NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Why The White House is Reluctant to Invoke Taft-Hartley in Docks Dispute

October 4, 2002

After conducting a historical review of the use of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 in dealing with labor disputes, the Bush administration appears reluctant to use that tool in the current dispute between West Coast dockworkers and shipping interests.

The review convinced officials that the act often does not produce the kind of long-term settlement both parties are seeking.

  • History shows that after imposing an 80-day cooling-off period, a stifled labor dispute often comes roaring back.
  • No president has attempted to invoke Taft-Hartley in more than 20 years.
  • President Carter was the last to invoke it and he failed to win the 1978 injunction he sought against coal miners.
  • A 1998 study by the Congressional Research Service found 35 instances of the Taft-Hartley emergency provision being invoked since 1947 -- with only a few being denied by courts.

Most resulted in a settlement before or during the cooling-off period. But on about 10 occasions, strikes erupted after the cooling-off period expired.

Also, the White House doesn't want to pick a fight with the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union so close to this year's elections, political observers report. The ILWU, which represents 10,500 West Coast dockworkers, is a strong and coherent union where lucrative jobs are frequently passed from father to son.

Source: Jeanne Cummings, Carlos Tejada and Queena Sook Kim, "Use of Tart-Hartley Act Often Gives Poor Results," Wall Street Journal, October 4, 2002.

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