What Is the Taft-Hartley Act?

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 was introduced after several major strikes in 1945 and 1946.
  • The Act of 1947 prohibits certain union practices and requires that they disclose their financial and political activities.
  • Though the legislation was vetoed by Harry S. Truman, the vote was overridden by both the House and Senate and became law.
  • 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 (LMRA), 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 Taft-Hartley Act, like the Wagner Act before it, does not cover domestic help or farmworkers.

The Taft-Hartley Act Key Amendments and 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, giving them 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, giving 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. As of November 2022, the PRO Act of 2021 has not been voted upon in Congress.

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. The most recent state to enact legislation was Wisconsin in 2015.

Changes to Union Elections

The Taft-Hartley Act also made 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.

Why Was Taft-Hartley Act Passed?

The Taft-Hartley Act's purpose was to regulate labor unions and restrict what unions can do during periods of national emergency, The act prohibits unions from engaging in several unfair practices.

What Did the Taft-Hartley Act Make Illegal?

The Taft-Hartley Act made a number of different union practices prohibited. These practices include jurisdictional strikes, wildcat strikes, political strikes, solidarity strikes, and secondary boycotts. It also outlawed discrimination against nonunion members by union hiring halls and closed shops.

Is the Taft-Hartley Act Still In Effect?

The Taft-Hartley Act was vetoed by President Harry S. Truman in 1947. Still, the act was enacted by the 80th U.S. Congress after receiving support from both congressional representatives from both the Democrat and Republican parties. The act continues to be strongly opposed by many, though the act remains in effect.

The Bottom Line

Enacted in 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act was intended to protect employee rights by unfair practices by unions. The act prohibits unions from performing certain practices and requires disclosure of certain activities. The act has many detractors who feel the act has hurt labor laws and decrease worker rights.

Article Sources
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  1. National Labor Relations Board. "1947 Taft-Hartley Substantive Provisions."

  2. GovTrack. "H.R. 1275: National Right-to-Work Act."

  3. The New York Times. "House Passes Labor Rights Expansion, but Senate Chances Are Slim."

  4. National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. "Right to Work Frequently-Asked Questions."

  5. National Conference of State Legislatures. "Right-to-Work Resources."

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