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Labor-Management Reporting & Disclosure Act of 1959

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  • 0:03 Addressing Corruption…
  • 1:14 Background to the Act
  • 2:31 What the Act Did
  • 3:08 Key Changes
  • 6:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies, the study of American history/society/culture. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer.

Also known as the Landrum-Griffin Act, this legislation influenced the practices of unions, such as member relations, and how the union could react to employers. Learn what issues it addressed and where it muddied the waters.

Addressing Corruption in Unions

You are furious. You're a passionate union member working in the steel industry in 1959 and you've just been threatened. Here's what went down. A labor union leader took you aside to talk to you. The conversation went something like this:

Union leader: 'You need to stop objecting to our views in union meetings.'

You: 'I'm a union member just like everyone else. Don't I have the right to express my views at meetings?'

Union leader: 'If you do, I'll make sure you lose your job.'

At first, you're terrified about the threat to your job, but then you remember that the Landrum-Griffin Act has just become law. This legislation is also known as the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA), and its purpose is to address the relationship between a union and its membership.

Lucky for you, the law has a lot to say about the conversation you just had. Unfortunately for you, there are other provisions that you don't like about the LMRDA. This lesson covers the key aspects of the act, including the parts you like and the parts you don't.

Background to the Act

The 1950s was a time of clampdown on labor unions, which are organizations intended to represent the needs of workers and that advocate on behalf of their membership. Congress had been keeping a watchful eye over union practices that had become corrupt in some instances.

Your union may have achieved great things: better pay and benefits, a pension, and safer working conditions. However, what if, despite these successes, you find the union undemocratic?

Worse yet, what if your union leader has blocked your opinion to please some other group or profit from them? For example, let's say that your union representative is secretly coordinating with those working in organized crime and getting a nice kickback for their efforts, while your future pension is being used to fund illegal activities.

As you might imagine, corruption in unions at this time varied and not every union faced the same problems. However, many members of Congress were worried that some unions had turned into powerful institutions that actually exploited their members rather than serving them. Congress responded by writing legislation designed to remedy these concerns.

What the Act Did

The act as it was written in 1959 did the following key things:

  • Established a bill of rights for union members and a procedure for union elections
  • Imposed reporting requirements on unions, officers, and employers
  • Set restrictions preventing members of the Communist Party and those who had committed certain crimes from holding positions of power
  • Created new guidelines for protesting practices
  • Allowed states jurisdiction for union cases when declined by the National Labor Relations Board

Now let's look at each one in more depth.

Key Changes

One of the key provisions of the law was to create a bill of rights for union members. Within this bill of rights were clauses declaring equal rights for all members, the right to fairness in dues, and the right to freedom of speech. Not included was the right to be disruptive in union meetings by violating established procedures and rules. However, it did mean that your union representative couldn't threaten to make your job go away because you had a different opinion in meetings. The law also set forth procedures for elections, notably that officials were to be elected using secret ballots.

It also changed reporting requirements. As a result of the LMRDA, the Department of Labor became responsible for administering a new set of rules regarding reports from unions, officers, and employers to make their operations more transparent.

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