- The Taft-Hartley Act allows monitoring of labor union power and activities by the federal government.
- Taft-Hartley provides protection for employees, employers, and unions.
- Taft-Hartley also gives states the ability to pass right-to-work laws. Remember to check your state laws when creating employment policy.
The Taft-Hartley Act is more formally known as the Labor Relations Act of 1947. It was created to amend the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, the first significant act of labor legislation in the United States. Congress passed Taft-Hartley over then-President Harry Truman’s veto.
Taft-Hartley’s amendments included legally protected scrutiny over the activities and power of the labor unions as well as supported demobilizing the labor movement through limitations on the freedom to strike, among other things.
The Origins of the Taft-Hartley Act
In the midst of the Great Depression, the United States government passed the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act), which created the National Labor Relations Board. The Wagner Act gave workers the right to organize, join labor unions, strike, and collectively bargain through their chosen representatives. It also permitted the formation of “closed” and “union” shops.
Just after World War II, fear of communist infiltration of labor unions began to grow. Simultaneously, the power of the unions themselves was also increasing. After a number of large-scale strikes, an anti-union environment took root, and Congress enacted the Taft-Hartley Act to place limits on the unions.
Since then, Taft-Hartley has been amended by the Landrum-Griffin Act of 1959, otherwise known as the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act.
Taft-Hartley Amendments to the Wagner Act
Taft-Hartley defined six unfair labor union practices and provided legal protection and remedies for employees; its predecessor, the Wagner Act, had only affected employer labor practices. The following are the six key amendments to Wagner laid out in Taft-Hartley:
- Employees gained the right to form unions and engage in collective bargaining with employers.
- Unfair union coercion is prohibited, as is discrimination against employees for resisting such coercion.
- Employers cannot refuse to hire prospective employees because of their refusal to join a union (except in certain exempted industries).
- An employer does have the right to sign an agreement with a union under which an employee is required to join on or after the 30th day of employment.
- Unions are required to bargain in good faith with employers, a provision to balance the requirement of good faith bargaining by employers laid out in the Wagner Act.
- Unions are prohibited from secondary boycotts, meaning the unions were not allowed to coerce or persuade another entity to stop doing business with the employer under primary boycott.
The Taft-Hartley Act instituted amendments intended to prevent organized labor groups from manipulating their members or their employers. Taft-Hartley also changed union election rules, included excluding supervisors from bargaining and giving employers the right to vote on union demands.
The Impact of Taft-Hartley
Taft-Hartley allowed the states to introduce “right-to-work” laws, prohibiting closed shops that required all employees to join the union. Critics of right-to-work maintain that since unions are compelled to represent all employees of a particular “shop” or business, non-union employees enjoy the benefits of the union without paying for them.
Employers were given the right to express their views about unions and the results of unionization. Previously, the right to speak freely on this topic was—if not expressly prohibited—clearly curtailed.
The greatest impact that still resonates today is the reduction in the frequency and severity of labor strikes. The act prohibited not only secondary boycotts but also sympathy strikes or boycotts and wildcat strikes—actions taken by workers without the authorization of their union.
Taft-Hartley continues to act as a critical tool for labor-management relations. It protects employees and employers as well as labor unions. However, critics fear state right-to-work laws may negate union power.