17. What is the “Norris-LaGuardia Act”?
The Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932 was the earliest federal law broadly protecting the rights of employees to organize and bargain collectively. Section 2 states the Act’s purpose is to protect the individual worker’s right to organize. More specifically, the Act prohibits certain practices by federal courts with regard to collective bargaining rights. Early in the development of labor-relations law, courts would issue injunctions (orders to stop doing an activity) against individuals and collective groups of employees that prohibited certain collective bargaining practices, such as picketing or striking. Individuals or groups who engaged in these practices could be arrested and fined for contempt of a court order. In response to this judicial activity,
Section 4 of the Act limited the ability of a federal court from enjoining the following activity:
• striking or discontinuing work in protest;
• unionizing, organizing, or becoming a members of a group dedicated to collective labor relations;
• receiving or issuing unemployment benefits or pay as part of a strike;
• offering legal assistance to those involved in a labor dispute (including court representation);
• picketing or other public displays support or dissension for labor practices (except as where such publicity executes fraud on the public); and
• assembling privately or publicly (when done peacefully).
Section 7 of the Act outlined the specific procedures that a federal court must follow when issuing an injunction (or a temporary restraining order) prohibiting any of the above labor practices. Basically, the court may issue a temporary restraining order for a limited number of days. The court must then hold a hearing during which each party (labor and employer) can present evidence as to why the conduct at issue should be allowed or enjoined. This procedure is in line with the rules of civil procedure governing temporary restraining orders in federal and state courts. The limits placed on the ability of employers to request such injunctions in federal court had the effect of limiting the ability of employers to thwart collective bargaining practices through the court.
• Note: Employers can, however, still bring actions seeking injunctions in state courts. Also, federal common law allows the employer to seek injunctions in federal courts if a collective bargaining agreement between employers and the organized labor allows for a grievance procedure through arbitration.
• Discussion: Do you think the Federal Government was justified in regulating the practice of granting injunctions against collective bargaining practices? Why or why not? Do the regulations go far enough in protecting employees? Why or why not? Does the ability of state courts to hear an injunction request thwart the intent behind the federal law? Should a contract arbitration clause in a collective bargaining agreement between employer and union or organized labor affect the ability of a court to hear an injunction against the above-referenced activities? Why or why not?
• Practice Question: Donna is an employee of ABC Corp and president of the employee union. The union is in a dispute with ABC Corp and has decided to stage a picket and protest. What right does ABC have to seek an legal order (injunction) against the planned picket and demonstration?