Major Labor Laws

Cite this article as:"Major Labor Laws," in The Business Professor, updated February 22, 2019, last accessed October 20, 2020,


What are “labor laws”?

Labor laws control the relationship between employers and employees with regard to such things as benefits, obligations, and bargaining rights. Labor law is generally grouped together with all employment laws, but it is frequently used to refer to the group of laws affecting collective bargaining rights of and unionization by employees. Numerous federal and state laws govern labor relations. There are also specific laws designated to govern the collective bargaining and unionization rights of public sector employees of the federal and state governments.

Discussion: Why do you think state and federal governments are concerned with the rights of employees to organize and collectively bargain with employers? What are the arguments for and against regulating this sort of activity?

Practice Question: What is the difference between employment laws and labor laws?

What are the major federal labor laws?

Norris-LaGuardia Act – This law prevents courts from issuing injunctions (stop orders) to individuals or groups of striking employees.

National Labor Relations Act (or Wagner Act) – This law takes affirmative steps to allow unionization of employees.

Taft- Hartley Act – This law regulates a wide range of employer-employee conduct and is administered by the National Labor Relations Board.

Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act – This law took steps to protect the rights of union members with regard to union actions.

As stated above, states frequently pass laws that govern labor relations between employers and employees. These laws cannot conflict with federal law, but they may regulate labor relations in a way that is more restrictive than federal law.

Discussion: What do you notice about the evolution of labor laws from the simply descriptions above? Why do you think the legal approach to labor relations has taken this course?

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 a legal order (injunction) against the planned picket and demonstration?

What is the “National Labor Relations Act”?

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA), also known as the Wagner Act, was passed in 1935 to strengthen the protections afforded private-sector employees to organize or bargain collectively. The fundamental premise behind the Norris-LaGuardia Act was to allow employers and labor organizations to work out their disputes through negotiation and existing legal channels. The NLRA adopted the principle that organized labor groups could not successfully protect its interest in conflicts with employers without additional government protections. The major provisions of the NLRA protecting labor are as follows:

Section 7: “Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” Under this provision, an employee is allowed to undertake a boycott if:

⁃ there is a labor dispute between employees and employer that is made public, and

⁃ the boycott does not disparage the employer’s product or service.

Section 8(a): Provides numerous limitations on an employer’s ability to thwart collective bargaining or worker organization efforts. The relevant subsections are as follows:

⁃ Subsection (1) prohibits a number of practices by employers designed to interfere with employees exercising their Section 7 rights.

⁃ Subsection (2) prohibits companies from forming unions among themselves.

⁃ Subsection (3) prohibits an employer from discriminating against employees for taking part in Section 7 protected activity.

⁃ Subsection (5) prohibits an employer from refusing to recognize and negotiate through an organized group’s duly appointed representative.

The provisions of the NLRA are administered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Employees alleging that their rights under the NLRA are violated by their employer may file an action with the NLRB within 6 months of the violation. Unions may file complaints pursuant to section 8(a)(5). The complaint must explain the alleged discriminatory conduct and how it violates rights protected by the NLRA. If the NLRB believes there is a violation, it will issue a complaint against the employer. The matter will then go before an administrative law judge for resolution.

Discussion: What do you think the Federal Government was attempting to accomplish in passing the NLRA? Why do you think the NLRA vested regulatory authority to oversee the Act in the NLRB? What do you think is the significance of the specific employer activity prohibited under the NLRA?

Practice Question: ABC Corp is a large corporation with lots of employees. In recent months, there has been lots of rumors that a significant number of employees are disgruntled with work condition and are considering forming a union. ABC wants to fight the unionization of the employees for a number of reasons. ABC asks your advice on what conduct is prohibited in attempting to dissuade unionization. Can you explain to ABC the prohibited practices?

What is the “Taft-Hartley Act”?

The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 is a group of amendments to the NLRA. Since the passage of these amendments, the NLRA is commonly known as the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA). Though the name is modified, the provisions of the NLRA make up the core of the LMRA, which is still administered by the NLRB. The major additions of the Taft-Hartley Act include:

Right to Work Laws – Perhaps most notable addition of the Taft Hartley Act was Section 14(b). This provision allows states to pass laws prohibiting mandatory membership in a union or mandatory union dues for an employee. These state laws are known as “right-to-work” laws. These statutes are a huge detriment to unions, which depend on employee dues. Approximately 25 states have passed these types of laws.

