What Is the Taft-Hartley Act?

The Taft-Hartley Act is a 1947 U.S. federal law that extended and modified the 1935 Wagner Act. It prohibits certain union practices and requires disclosure of certain financial and political activities by unions. The bill was initially vetoed by President Truman, but Congress overrode the veto.

Key Takeaways

  • The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 requires disclosure of a union's financial and political activities.
  • This act is also known as the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA) and is an amendment to the 1935 Wagner Act.
  • The Taft-Hartley Act has had six amendments including more recent updates to right-to-work laws.

Understanding the Taft-Hartley Act

The Labor Management Relations Act, commonly known as the Taft-Hartley Act, amended the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA, or Wagner Act). Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, overriding President Harry Truman's veto.

Union critics at the time called it the "slave-labor bill," but the Republican-controlled Congress – encouraged by the business lobby – saw it as necessary to counter union abuses, to end a string of large-scale strikes that broke out after the end of World War II, and to suppress Communist influence in the labor movement.

The Wagner Act – and therefore, the Taft-Hartley Act – does not cover domestic help or farmworkers.

Key Amendments & Changes

Taft-Hartley outlined six unfair practices by labor unions and provided remedies, in the form of amendments, for protecting employees from harm resulting from these practices. Previously the Wagner Act had only addressed unfair labor practices perpetrated by employers. In 1947, President Harry Truman amended parts of the NLRA when he passed the Taft-Hartley Act. This Act created current right-to-work laws, which allow states to prohibit compulsory membership in a union as a condition for employment in the public and private sectors of the country.

  1. One amendment protected employees' rights under Section 7 of the Wagner Act, which gave employees the right to form unions and engage in collective bargaining with employers. This amendment protected employees from unfair coercion by unions that could result in discrimination against employees.
  2. A second amendment said that an employer cannot refuse to hire prospective employees because they won't join a union. However, an employer has the right to sign an agreement with a union that requires an employee to join the union on or before the employee's 30th day of employment.
  3. A third amendment stipulated that unions have a requirement to bargain in good faith with employers. This amendment balanced the provisions of the Wagner Act, which required good faith bargaining by employers.
  4. A fourth amendment prohibited secondary boycotts by unions. For example, if a union has a dispute with an employer, the union cannot, under the law, coerce or urge another entity to stop doing business with that employer.
  5. A fifth amendment prohibited unions from taking advantage of their members or employers. Unions were prohibited from charging their members' excessive initiation fees or membership dues. Also, unions were prohibited from causing employers to pay for work that its members did not perform.
  6. A sixth amendment added a free speech clause for employers. Employers have the right to express their views and opinions about labor issues, and these views do not constitute unfair labor practices provided the employer is not threatening to withhold benefits or engage in other retribution against employees.

In February 2021, Congress re-introduced the National Right to Work Act. It would give employees nationwide a choice to opt-out of joining or paying dues to unions. The Act was also introduced in 2019 and 2017 but stalled. In March 2021, the United States House of Representatives passed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act). The pro-union legislation overrides right-to-work laws and would make it easier to form unions. The PRO Act faces an uphill battle in the Senate, as most Republicans oppose it.

The following states have right-to-work laws: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Changes to Union Elections

The Taft-Hartley Act made also changes to union election rules. These changes excluded supervisors from bargaining groups and gave special treatment to certain professional employees.

The Taft-Hartley Act also created four new types of elections. One gave employers the right to vote on union demands. The other three gave employees the right to hold elections on the status of incumbent unions, to determine whether a union has the power to enter into agreements for employees, and to withdraw union representation after it's granted. In 1951 Congress repealed the provisions governing union shop elections.