Sociology Index

Yellow Dog Contract

Yellow dog contracts are used in capitalist countries like the United States. But Yellow Dog contracts are generally illegal. A Yellow Dog contract is legal contract or agreement made between an employer and an employee, wherein the employer agrees to employ the employee, and in exchange the employee agrees not to join or associate with labor unions or craft unions. A yellow-dog contract, or the yellow-dog clause of a contract, is an agreement between an employer and an employee in which the employee agrees, as a condition of employment, not to be a member of a labor union. Yellow Dog contract is very much like an ironclad oath. It's an agreement between the employer and the employee in which as a condition of employment, the employee cannot join a union.

In the United States, such contracts were, until the 1930s, widely used by employers to prevent the formation of unions. In 1932, yellow-dog contracts were outlawed in the United States under the Norris-LaGuardia Act.

In the United States, Yellow Dog contracts are illegal due to the Norris-LaGuardia Act, though right-to-work laws in several US states effectively defeat union formation, but through a different mechanism. 29 U.S.C. 103(a)-(b) are about non-enforceability of yellow dog contracts.

Prior to the Norris LaGuardia Act (1932) it was legal for an employer to include a Yellow Dog contract, a union-free (unionists called them yellow dogs) provision in his offer of employment.

Any worker who accepted Yellow Dog contract offer of employment would thereby consent to abstain from any sort of union activity. A law passed by Congress in 1898 made it illegal for employers to fire employees solely on the basis of their participation in labor unions.

The law essentially made the Yellow Dog contract illegal. William Adair, a representative of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company, violated the law by firing a locomotive fireman who had joined a union. - Adair v. United States 208 U.S. 161 (1908).

In 1913 the union conducted the great Dublin General Strike. The employers had determined to smash this ever-growing union by the Yellow Dog contract, lockouts of those workers who would not resign their membership. Most of the Irish nationalist intellectuals supported the strikers against the capitalists. In the end they were forced back to work. But the union was not stamped out and the Yellow Dog contract was not enforced.

Doctrinal Synergies and Liberal Dilemmas: The Case of the Yellow-Dog Contract
Barry Cushman, Notre Dame Law School.
The three decades spanning the years 1908 to 1937 saw a remarkable transformation of the Supreme Court's jurisprudence concerning the rights of workers to organize. In 1908, the court held that a federal law prohibiting employers from discharging an employee because of his membership in a labor union violated the liberty of contract secured to the employer by the Fifth Amendment. In 1915, the Court similarly declared a state statute prohibiting the use of "yellow-dog" contracts unconstitutional. In 1937, by contrast, the Court upheld provisions of the Wagner Act prohibiting both discharges for union membership and the use of yellow-dog contracts. Thus, the doctrine of "liberty of contract" no longer operated as a bar to legislation protecting the rights of workers to organize for purposes of collective bargaining.