Landrum-Griffin Act

views updated May 09 2018

Landrum-Griffin Act

United States 1959


The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, commonly referred to as the Landrum-Griffin Act, regulates the internal affairs of labor unions. In particular, it protects union members from dishonest and abusive practices by the unions and their leadership. It incorporates a "bill of rights" that provides union members with equal rights to participate in union affairs, the right to freedom of speech and assembly, protection from excessive dues and assessments, the right to sue, and protection against improper disciplinary actions. Additionally, the act requires certain types of reports from unions, regulates union elections, and outlines the fiduciary responsibilities of union officers.


  • 1939: Britain and France declare war against Germany after the 1 September invasion of Poland, but little happens in the way of mobilization. Across the Atlantic, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaims U.S. neutrality, yet calls for a large defense budget ($1.139 billion) and declares a limited state of emergency. He also receives a letter from Albert Einstein discussing the feasibility of an atomic bomb.
  • 1944: Nazis make their last major offensive in western Europe, and are defeated at the Battle of the Bulge in December.
  • 1949: North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is established.
  • 1952: Among the cultural landmarks of the year are the film High Noon and the book The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.
  • 1955: Warsaw Pact is signed by the Soviet Union and its satellites in eastern Europe.
  • 1959: Two new leaders appear on the scene in January as General Charles de Gaulle becomes the first president of France's Fifth Republic, and Fidel Castro takes control of Cuba after the collapse of the corrupt Batista regime. Initially, Castro denies that he is a communist, but as the year wears on and he replaces moderates with radicals such as Argentinean doctor Che Guevara, head of Cuba's national bank, his political leanings become more obvious.
  • 1959: Alaska and Hawaii are added to the Union.
  • 1959: Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev engage in their famous "kitchen debate" in Moscow. Later in the year, Khrushchev visits the United States, signaling an improvement in U.S.-Soviet relations.
  • 1964: Congress approves the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, giving President Johnson broad powers to prosecute the by now rapidly escalating war in Vietnam.
  • 1969: Richard M. Nixon sworn in as president of the United States. In June he pulls 25,000 troops from Vietnam. From this point, America is no longer trying to win the war but to keep from losing it.
  • 1973: Twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, built at a cost of $750 million, are completed. The 110-story buildings are the world's tallest, but by year's end they will be eclipsed by the Sears Tower in Chicago.

Event and Its Context


By 1959 the public had long been concerned about reports of illegal and abusive labor union practices. At the turn of the twentieth century, investigations revealed a pattern of racketeering in unions representing the building trades, longshoremen, and Teamsters. Some officials in these unions were guilty of racial discrimination, mishandling of funds, extortion, violence, and graft. After World War II scrutiny of the labor unions intensified, largely because of gains that the unions had achieved through the legislative process—for example, the Wagner Act of 1935, which protected workers' rights to organize and bargain collectively—and because of the growing power of unions, whose membership swelled from 9 million in 1941 to 17 million in the 1950s.

The McClellan Report

This scrutiny began in earnest in 1954, when Congress launched an investigation of charges of improper administration of employee benefit plans. This investigation and the abuses that it exposed in some labor organizations led to the formation of the Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field, otherwise called the McClellan Anti-Racketeering Committee after its Senate chairman, Arkansas Democrat John L. McClellan. The committee began hearings on 26 February 1957, and over two years it held 270 days of public hearings, taking testimony from racketeers, mobsters, hoods, and union members who were fighting corruption in their unions. During these hearings the committee focused its attention on five unions: the Bakery and Confectionery Workers, the United Textile Workers, the Operating Engineers, the Allied Industrial Workers of America, and in particular the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, whose colorful and combative president, James "Jimmy" Hoffa, often engaged in sharp exchanges with McClellan. Testimony from 1,526 witnesses printed in 58 volumes produced a grim picture of fraud, abuse, racketeering, and corruption and prompted new calls for labor law reform. The chief legal counsel to the McClellan committee was Robert F. Kennedy, who gained experience he would put to use in combating abuses in organized labor as U.S. attorney general in the 1960s.

The McClellan hearings had three principal outcomes. First, the Teamsters Union was expelled from the AFL-CIO, and Hoffa was later convicted and sentenced to prison on charges of jury tampering and mail fraud. (Hoffa mysteriously disappeared in 1975 after he had been released from prison and attempted to regain control of the Teamsters.) Second, in 1957 the AFL-CIO, anticipating that the government would intervene in the affairs of labor, issued to its affiliates a series of six codes of ethical behavior. This step came too late, for in 1958 the third principal outcome of the hearings, the Select Committee's interim report, published the following findings:

  • Rank-and-file union members had little voice in union affairs and were frequently denied secret ballots.
  • Unions frequently abused their right to place local unions under trusteeship by imposing the trusteeship only to loot the local's treasury.
  • Some management groups bribed union officials to get "sweetheart" contracts.
  • Union funds were widely misused because of lack of inspection and audit.
  • Unions used violence to keep union members in line.
  • Employers took improper actions to influence employees in exercising their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.
  • The unions misused picketing to extort money from employers or to otherwise influence them.
  • Union leadership at high levels was infiltrated by criminals.
  • There was a "no-man's land" in which employers and unions could resort neither to the National Labor Relations Board nor to state agencies for relief.

