Federal Labor Laws: Everything You Need to Know

The present Federal law regulating labor-management relations is largely a product of the New Deal era of the 1930s.7 min read

FROM: Congressional Digest, June-July 1993

The present Federal law regulating labor-management relations is largely a product of the New Deal era of the 1930s. While Congress has acted to raise the Federal minimum wage and has considered labor law reform affecting both private and public employees, no major new labor laws have been passed over the past several decades.

Early Labor Laws

[*] The Clayton Act

In response to pressure to clarify labor's position under antitrust laws, Congress, in 1914, enacted the Clayton Act, which included several major provisions protective of organized labor.

The Act stated that "the labor of a human being is not commodity or article of commerce," and provided further that nothing contained in the Federal antitrust laws:

  • Shall be construed to forbid the existence and operation of labor... organizations... nor shall such organizations, or the members thereof, be held or construed to be illegal combinations or conspiracies in restraint of trade under the anti-trust laws.

(*) Railway Labor Act

In 1926, the Railway Labor Act (RLA) was passed, requiring employers to bargain collectively and prohibiting discrimination against unions. It applied originally to interstate railroads and their related undertakings. In 1936, it was amended to include airlines engaged in interstate commerce.

(*) Davis-Bacon Act

In 1931, Congress passed the Davis-Bacon Act, requiring that contracts for construction entered into by the Federal Government specify the minimum wages to be paid to persons employed under those contracts.

(*) Norris-LaGuardia Act

The Norris-LaGuardia Act, passed in 1932, during the last year of the Hoover Administration, was the first in a series of laws passed by Congress in the 1930s which gave Federal sanction to the right of labor unions to organize and strike, and to use other forms of economic leverage in dealings with management.

The law specifically prohibited Federal courts from enforcing so-called "yellow dog" contracts or agreements (under which workers promised not to join a union or promised to discontinue membership in one).