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Closed Shop - Further Readings

union employment labor act

A shop in which persons are required to join a particular union as a precondition to employment and to remain union members for the duration of their employment.

The federal National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) (29 U.S.C.A. §§ 151 et seq.) protects the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively and prohibits management from engaging in UNFAIR LABOR PRACTICES that would interfere with these rights. Popularly known as the WAGNER ACT, the NLRA was signed into law by President FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT on July 5, 1935.

Among the workers' rights legalized by the NLRA was the right to enter into a "closed shop" agreement. It differs from a union shop, in which all workers, once employed, must become union members within a specified period of time as a condition of their continued employment. Closed shop agreements ensured that only union members who were bound by internal union rules, including those enforcing worker solidarity during strikes, were hired.

As WORLD WAR II ended a decade after the NLRA was enacted, unions sought to make up the pay cuts caused by wage freezes during the war, resulting in a rash of strikes. Many people viewed these strikes as economically destructive, and union practices, such as closed shop agreements, became increasingly unpopular. Critics of the closed shop contended that it allowed unions to monopolize employment by limiting membership or closing it altogether. They also argued that the closed shop allowed unions to force unwilling individuals to give them financial support.

In response to these criticisms, Congress amended the NLRA in 1947, with the adoption of the LABOR-MANAGEMENT-RELATIONS ACT (29 U.S.C.A. §§ 151 et seq.). Known as the TAFT-HARTLEY ACT, this law placed many restrictions on union activities. It limited picketing rights, banned supervisory employees from participating in unions, and restricted the right to strike in situations where the president of the United States and Congress determined that a strike would endanger national health and safety. The Taft-Hartley Act prohibited secondary boycotts, wherein a union incites a strike by employees of a neutral or "secondary" party, such as a retailer, in order to force the secondary party to cease doing business with the party with whom the union has its primary dispute, such as a manufacturer. The Taft-Hartley Act also allowed individual states to ban the union shop by passing RIGHT-TO-WORK LAWS that prohibited employees from being required to join a union as a condition of receiving or retaining a job.

Section 8(a)(3) of the Taft-Hartley Act specifically outlawed the closed shop but did allow a collectively bargained agreement for a union shop, provided certain safeguards were met. Under the union shop proviso, a union and an employer could agree that employees must join the union within thirty days of employment in order to retain their jobs. Section 8(a)(3) stated, in relevant part,

It shall be an unfair labor practice for an employer—… (3) by discrimination in regard to hire or tenure of employment or any term or condition of employment to encourage or discourage membership in any labor organization: Provided, that nothing in this subchapter, or in any other statute of the United States, shall preclude an employer from making an agreement with a labor organization …to require as a condition of employment membership therein on or after the thirtieth day following the beginning of such employment or the effective date of such agreement … if such labor organization is the representative of the employees…. Provided further, that no employer shall justify any discrimination against an employee for nonmembership in a labor organization (A) if he has reasonable grounds for believing that such membership was not available to the employee on the same terms and conditions generally applicable to other members, or (B) if he has reasonable grounds for believing that membership was denied or terminated for reasons other than the failure of the employee to tender the periodic dues and the initiation fees uniformly required as a condition of acquiring or retaining membership.

Some observers believe that the ABOLITION of the closed shop helped to minimize RACIAL DISCRIMINATION by unions. The Wagner Act allowed unions to effectively shut out black employees from employment opportunities and benefits by simply refusing them membership. The Taft-Hartley Act curtailed this practice by prohibiting the negotiation of security agreements that limited employment opportunities to union members.

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