Taft-Hartley Act

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The Labor-Management Relations Act, commonly known as the Taft-Hartley Act, is a United States federal law that greatly restricts the activities and power of labor unions. The act forbade jurisdictional strikes and secondary boycotts. Employers were permitted to be exempted from bargaining with unions if they so opted. Unions were forbidden to contribute to any political campaigns and were required to affirm they were not supporters of the Communist Party. The Taft-Hartley Act also gave the United States Attorney General the power to obtain an 80 day injunction when a threatened or actual strike that was believed "imperiled the national health or safety".

The Act, still largely in effect, was sponsored by Senator Robert Taft and Representative Fred A. Hartley, Jr. and passed over U.S. President Harry S. Truman's veto on June 23, 1947, establishing the act as a law. Truman had described the act as a "slave-labor bill," adding that it would "conflict with important principles of our democratic society". The Taft-Hartley Act amended the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA, also known as the Wagner Act), which Congress had passed in 1935. The Taft Hartley Act was an example of conflict between vested interests, in this case between those of labor and the owners of industry, with those of labor coming out ahead of the owners of industry.

Effects of the act

As stated in 29 U.S.C.A. 141, the purpose of the NLRA is:

[T]o 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 amendments enacted in Taft-Hartley added a list of prohibited actions, or "unfair labor practices," on the part of unions to the NLRA, which had previously only prohibited "unfair labor practices" committed by employers. The Taft-Hartley Act prohibited jurisdictional strikes, secondary boycotts, and "common situs" picketing, closed shops, and monetary donations by unions to federal political campaigns. Union shops were heavily restricted, and states were allowed to pass "right-to-work laws" that outlawed union shops. Furthermore, the executive branch of the Federal government could obtain legal strikebreaking injunctions if an impending or current strike "imperiled the national health or safety," a test that has been interpreted broadly by the courts.

Jurisdictional strikes

In jurisdictional strikes, outlawed by Taft-Hartley, a union strikes in order to pressure an employer to assign particular work to the employees it represents. Secondary boycotts and common situs picketing, also outlawed by the act, are actions in which unions picket, strike, or refuse to handle the goods of a business with which they have no primary dispute but which is associated with a targeted business. A later statute, the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, passed in 1959, tightened these restrictions on secondary boycotts still further.

Closed shops

The outlawed closed shops were contractual agreements that required an employer to hire only labor union members. Union shops, still permitted, require new recruits to join the union within a certain amount of time, but only as part of a collective bargaining agreement and only if the contract allows the worker at least thirty days after the date of hire or the effective date of the contract to join the union. The National Labor Relations Board and the courts have added other restrictions on the power of unions to enforce union security clauses and have required them to make extensive financial disclosures to all members as part of their duty of fair representation. On the other hand, Congress repealed the provisions requiring a vote by workers to authorize a union shop a few years after the passage of the Act, when it became apparent that workers were approving them in virtually every case.

Union security clauses

The amendments also authorized individual states to outlaw union security clauses (such as the union shop) entirely in their jurisdictions by passing right-to-work laws. Currently all of the states in the Deep South and a number of traditionally Republican states in the Midwest, Plains, and Rocky Mountains regions have right-to-work laws (with four states—Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, and Oklahoma—going one step further and enshrining right-to-work laws in their states' constitutions).


The amendments required unions and employers to give sixty days' notice to each other and to certain state and federal mediation bodies before they may undertake strikes or other forms of economic action in pursuit of a new collective bargaining agreement; it did not, on the other hand, impose any "cooling-off period" after a contract expired. Although the Act also authorized the President to intervene in strikes or potential strikes that create a national emergency, a reaction to the national coal miners' strikes called by the United Mine Workers of America in the 1940s, the President has used that power less and less frequently in each succeeding decade. President George W. Bush invoked the law most recently in connection with the employer lockout of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union during negotiations with West Coast shipping and stevedoring companies in 2002.

Treatment of supervisors

The amendments expressly excluded supervisors from coverage under the act, and allowed employers to terminate supervisors engaging in union activities or those not supporting the employer's stance. The amendments maintained coverage under the act for professional employees, but provided for special procedures before they may be included in the same bargaining unit as non-professional employees.

