Unions before the Bar: Historic Trials Showing the Evolution of Labor Rights in the United States

By Elias Lieberman | Go to book overview

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The "Yellov-Dog" Contract (1907-1917)

HITCHMAN COAL AND COKE COMPANY V. MITCHELL

I

By the turn of the twentieth century some employers in the United States had revived an old scheme for warding off unionization in their plants. This scheme consisted of exacting from employees a promise not to belong to a union and not to strike or participate in any collective action against the employer during the entire period of employment. Without such a promise a worker would not be given employment. In some cases the promise was merely oral; in others the promise was embodied in a so-called contract, which the worker had to sign on the dotted line if he wanted the job. The socalled "contract" promised nothing to the worker by way of either terms of employment or period of employment. The employer was free to discharge the worker at will. The worker, likewise, was free to quit his job, but he was not free to join a union and keep his job.

This strategy nipped unionization in the bud. A worker who declined to sign such a contract was not given the job and a worker who did sign was afraid to join the union and lose the job. This type of contract became known as the "yellow-dog" contract. For many years the yellow-dog contract was the theme song of the antilabor employer chorus and was used to block unionization. Labor's efforts to organize were seriously hampered. The United Mine Workers probably more than any other union, suffered from this contract scheme. The legality of the yellow-dog contract was tested in the Hitchman Coal and Coke Company v. Mitchell case.

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