'Yellow-Dog' Contract

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"YELLOW-DOG" CONTRACT, an agreement signed by a worker promising not to join a union while working for a company. Beginning during the period of labor unrest in the 1870s, companies used these agreements to prevent unions from securing a base in their firms. By the 1890s, labor advocates had secured laws prohibiting "yellow-dog" contracts in fifteen states, and, in 1898, Congress passed the Erdman Act, which outlawed "yellow-dog" contracts in the railroad industry.

As unions attempted to expand in the twentieth century, use of "yellow-dog" contracts increased, especially after the Supreme Court overturned the Erdman Act in 1908 (Adair v. United States) and a similar state law in 1915 (Coppage v. Kansas). In 1917, the Supreme Court further ruled (Hitchman Coal and Coke Company v. Mitchell) that injunctions could be issued against unions trying to organize workers who had signed "yellow-dog" contracts. The use of these agreements, which spread rapidly after the Hitchman decision, hampered the growth of unions in such industries as coal, shoe, glass, full-fashioned hosiery, clothing, metal trades, and commercial printing trades.

With the 1932 Norris–La Guardia Anti-Injunction Law, Congress declared that "yellow-dog" contracts conflicted with public policy and that the courts could not enforce them. After the passage of the Wagner Act in 1935, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that employers were engaging in an unfair labor practice to demand that workers sign such an agreement. As a result of these two actions, the "yellow-dog" contract disappeared from the labor scene.


Seidman, Joel I. The Yellow Dog Contract. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1932.

Steinfeld, Robert J. The Invention of Free Labor: The Employment Relation in English and American Law and Culture, 1350– 1870. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

Albert A.Blum/c. w.

See alsoClosed Shop ; National Labor Relations Act .