From these findings the McClellan committee recommended legislation that would do the following:

  • Regulate and control pension, health, and welfare funds.
  • Regulate and control union funds.
  • Ensure union democracy.
  • Curb activities of middlemen in labor-management disputes.
  • Clarify the no-man's land in labor-management disputes.

In response to the McClellan report, the Senate, by a vote of 88 to 1, passed a labor reform bill, the Kennedy-Ives bill, in June 1958. The bill had been drafted by a blue-ribbon panel of labor attorneys, but it never made it to the floor of the House of Representatives, largely because it proposed controversial amendments to the Taft-Hartley Act, which organized labor had been trying to get repealed for over a decade. Congress then recessed for the year without having passed a bill.

The Legislative Debate

In the 1958 election, the Democratic Party made major gains in Congress, giving heart to union officials, who rightly believed that the party was largely prolabor. The Democratic leadership in the 86th Congress, however, accepted that it would have to intervene to clean up the unions—if for no other reason than to show the American public before the 1960 presidential election that it was competent to do the job. The public was indeed watching: a Gallup poll conducted in November 1958 revealed that the electorate felt that, other than integration in the public schools, Congress's most important job was to clean up racketeering and corruption in labor unions. Thus, when Congress reconvened in 1959, Senator John F. Kennedy introduced a revision of the Kennedy-Ives bill on 20 January. The effort to pass a bill gained momentum on 28 January, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower submitted to Congress a message outlining a 20-point program for eliminating abuses in labor-management relations and suggesting amendments to the Taft-Harley Act, many of which were regarded as promanagement. At this point the AFL-CIO miscalculated by refusing to accede to any compromises that would have ensured passage of the Kennedy-Ives bill, which contained a number of concessions to organized labor.

On 14 April the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare reported out an amended bill called the Kennedy-Ervin bill, which passed in the Senate on 25 April by a vote of 90 to 1—primarily on the strength of an impassioned two-hour speech by McClellan in support of his amendment for a labor "bill of rights." Passage in the House of Representatives, though, was a more complicated affair. On 30 July the House Committee on Education and Labor reported out its own version of a labor reform law. Considerable debate ensued on the House floor over a number of competing bills, including the Kennedy-Ervin bill; the Elliott bill, which labor favored because it was the least restrictive of the three; and the Landrum-Griffin bill, sponsored by representatives Phillip Landrum of Georgia and Paul Griffin of Michigan. On 6 August, Eisenhower delivered a radio and television address throwing his support to the Landrum-Griffin bill, which labor considered the most restrictive of the three bills. For several days the House and the Senate conferred, finally agreeing on a compromise bill on 2 September. Both the Senate and the House passed the conference version of the bill—the Senate by a vote of 95 to 2 and the House by a vote of 352 to 52—which President Eisenhower signed into law as the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act on 14 September 1959. This act was essentially the Landrum-Griffin bill, so the act is more commonly known by the names of its two congressional sponsors.

An Employee Bill of Rights

The centerpiece of the Landrum-Griffin Act is Title I, which provides a bill of rights for labor union members. Previously, a union member with a grievance against the union had to rely on contract law to seek redress. The courts tended to provide little relief, arguing that the "contract" in question was the union's constitution and bylaws and that if these documents did not touch on the issue raised by the member, there was little relief the court could provide. McClellan was convinced that effective union reform would be impossible without guaranteeing to union members rights similar to those granted to citizens by the U.S. Constitution. In his speech in Congress in April 1959, he said that "racketeering, corruption, abuse of power and other improper practices on the part of some labor organizations" was inevitable "unless the Congress of the United States has the wisdom and the courage to enact laws prescribing minimum standards of democratic process and conduct for the administration of internal union affairs."

Title I attempted to provide equal rights in a number of areas: nomination of candidates for office, voting, attendance at membership meetings, and participation in business transactions. It affirmed the right of union members to assemble freely with other members and to express their views without fear of reprisal, both at union meetings and at other places. It did not, however, attempt to dictate to the unions who they had to admit as members; racial discrimination, for example, continued to be permitted, and the courts upheld what is called filial preference, or the practice or admitting only the sons or close relatives of union members. Thus, Title I did not require the unions to admit members based on their qualifications and allowed the unions to establish in their constitution and bylaws "reasonable rules and regulations" over admission and participation. It also allowed the unions to establish reasonable procedures for conducting their affairs—for example, to keep dissident members from commandeering proceedings.

