The Great Depression hit the United States hard. During the 1920s, Americans saw significant prosperity. Construction was booming, people were buying automobiles, and life was moving forward. The 1929 stock market crash sent shock waves through the U.S. economy, eventually leading to bank failures and Hoovervilles. In response to the Depression, President Roosevelt launched the New Deal, which increased government projects across the country. Through government money, people went back to work to improve the US infrastructure.
Nonetheless, the New Deal was not a permanent fix; in fact, it was only a bandage. The economy needed something more, something bigger. That came when the United States entered World War II in December 1941, triggering a sharp increase in opportunity and employment.
Post World War II
With the end of World War II and increased employment opportunities, demand for wage increases soared. This led to a wave of strikes and rising inflation. With the intent to curb claimed abuses of union power, Congress passed the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, or the LMRA (also called the Hart-Taftley Act). The LMRA prohibited unfair labor practices by unions.
Specifically, the LMRA outlawed secondary boycotts and “closed shops.” Secondary boycotts are when workers strike against their employer in solidarity with other workers who strike within the same enterprise. The striking workers may have no issue with their employer, but strike alongside other workers. Closed shops are labor practices wherein only union members were eligible for hire. Congress sought to limit mandatory unionizing in a number of areas. In addition to the prohibition of the closed shop, it granted workers the right “to refrain” from collective activity and allowed states to pass so-called right-to-work laws, which are found in Washington State, prohibiting union shops. Union shops, similar to closed shops, are where all of an employer’s employees in a particular bargaining unit are required to join or contribute to a union once hired.
The LMRA also banned wildcat strikes, which are strikes that are not sanctioned by a union. Wildcat strikes tended to be grassroots strikes by unhappy employees. Note, however, that workers can petition the National Labor Relations Board for a wildcat strike when the petitioning group can demonstrate that the Union representing them does not have their best interests in mind. The Memphis Sanitation Strike and the Baltimore Municipal strike of 1974 are two examples of sanctioned wildcat strikes that were later supported by their respective unions.
In addition to empowering non-union employees, the LMRA sought to strengthen an employer’s position in regard to a union. The LMRA amendments also partisan employer speech would not be considered an unfair labor practice, meaning that an employer can be free to express himself of his or her political views without union retaliation.
The LMRA also included provisions on enforcement of collective bargaining agreements, employer payments to union representatives, and remedies for union unfair labor practices.
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