Labor Laws Shape Our Daily Lives

Few areas of the law are more central to maintaining a democratic society than a nation’s labor laws. These laws, usually enacted after a protracted struggle, temper raw economic power and political muscle with a sense of the right of the workers to justice and fair play, and of the greater social good.

The struggle between capital and labor has ancient origins, but it intensified with the Industrial Revolution, when mass production methods were introduced and jobs became more and more shaped by technology. Moreover, huge corporations replaced individuals or small firms employing a few workers in many industries with thousands of employees. Theses large employers often increased their economic and political might through combinations known as “trust” and through trade associations and chambers of commerce. Often allied with powerful newspapers, these employers had ample resources to elect politicians to do their bidding and to get rid of many of those who refused. That was capitalism in full flower.

But this system had at least one very serious law: It was-and is-subject to the uncertainties of the business cycle, and thus to recessions of varying depths and durations. The worst of these began in the stock market crash in 1929 and continued through most of the ensuing decade. Wages and prices chased property.

Values in a seemingly endless downward spiral. Desperation and radical economic doctrines were in the air.

Many historians believe that the times were ripe for a violent revolution when President Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1933, proclaiming, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” While Roosevelt soothed a desperate nation with radio “fireside chants,” his administration produced New Deal reforms that included our most important labor laws. Organizing a labor union could no longer be constructed as a criminal act, and union membership was established as a basic right. These measures restored some balance and equilibrium to the nations economic life.
With the resurgence of some unbridled capitalism in the 1980’s and 1990’s – now on a global scale that renders national borders meaningless – many in today’s labor movement feel that another reform era is desperately needed. After more than two decades of setbacks, the continued existence of the organized labor and of collective bargaining could be at stake.

In an age of dizzying economic, political and social change, the publisher of UnionCities agreed that summaries of basic state and federal labor laws would not only be useful in their own rights to users of UnionCities, but that such a review could help point the way to meaningful reforms. For example, the United States is the only industrialized country in which workers can be replaced permanently for engaging in a lawful economic strike.

For the 2000 site, UnionCities looks at the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act, Taft-Hartley Act); the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (Landrum-Griffin Act); Public Sector Employee Labor Law: Equal Employment Opportunity (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964); the Americans With Disabilities Act; the Fair Labor Standards Act; the Equal Pay Act; and the Family and Medical Leave Act. We also summarized the proposed Cesar Chavez Workplace Fairness Act, which would protect the jobs of workers who engage in a lawful strike.

The summary of labor law in this site is not exhaustive. Not included are the Railway Labor Act; the Davis-Bacon (prevailing wage) Act; Missouri and Kansas Workers Compensations laws; the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA); Kansas Public Sector Law; and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). Look for these in the 2001 Site. [top]

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