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IN THE NEWS - October 12, 2002: Bush Invokes Taft-Hartley in Port Shutdown - 2002-10-11

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

Twenty-nine industrial ports in the western United States are operating again. A judge in California this week ordered the Pacific Maritime Association to re-open the ports. The association represents port operators and shipping companies. It closed the West Coast ports in late September because of a dispute with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The longshoremen’s union represents ten-thousand-five-hundred port workers.

President Bush asked for the judge’s order. The president was permitted to do so under a measure called the Taft-Hartley Act. He argued that the port closings were harming the nation’s economy and security. The closings affected more than two-hundred ships filled with goods. Some reports said the dispute was costing the United States about one-thousand-million dollars a day.

The Taft-Hartley Act became a law in nineteen-forty-seven. Its official name is the Labor Management Relations Act. The measure reformed the National Labor Relations Act of nineteen-thirty-five. That law gave American workers rights they had never known before. Its main goal was to give workers the right to form labor unions so that they would have some power in dealing with their employers.

The National Labor Relations Act led to a huge increase in the number of union members. The number is reported to have risen from fewer than four-million in nineteen-thirty-five to fifteen-million in nineteen-forty-seven. The power of unions expanded greatly as a result.

After World War Two, Congress moved to limit the power of organized labor. The Taft-Hartley Act barred rules that had required union membership for all employees of a company. It also gave the president power to take steps to end a work stoppage if it threatens national health or safety.

Mostly the act has been used to stop labor disputes. The president can seek a court order to force workers to return to their jobs for eighty days. That is commonly called a “cooling off” period. The goal is to permit time and create pressure for employers and workers to negotiate fairly.

However, unions oppose President Bush’s intervention. They say it shows that his administration supports business in labor disputes.

American Presidents have used the Taft-Hartley Act thirty-six times since it became law. The last time was in nineteen-seventy-seven. President Jimmy Carter attempted to use the act to halt a strike by coal miners. The miners refused to obey a judge’s back-to-work order. However, they later approved an agreement with the coal companies.

Taft-Hartley also was used against the longshoreman’s union in nineteen-seventy-one. That was when a strike forced the closing of all West Coast ports. President Nixon ordered a return to work and a cooling off period. That strike ended after one-hundred-thirty-four days.

This Special English program, IN THE NEWS, was written by Caty Weaver. This is Steve Ember.