Chapter one introduces the student to foundations of labor and employment laws and how political, social, and economic conditions have contributed to the rise and fall of 1) government intervention in the employer/employee relationship, and 2) the influence of organized labor. Historical examples date back to the New Testament of the Bible and should enlighten the student to the fact that the employer/employee struggle for power speaks directly to the nature of human psychology and the quest for power and resources.
After reading this chapter, students should realize that the balance of power in the employer/employee relationship is decidedly on the employer’s side, absent any government invention or organized opposition, as long as there is a ready and willing labor pool. Indeed, up until the Industrial Revolution, even the legal system favored the employer through laws which prohibited employees from leaving their employers in search of higher pay and prohibited them from organizing to demand higher wages, benefits, or better working conditions. However, developing social awareness for individual rights have led lawmakers in the United States to pass a long list of laws designed to balance the power in the employer/employee relationship.
Chapter one not only introduces students to all of the major legal theories and laws that will be covered in succeeding chapters, it portrays these laws within the social and political contexts that contributed to their evolution. It is critical that students understand this very important relationship because it will assist them not only in understanding how we arrived where we are today, but how employment laws may continue to change, as the stressors in our society change.
One may consider the craftsman guilds as the earliest forms of unions. As early as the Middle Ages, employment in many trades was restricted to those in the proper class or family. However, as these guilds grew, so also did corruption within the system. This ultimately led to working class revolts, spawning harsh reprisals from those in authority. The balance of power swung briefly to the worker’s side during the mid-14th century when deaths due to the plague significantly reduced the labor pool. However, government response was to mandate lower wages, penalize would be employers who attempted to induce a worker to abandon his current job for promise of higher wages, and punish those who refused to work. (p. 3)
The tide began to turn with the birth of the Industrial Revolution. As challenges within the judicial system progressed, common law* swung to a seemingly more neutral position of employment-at-will. This doctrine espouses that neither the employee nor the employer are bound by any contract of continued employment and either can terminate the employment relationship, at any time, for any reason, so long as the reason is not otherwise illegal. However, in reality, the employer still holds the power in the relationship, as long as there is a ready and able labor pool. (p. 4)
Since the balance of power remained with the employer, employees banded together into labor unions. Although early courts viewed them as criminal conspiracies, unions began to win favor with the courts beginning in 1842. (p. 4)
*Common law is law that is made through court opinions, rather than by a formal lawmaking process.
I. THE NEW DEAL AND THE RISE OF THE MODERN AMERICAN UNION
A. New Deal Legislation passed at the urging of President Franklin D. Roosevelt
i. The Social Security Act (1935) provides modest pensions to retired workers.
ii. The National Labor Relations Act (1935) sets the ground rules for the give and take between labor unions and corporate managers.
iii. The Walsh-Healy Act (1936) the first of several statutes to set the terms and conditions of