Taft–Hartley Act of 1947

Under the protections of the Wagner (National Labor Relations) Act of 1935 and its predecessor, the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, labor union membership soared from less than 3 million workers in 1932 to approximately 14.5 million by the end of World War II. These 14.5 million members composed over 35 percent of the nonagricultural civilian workforce— an all-time high in the history of American organized labor. But the end of the war and the accompanying decreased demand for war-time goods precipitated sharp cuts to manufacturing wages and increased prices. Frustrated and resentful, America’s workers turned to their unions for protection against inflation. The unions delivered. By November 1945, America began to experience one of the largest waves of strikes in its history. But the 1945 and 1946 strikes, in turn, fueled anti-union sentiments. Organized labor’s enemies in the media and in Congress used the strike wave to blame the labor movement for the wage– price spiral plaguing the national economy. Riding this sentiment, on June 23, 1947, Congress passed the Taft–Hartley Act over President Harry Truman’s veto. Whereas the central purpose of the Wagner Act had been to encourage workers to form or join unions, Taft–Hartley marked a shift away from this policy to a more neutral posture. For example, the Act amended Sections 2 and 9b of the Wagner Act to exclude supervisors from the definition of ‘‘employee’’ and require separate representation for plant guards and the option of separate representation for professional employees. Particularly controversial provisions limited the right to strike by amending Section 8 of the Wagner act to prohibit secondary boycotts, jurisdictional strikes over work assignments, and strikes to force an employer to discharge an employee because of the refusal to join the union. Other disputed provisions required union officials to sign affidavits attesting that they were not communists and permitted states to forbid, through what is commonly known today as ‘‘right to work’’ legislation, agreements requiring union membership. Finally, the act separated the investigatory and prosecutorial functions of the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel from the adjudicatory functions of the board and made collective bargaining agreements enforceable in federal district court.

JEAN-CLAUDE ANDRE´

References and Further Reading

  • Comment, Developments in the Law: The Taft–Hartley Act, Harvard Law Review 64 (March 1951): 781–852.
  • Hardin, Patrick, et al., eds. The Developing Labor Law: The Board, the Courts, and the National Labor Relations Act. 4th ed. Washington, D.C.: BNA Books, 2002.
  • Taft–Hartley Symposium: The First Fifty Years, Catholic University Law Review 47 (Spring 1998): 763–1007.
  • Zieger, Robert H., and Gilbert J. Gall. American Workers, American Unions. 3rd ed. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • National Industrial Recovery Act of June 16, 1933, c. 90, 48 Stat. 195
  • Taft–Hartley (Labor–Management Relations) Act of June 23, 1947, c. 120, 61 Stat. 136
  • Wagner (National Labor Relations) Act of July 5, 1935, c. 372, 49 Stat. 449

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