closed shop and open shop

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

closed shop and open shop

closed shop and open shop: The term "closed shop" is used to signify an establishment employing only members of a labor union. The union shop, a closely allied term, indicates a company where employees do not have to belong to a labor union when hired but are required to join within a specified period of time in order to keep their jobs. An open shop, strictly speaking, is one that does not restrict its employees to union members. Among European workers the issue of the closed shop has not been so sharply contested as in the United States, where since c.1840 the closed-shop policy had been adopted by most labor unions. Judicial decisions from 1850 to 1898 usually decided that strikes held to achieve a closed shop were illegal. For a period of time after the passage of the Wagner Act (see National Labor Relations Board) in 1935, decisions of the federal courts tended to uphold the legality of the closed shop. Many states, however, either by legislation or by court decision, have banned the closed shop. In 1947 the Taft-Hartley Labor Act declared the closed shop illegal and union shops were also prohibited unless authorized in a secret poll by a majority of the workers; it was amended (1951) to allow union shops without a vote of the majority of the workers. Thereafter, a campaign was begun by business leaders in certain industries to have so-called right-to-work laws enacted at the state level. More than one third of the states passed such laws, the effect being to declare the union shop illegal. It is argued in favor of the closed shop that unions can win a fair return for their labor only through solidarity, since there is always—except in wartime—an oversupply of labor; and that, since all employees of a plant share in the advantages won through collective bargaining, all workers should contribute to union funds. Arguments in favor of the open shop are that forcing unwilling workers to pay union dues is an infringement of their rights; that union membership is sometimes closed to certain workers or the initiation fee so high as to be an effective bar to membership; and that employers are deprived of the privilege of hiring competent workers or firing incompetent ones.

See J. E. Johnsen, comp., The Closed Shop (1942), a summary of the arguments on both sides; J. R. Dempsey, The Operation of the Right to Work Laws (1958, repr. 1961); W. E. J. McCarthy, The Closed Shop in Britain (1964).

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