More than 2,000 union supporters rally in Lafayette Park May 17, 1978 calling on the Senate to break a filibuster over labor law reform backed by the administration of President Jimmy Carter.
Labor Secretary Ray Marshall told the group, “…we have in this country employers who violate the law with virtual impunity. Aided by high-priced attorneys, these anti-union employers have treated the Wagner Act as little more than a joke.”
“But there is nothing funny when businessmen and lawyers thumb their noses at the law in their efforts to deprive workers of their rights,” he added.
Actor and singer Theodore Bikel, looking at the Chamber of Commerce across the street, blasted the bill’s opponents as the same ones that opposed Medicare, civil rights and opposed child labor.
“Once again they’re here and they lie—they’ve dressed up the labor law reform act into something that it isn’t,” Bikel said.
Sen. Orrin Hatch led the opposition in the Senate saying the bill, “is a loaded organizing gun at the throats of small business” and an “easy organizing bill” that will lead to the unionization of the major part of U.S. industry that is non-union.
Labor had long south the repeal of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act that severely restricted unions, but had failed badly despite overwhelming Democratic control of both houses of Congress for the 20-year period beginning in 1959.
This bill was a modest effort that would have strengthened reinstatement procedures for workers fired for union activity; increased the penalty for companies that did not negotiate a first contract “in good faith;” set quicker elections for workers to decide whether they wanted a union; provided limited access to union organizers to company facilities in “non-work areas,” permitted injunctions against wildcat strikes, allowed religious exemptions to union dues or service fees, and barred from federal contracts for three years companies that committed “willful” violations of labor laws.
During the debate, the bill was weakened through amendments, but proponents, who needed 60 votes, could not break the filibuster. The closest they came was 58 votes on June 14th and 15th.
After five weeks of debate, the bill was dead.
A similar effort was made during the Clinton administration, but again failed. President Barack Obama promised to push labor law reform during his first campaign for president, but the bill was never put front and center when Democrats had control of both houses of Congress 2009-11. The Affordable Care Act consumed the administration efforts.
As of this writing, unions are at their lowest percentage of the workforce—a significant factor in this decline is the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act.
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The photo is by William Wilson. The image is courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.
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