Repeal the Taft-Hartley Act! That's a cry working people and their unions very much need to hear, but have not heard in this year's election campaigning.
It's hardly surprising that Republican candidates are silent, since repeal would be a great boost to labor. But if only for that reason, President Obama and other pro-labor Democrats should demand immediate repeal.
The law was passed in 1947 in response to a wave of strikes that were called just after World War II by workers attempting to make up for pay lost because of wage controls during the war. President Truman vetoed Taft-Hartley, but Congress overrode the veto to enact what unions of the time denounced as "the slave-labor bill."
Taft-Hartley drastically amended the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which was enacted during the Great Depression to encourage unionization. It reversed the NLRA's intent by authorizing employers to take a wide variety of anti-union actions.
Most significantly, employers were granted the legal right to intervene in union organizing campaigns. Rather then remaining neutral as before, employers are allowed to wage anti-union campaigns that include requiring workers to listen to their arguments against unionization during working hours, often at mandatory meetings.
Taft-Hartley seriously limits workers' ability to act in solidarity with others by prohibiting workers from waging sympathy strikes – secondary boycotts – in support of striking members of other unions.
Another key provision outlaws the closed shop, which required workers seeking jobs with unionized employers to join the union representing the workers before they could be hired. The law does allow the union shop, which requires workers to join the union after being hired, but allows states to enact so-called right-to-work laws that ban the union shop.
Twenty-two states, including Texas, the country's second largest, have such laws. They greatly weaken unions by allowing workers to reap the benefits that unions get in negotiating contracts with unionized employers, but without having to help pay the unions' costs by joining the unions and paying dues.
Taft-Hartley denies union rights to workers designated by employers as "supervisors," a category of workers that has been growing steadily. What's more, employers can fire supervisors who nevertheless try to unionize.
Employers also can use a wide assortment of devices to delay for months, sometimes for years, negotiating contracts with unions that win representation elections. They also have the right to call for new elections to take away the union rights of election winners.
Unions calling strikes with potentially great national impact face the prospect of the federal government moving in to require an 80-day cooling off period while mediators try to bring about a settlement.
There's more, none of it designed to further the basic civil right of unionization, but rather to hinder it. Repealing Taft-Hartley obviously should have been a prime issue throughout the 2012 election campaign.
Dick Meister is a San Francisco writer who has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century as a reporter, editor, author and commentator. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com.