machinery that would "convert … [federal] courts into forums cluttered with matters only slightly above the level of the police court."

And so it was. Despite its restrictions on secondary actions and jurisdictional strikes, Taft-Hartley did little to hamper the established old craft unions, like the building trades and teamsters, whose abuses had prompted them; but it went a long way toward hampering organizing the unorganized or extending unions into hostile regions of the nation, and it helped make the nation's labor law a dubious blessing for labor.


Millis, Harry A., and Emily C. Brown. From the Wagner Act to Taft-Hartley:A Study of National Labor Policy and Labor Relations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1950.

Tomlins, Christopher. The State and the Unions: Labor Relations, Law, and the Organized Labor Movement in America, 1880–1960. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Zieger, Robert H. The CIO:1935–1955. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995

William E.Forbath

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Taft-Hartley Act


Over President harry s. truman's veto, zthe Taft-Hartley Act—which is also called the Labor-Management Relations Act (29 U.S.C.A. § 141 et seq.)—was passed in 1947 to establish remedies for unfair labor practices committed by unions. It included amendments to the National Labor Relations Act, also known as the wagner act of 1935 (29 U.S.C.A. § 151 et seq.), which were crafted to counteract the advantage that labor unions had gained under the original legislation by imposing corresponding duties on unions. Prior to the amendments, the National Labor Relations Act had proscribed unfair labor practices committed by management.

The principal changes imposed by the act encompass the following: prohibiting secondary boycotts; abolishing the closed shop but allowing the union shop to exist under conditions specified in the act; exempting supervisors from coverage under the act; requiring the national labor relations board (NLRB) to accord equal treatment to both independent and affiliated unions; permitting the employer to file a representation petition even though only one union seeks to represent the employees; granting employees the right not only to organize and bargain collectively but also to refrain from such activities; allowing employees to file decertification petitions for elections to determine whether employees want to revoke the designation of a union as their bargaining agent; declaring certain union activities to constitute unfair labor practices; affording to employers, employees, and unions new guarantees of the right of free speech; proscribing strikes to compel an employer to discharge an employee due to his or her union affiliation, or lack of it; and providing for settlement by the NLRB of certain jurisdictional disputes.

The act also makes collective bargaining agreements enforceable in federal district court, and it provides a civil remedy for damages to private parties injured by secondary boycotts. The statute thereby marks a shift away from a federal policy encouraging unionization, which has been embodied in the Wagner Act, to a more neutral stance, which maintains the right of employees to be free from employer coercion.


Labor Law; Labor Union.

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Taft-Hartley Labor Act

Taft-Hartley Labor Act, 1947, passed by the U.S. Congress, officially known as the Labor-Management Relations Act. Sponsored by Senator Robert Alphonso Taft and Representative Fred Allan Hartley, the act qualified or amended much of the National Labor Relations (Wagner) Act of 1935, the federal law regulating labor relations of enterprises engaged in interstate commerce, and it nullified parts of the Federal Anti-Injunction (Norris-LaGuardia) Act of 1932. The act established control of labor disputes on a new basis by enlarging the National Labor Relations Board and providing that the union or the employer must, before terminating a collective-bargaining agreement, serve notice on the other party and on a government mediation service. The government was empowered to obtain an 80-day injunction against any strike that it deemed a peril to national health or safety. The act also prohibited jurisdictional strikes (dispute between two unions over which should act as the bargaining agent for the employees) and secondary boycotts (boycott against an already organized company doing business with another company that a union is trying to organize), declared that it did not extend protection to workers on wildcat strikes, outlawed the closed shop, and permitted the union shop only on a vote of a majority of the employees. Most of the collective-bargaining provisions were retained, with the extra provision that a union before using the facilities of the National Labor Relations Board must file with the U.S. Dept. of Labor financial reports and affidavits that union officers are not Communists. The act also forbade unions to contribute to political campaigns. Although President Truman vetoed the act, it was passed over his veto. Federal courts have upheld major provisions of the act with the exception of the clauses about political expenditures. Attempts to repeal it have been unsuccessful, but the Landrum-Griffin Act (1959) amended some features of the Taft-Hartley Labor Act.

See bibliography under labor law.

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Taft-Hartley Act


The Taft-Hartley Act became law despite President Harry Truman's (19451953) veto. Also known as the Labor-Management Relations Act, it passed Congress in 1947 and established guidelines to correct unions' unfair labor practices.

Taft-Hartley did several things to regulate labor practices in the United States. It prohibited secondary boycotts (in which the workers of a company convince employees of another organization to cease certain dealings with the company in order to pressure the employer to meet their needs) and authorized the payment of damages to parties injured by the boycotts. It abolished closed shops, which required all workers to be a member of a labor union, and did allow for union shops under specified conditions.

In addition, the Taft-Hartley Act established regulations for workers and employers regarding representation and bargaining. Workers now had the option of choosing to organize and bargain collectively or not. Workers gained the power to revoke a union from acting as their bargaining agent. Employers, employees, and unions received new guarantees of free speech. Employers could no longer hire an employee due to union affiliation or lack thereof. The National Labor Relations Board was given the authority to decide settlements for certain jurisdictional disputes. And, collective bargaining agreements became enforceable in federal district court.

The Taft-Hartley Act created a more neutral government stance on labor and unionism. Prior to the act, labor was regulated under a more pro-union policy established in the Wagner Act of 1935. Taft-Hartley allowed for more unbiased regulation of labor and unions while still protecting the rights of employees to be free from employer coercion.

It did, however, place a controversial requirement on unions. All union leaders had to take an oath declaring they were not members of the Communist party. Any union leader who did not take this oath was refused protection under the law. This provision was an early indicator of the "Red Scare" that swept the nation during the 1950s, when the government actively sought and tried citizens for alleged Communist beliefs.

See also: Closed Shop, National Labor Relations Board

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