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Taft-Hartley Act

Last Updated: 2006

The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 amended much of the National Labor Relations (Wagner) Act of 1935, the federal law regulating labor relations in interstate commerce. Sponsored by Senator Robert Alphonso Taft of Ohio and Representative Fred Allan Hartley Jr. of New Jersey, the U.S. Congress passed this act in 1947 over President Harry Truman’s veto.

The Taft-Hartley Act established new parameters on labor disputes by enlarging the National Labor Relations Board. It provided a clause that the labor unions or the employer must, before terminating a collective-bargaining agreement, serve notice on the other party and on a government mediation service. The federal government was also empowered under this act to obtain an eighty-day injunction or “cooling-off ” period against any ongoing or potential future strike that it deemed as a serious threat to national health or security.

Since the promulgation of the Taft-Hartley Act, presidents have invoked this act thirty-five times in attempts to halt work stoppings on matters related to labor disputes. President Richard Nixon successfully invoked the Taft-Hartley Act in 1971 to end a longshoremen’s strike. In 1978, when President Jimmy Carter wanted the Taft-Hartley Act to end a coal strike, the courts refused to issue an injunction, thus dealing a blow to the power of the chief executive.

The act also outlined the closed shop and the union hiring halls that discriminated against nonunion members. The law permitted union shops to operate as long as state law did not forbid them in any way.

The Taft-Hartley Act also had significant ramifications on aspects of federalism. As a sign of the enhanced power exercised by the district court of the United States under Title 29, Chapter 7, Subchapter IV, of this act, suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce, as defined in this act, might be brought about in any district court of the United States. The district court having jurisdiction of the parties had the sole authority to issue enforceable summons or subpoenas and had wide-ranging power in adjudicating matters of litigation between labor organization and employer.

Another provision of the act that was quite contentious was requiring all union office bearers to file a non-Communist affidavit and take an oath that they were not Communists or connected with the Communist Party or ideology in any form or manner whatsoever. In 1959, the Taft-Hartley Labor Act was amended by the Landrum-Griffin Act, which repealed the requirement that a union must file a non-Communist affidavit and a financial report in order to obtain a hearing before the National Labor Relations Board.

SEE ALSO: National Labor Relations Act of 1935


Thomas Frank, One Market under God (New York: Doubleday, 2001); and Kenneth F. Warren, Administrative Law in the Political System (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2004).