Right of employer to oppose unions

The amendments codified the Supreme Court's earlier ruling that employers have a constitutional right to express their opposition to unions, so long as they did not threaten employees with reprisals for their union activities, or promise benefits as an inducement to refrain from them. The amendments also gave employers the right to file a petition asking the Board to determine if a union represents a majority of its employees, and allow employees to petition either to decertify their union, or to invalidate the union security provisions of any existing collective bargaining agreement.


The amendments gave the General Counsel of the NLRB discretionary power to seek injunctions against either employers or unions that violated the Act. The law made pursuit of such injunctions mandatory, rather than discretionary, in the case of secondary boycotts by unions. The amendments also established the General Counsel’s autonomy within the administrative framework of the NLRB. Congress also gave employers the right to sue unions for damages caused by a secondary boycott, but gave the General Counsel exclusive power to seek injunctive relief against such activities.

The amendments required union leaders to file affidavits with the United States Department of Labor declaring that they were not supporters of the Communist Party as a condition to participating in NLRB proceedings. The Supreme Court held that this was an unconstitutional bill of attainder in 1965.

Federal jurisdiction

The act provided for federal court jurisdiction to enforce collective bargaining agreements. Although Congress passed this section to empower federal courts to hold unions liable in damages for strikes violating a no-strike clause, this part of the act has instead served as the springboard for creation of a "federal common law" of collective bargaining agreements, which favored arbitration over litigation or strikes as the preferred means of resolving labor disputes.


The Congress that passed the Taft-Hartley Amendments considered repealing the Norris-LaGuardia Act to the extent necessary to permit courts to issue injunctions against strikes violating a no-strike clause, but chose not to do so. The Supreme Court nonetheless held several decades later that the act implicitly gave the courts the power to enjoin such strikes over subjects that would be subject to final and binding arbitration under a collective bargaining agreement.

Finally, the act imposed a number of procedural and substantive standards that unions and employers must meet before they may use employer funds to provide pensions and other employee benefit to unionized employees. Congress has since passed more extensive protections for workers and employee benefit plans as part of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, better known as "ERISA."

Entertainment industry

The term Taft-Hartley has a special meaning in the entertainment industry. Specifically, for film and television actors, an actor not in the union who becomes a "principal performer" (says a line) is immediately eligible to join the Screen Actors Guild and is covered under the SAG contract with the production company for 30 days, at which point he or she must either join SAG or cease working on any union productions. Once joining the union, the actor may not work on any non-union production, per the terms of the bylaws. This allows SAG to get around the rules forbidding closed shops by providing a mechanism for new members to join the union.

Opposition to the act

Union leaders did not like the bill when it was proposed. Neither did Harry Truman. He vetoed Taft-Hartley, but Congress overrode the veto. Since then, labor activists have sought the repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act since its inception. Organized labor nearly succeeded in pushing Congress to amend the law to increase the protections for strikers and victims of employer retaliation during the Carter and Clinton administrations, but failed on both occasions because of Republican opposition and lukewarm support for reform from the Democratic President in office at the time.

Anarcho-capitalist economist Murray Rothbard opposed the act as a form of involuntary servitude, believing it to be a self-contradictory policy. Said Rothbard:

On October 4, 1971, President Nixon invoked the Taft-Hartley Act to obtain a court injunction forcing the suspension of a dock strike for eighty days; this was the ninth time the federal government had used the Act in a dock strike…the "solution" imposed was forced labor, pure and simple; the workers were coerced, against their will, into going back to work.[1]


  1. Mises.org, 5 Involuntary Servitude. Retrieved November 19, 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Faragher, John Mack. Out of Many A History of the American People. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2000. ISBN 9780139493065
  • McCann, Irving G. Why the Taft-Hartley Law? New York: Committee for Constitutional Government, 1950.
  • Millis, Harry A., and Emily Clark Brown. From the Wagner Act to Taft-Hartley; A Study of National Labor Policy and Labor Relations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1950.

External links

All links retrieved February 26, 2023.


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