Unions and Law

This article is about originating of Labor Unions in US pre and post World war II and later on other countries had adopted the labor laws with modifications to suit their economy, work force and conditions.

Until about 1930, there were no special labor laws. Employers were not required to engage in collective bargaining with employees and were virtually unrestrained in there behavior towards unions; the use of spies, blacklists, and firing of union agitators were widespread. Yellow dog contracts whereby management could require nonunion membership as a condition for employment were widely enforced. Most union weapons even strikes were illegal.

This one sided situation lasted until the great Depression (around 1930). Since then, in response to changing public attitudes, values, and economic conditions labor law has gone through three clear periods: from strong encouragement conditioned, labor law has gone through three clear periods: from strong encouragement of unions to modified encouragement coupled with regulation, and finally to detailed regulations of internal union affairs.

Period of Strong Encouragement: The Norris-LaGuardia (1932) and national Labor Relations or Wagner Acts (1935)

The Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932 set the stage for a new era in which union activity was encouraged. It guaranteed to each employee the right to bargain collectively, free from interference, restraint, or coercion. It declared yellow dog contracts unenforceable. And it limited the courts’ abilities to issues injunctions (stop orders) for activities such as peaceful picketing and payment of strike benefits.

Yet this act did little to restrain employers from fighting labor organizations by whatever means they would find. So, in 1935, Congress passed the National Labor Relations (or Wagner) Acts to add teeth. It did this by (1) banning certain unfair labor practices; (2) providing for secret ballot elections and majority rule for determining whether a firm’s employee would unionize; and (3) creating the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to enforce these two provisions.

As part of its duties the NLRB periodically isues interpretive rulings. For example, the NLRB ruled that temporary employee could join the unions of permanent employees in the companies where their temporary employment agencies.

Unfair Employer Labor Practices: The Wagner Act deemed statutory wrongs (but not crimes) five unfair labor practices used by employers:

1. It is unfair for employers to interface with, restrain or coerce employees in exercising their legally sanctioned right of self organization.
2. It is unfair for company representative to dominate or interfere within the company with the formation of the administration of labor unions. Among other specific management actions found to be unfair under these first two practices (1 and 2) are bribing employees, suing company spy systems, moving a business to avoid unionization, and black listing union sympathizers.
3. Employers are prohibited from discriminating in any way against employees for their legal union activities.
4. Employers are forbidden to discharge or discriminate against employees simply because the latter file unfair practice charges against the company.
5. Finally, it is an unfair labor practice for employers to refuse to bargain collectively with their employees duly chosen representatives.

Unions file an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board. The board then investigates the charge and decides on what action it should take. Possible actions include dismissal of the complaints, request for an injunction against the employer, or an order that the employers cease and desist.

Such complaints are not unusual. When Knight Ridder consolidated the separate online operations of several of its papers into the new KnightRidder.com it triggered a labor dispute. Citing possible fair labor practices, the unions asked the NLRB to investigate whether Knightidder.com violated labor law by not negotiating the transfer of workers with the union.

From 1935 to 1947: Union member ship increased quickly after passage of the Wagner Act in 1935. Other factors such as an improving economy and aggressive union leadership contributed to this rise. But by the mid 1940, after the end of World War II, the tide had begun to turn. Largely because of series of massive postwar strikes, public policy began to shift against what any viewed as union excesses. The stage was set for passage of the Taft-Hartley Act.