Labor Relations Law
This article explores the reasons and justifications for current American labor law and provides a history of the federal statutory schemes that have affected business and business-related labor relation practices. A survey of federal labor laws such as the Railway Labor Act and the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act is included to give the reader a comprehensive overview of labor-relations law and the implications of present labor relations.
Keywords Labor; Unionization; Labor Disputes; Strikes; NLRA; National Labor Relations Act
Law: Labor Relations Law
Labor-relations laws exist to protect workers' labor-relations rights. Since the 1930s, a body of federal statutes has been implemented in the United States to promote successful and amicable labor-management relations. Modern US federal law regulating labor-management relations is largely a product of the New Deal era. While Congress has acted to raise the minimum wage and has considered labor-law reform affecting both private and public employees, no major statutes or revisions of labor laws have been enacted over the past several decades ("Federal Labor Laws," 1993). In light of this, it is important to understand the history and significance of these laws to gain a full understanding and appreciation of their present-day applications
Early Labor Laws
Labor laws began to be instituted in the United States shortly after the Civil War, the result of public pressure placed on the federal government to manage the growing country's labor force. During this period, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, and it transformed the United States from a relatively agricultural society into an industrial one that was manned by laborers who were mostly immigrants with little to no rights or legal protections from unfair practice.
Railroads became the epitome of this early industrialized age. The railway system "expanded from about 30,000 miles of track before the Civil War to nearly 270,000 miles by 1900. The industrial labor force nearly tripled between 1880 and 1910 to about 8 million. Large factories, which had existed only in the textile industry before the Civil War, became commonplace in a variety of industries" (Illinois Labor History Society, 2000).
During this time, the population of the United States was growing at a staggering rate, from 31,443,321 in 1860 to 76,212,168 in 1900 and then 92,228,496 by 1910 (Illinois Labor History Society, 2000). "Labor was in high demand to run the new industries. Unfortunately, the continued high population growth spurred by immigration helped to keep the value of individual workers low as there was a ready supply of people to fill the positions" (Illinois Labor History Society, 2000).
This was an active and fascinating period in the United States' labor history. It was during this time that workers began to organize and resist when their health or their way of life was being threatened. These actions, coupled with worker organization, laid the groundwork for unions and union organization.
The events that led to the public's demand for labor legislation and laborer recognition can be viewed as separate and individually unique occurrences, but placed together, one can get a sense of the necessity and urgency for such laws. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, various events conspired to influence labor legislation.
Timeline of Labor-Related Events, 1878–1913
Greenback Labor Party organized by a merger of the Workingmen's Party and Greenback Party.
Knights of Labor elect Terrence Powderly as Grand Master Workman.
Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, forerunner of the American Federation of Labor, formed in Pittsburgh.
First Labor Day celebration held in New York City.
Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen organized.
Immigration of laborers on contract is outlawed by the Foran Act.
Period of greatest influence by Knights of Labor.
In Columbus, Ohio, the American Federation of Labor is formed with Samuel Gompers as the first president. Violence erupts following a mysterious explosion at Haymarket Square in Chicago during a rally in support of the 8-hour day.
Seven accused in the Haymarket explosion are sentenced to death. Five are later executed.
First federal labor relations law passed, but it only applies to rail companies.
The AFL, at their annual convention, announce their support for women's suffrage. United Mine Workers of America formed.
Homestead Strike in Pennsylvania. The Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel, and Tin Workers lose the fight over Carnegie Steel's attempt to break the union.
Strike by the American Railway Union against the Pullman Palace Car Company near Chicago is defeated by the use of injunctions and federal troops.
Erdman Act passed, which provides for mediation and voluntary arbitration on the railroads. This law replaces the 1888 law.
International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union founded.
United States Steel defeats the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers after a strike which lasted three months. United Textile Workers of America founded.
Coal miners in Pennsylvania end a five-month strike and agree to arbitration with a presidential committee.
At the annual AFL convention, blue-collar and middle-class women unite to form the National Women's Trade Union League. This organization is created to help organize women. Mary Morton Kehew is elected president, while Jane Addams is elected vice-president. The Department of Commerce and Labor is formed. Mother Jones (Mary Harris Jones) leads the March of the Mill Children to President Roosevelt's home in New York. Many of the children are victims of industrial accidents.
In Chicago, the Industrial Workers of the World founded. US Supreme Court in Lochner v. New York declares a New York maximum hours law unconstitutional under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.
Upton Sinclair publishes The Jungle, which exposes the unsafe and unclean aspects of the Chicago meatpacking industry. The International Typographical Union struck successfully for the 8-hour day, which helped pave the way for shorter hours in the printing trades.
In Muller v. Oregon, the Supreme Court rules that female maximum hour laws are constitutional due to a woman's "physical structure and …maternal functions." Section 10 of the Erdman Act, which deals with "yellow dog" contracts and forbids a person from being fired for belonging to a union, was declared unconstitutional (US v. Adair).
Two-month strike by the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union was settled by providing preferential union hiring, a board of grievances, and a board of arbitration.
Supreme Court upheld an injunction ordering the AFL to eliminate the Bucks Stove and Range Co. from its unfair list and to cease to promote an unlawful boycott. (Gompers v. Bucks Stove and Range Co.) 146 workers, mostly women, die in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in New York City. This leads to the establishment of the New York Factory Investigating Commission to monitor factory conditions.
Massachusetts adopts the first minimum wage law for women and minors. Textile strike led by the Industrial Workers of the World in Massachusetts wins wage increase.
US Department of Labor established. Secretary of Labor given power to "act as a mediator and to appoint commissioners of conciliation in labor disputes." (Illinois Labor History Society, 2000)
This series of events led Congress to pass a number of federal mandates for the purpose of addressing these issues in a comprehensive manner.
Early Labor Laws
The Clayton Act
The first of this series of early labor-relation laws was the Clayton Act of 1914. This legislation was a direct response to the growing public pressure on the federal government to clarify the position of labor under antitrust law. The Clayton Act "included several major provisions protective of organized labor" ("Federal labor laws," 1993). It stated, "The labor of a human being is not a commodity or article of commerce," and went on to assert that...
(The entire section is 3949 words.)