Unfair Discharge – The Taft-Hartley Act added Section 8(b) to prohibit additional unfair labor practices by employers and employees. Section 8(b)(2) prohibited union employees from causing an employee to be fired for any union-related reason.

Employer Protections – Many of the provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act offer protections to employers, as well as employees. Notably, Section 8(b)(7) prohibits employees of one company from picketing on behalf of the employees of another company (known as a “secondary boycott”). Another example is Section 301, which recognizes a collective bargaining agreement as a valid contract. Also, employers may sue a unionized group for failure to comply with the terms of a previously executed agreement. So, if an agreement contains provisions prescribing a procedure for dealing with disputes (such as an arbitration clause) or strikes in violation of a no-strike clause, the employer may seek an injunction against the strike and recover any monetary damages suffered as a result.

Discussion: Do you notice a different tone and purpose behind the Taft-Hartley amendments in comparison to the objectives of the NLRA? Why do you think the Federal Government took these steps to curtail the protections granted organized labor in existing law?

Practice Question: State A is concerned that union activity is likely to cause large corporations that resent union activity to locate in other states. State A passes a “right-to-work” law that prohibits unions from mandating all corporate employees pay union dues. ABC Corp is located in State A and has an active union. ABC is concerned that the union is unduly pressuring employees to join the union, pay union dues, and are threatening negative actions if the employee fails to comply. What are the ABC and employee rights in this situation?

What is the “Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act”?

The Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA), also known as the Landrum-Griffin Act, was passed to provide greater protections to individual union members. The prominent provisions of the LMRDA are as follows:

Section 101(a)(1) – This provision allows union members the right to vote for union representatives, to nominate candidates, and to take part in union meetings. These rights are “subject to reasonable rules and regulations in such organization’s constitution and bylaws.” Depending upon what the union constitution provides for member rights, general members must have equal rights. If, however, the constitution withholds specific authority to a group or board of individuals, the Act does not grant this right or authority to all members.

Section 101(a)(2) – This provision protects the right of each member to meet with or assemble with any other or all members of the union. It also protects freedom of expression (including criticism or dissension) with regard to union activity.

Section 101(a)(3) – This provision protects union members from being subject to raises in union dues without first going through established procedures.

Section 101(a)(4) – This provision protects union members from retribution or discharge for bringing suit against the union or any of its members. The member must generally follow any internal or administrative procedures in place to resolve union disputes prior to filing suit.

Section 101(a)(5) – This provision provides due process rights for union members in disciplinary actions. Except for instances of non-payment of dues, members cannot be subject to disciplinary action by the union without being given notice of the charged misconduct, a reasonable time to prepare for the proceeding, and a formal hearing before the union’s board or adjudicative body.

Title IV – Title IV of the Act places requirements on union elections. Similar to corporate board procedures, it allows candidates for election the right to inspect certain documents, to obtain membership lists, and the right to campaign or advertise equally in union newsletters. Failure to follow these rules can cause the DOL to invalidate an election.

Title V – Title V of the Act places fiduciary standards upon union officers. Particularly, officers must avoid self-interested transactions at the expense of the union and report any dealings (such as financial expenditures) to the members.
The LMRA allows union members to bring an action in federal court for any violations of these provisions. This is subject to any requirements in the constitution to first pursue administrative remedies for disputes.

Discussion: What do you think was the Federal Government’s purpose in passing greater protections for individual union members as against the union organization? Do you think these provisions are warranted or effective? Can you think of any other protections that union members should be afforded as part of their union membership?

Practice Question: William is an employee of ABC Corp and a member of the worker’s union. He has been very outspoken against the union’s stance on new hiring salaries. William believes that the salary system should be more tiered in favor of experienced employees as apposed to affording new employees such extensive benefits. Is William protected if the union (or its members) takes any negative actions against him for his position?

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