Additionally, Title I established standards to ensure that increases in union dues and fees reflected the desire of the majority of the membership; the purpose of this provision was to prevent unscrupulous union officials from assessing higher dues against the membership's will. It gave union members the right to sue the union after reasonable union procedures for redressing grievances had been exhausted. It established procedural safeguards to ensure that no member could be fined, disciplined, or expelled, except for nonpayment of dues, without written charges, time to prepare a defense, and a fair hearing. Finally, it obligated unions to provide members with a copy of any collective bargaining agreement.

The bill of rights articulated in Title I immediately met with a storm of protest. Labor organizations asserted that they could not function in a democratic fashion. Many labor union members were indifferent to the processes that took place in collective bargaining and cared only about the outcomes of those processes. Further, labor asserted that collective bargaining and "democracy" were often inconsistent and thus that unions had the right to impose on members the results of collective bargaining and that the members had to submit to those results. To back up their efforts, unions had to make and enforce rules to keep their membership in line. Recognizing these realities, the act stated that nothing in the law would "impair the right of a labor organization to adopt and enforce reasonable rules as to the responsibility of every member toward the organization as an institution and to his refraining from conduct that would interfere with its performance of its legal or contractual obligations."

Other Provisions

The Landrum-Griffin Act includes six additional titles.

Title II requires unions, union officers, and employers to submit annual reports of their financial affairs and administrative practices, as well as copies of their constitution and bylaws, to the U.S. secretary of labor. A union's initial report must provide information about membership qualifications, dues, audits, procedures for calling meetings, selection of officers, disciplinary procedures, strike authorization, and other matters. All of the information contained in these reports must be made available to the rank and file. Title II additionally imposes reporting requirements on employers, who must report, for example, any payment or loan made to a labor union or to employees with the purpose of causing those employees to persuade other members to not exercise their right to bargain collectively.

Title III regulates union trusteeships, by which national unions take over the affairs of subordinate unions to ensure order among them. The McClellan committee, however, discovered that some unions were imposing trusteeships to remove local officers who were opposed to the national union and to loot local union treasuries. Title III restricted trusteeships to those established to correct corruption and financial malpractice, to assure the performance of union contracts and of a bargaining representative's duty, to restore democratic processes, and to carry out the legitimate objects of the labor union.

Title IV regulates the conduct of union elections, including the frequency of elections, minimum election procedures, qualifications to run for union office, the conduct of campaigns, and procedures for removing union officers.

Title V outlines the fiduciary responsibilities of union officers. It makes it a federal crime to embezzle union funds and includes provisions for the recovery of assets. It requires officials with fiduciary responsibilities to be bonded. It limits the size of loans that unions can make to their personnel. It also prohibits communists and those convicted of certain crimes from holding office in the union for five years.

Finally, Title VI treats investigations and various miscellaneous matters, and Title VII consists of amendments to the Taft-Hartley Act, including provisions designed to settle questions of federal versus state jurisdiction (McClellan's no-man's land) and to regulate boycotts, picketing, and other matters.

Four Decades of Mixed Success

How successful has the Landrum-Griffin Act been? Although clearly the act has gone a long way toward curbing corruption in labor unions, many observers feel that it has not done enough, primarily because of lack of enforcement mechanisms. In 1979 Senator Robert Griffin, cosponsor of the act, lamented that the Department of Labor had "failed in the performance of its statutory duties" and had demonstrated a "studied reluctance" to enforce the act. In particular, some observers believe that Title I lacks teeth. Essentially, Congress forbade the U.S. secretary of labor from enforcing Title I, so there is no public remedy for violations. Any member who believes that his or her rights have been violated under Title I may bring suit, but few union members have the financial resources to engage in litigation. Further, if the basis of the employee's claim is that organized crime has infiltrated the union, that employee may be understandably hesitant to bring suit. Finally, an employee who brings such a suit could reasonably fear reprisals from fellow members whose position with regard to the union is different. Nonetheless, in the 15 years following passage of the act, more than 1,500 private suits were filed by union members alleging Title I violations.

In 2002 Deputy Secretary D. Cameron Findlay of the U.S. Department of Labor, in testimony before the House Subcommittee on Employer-Employee Relations, Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, and the Committee on Education and the Workforce, confessed that the Department of Labor had not done an effective job of enforcing the act. With regard to Title II, for example, Findlay pointed out that in 1998 more than 30percent of required union filers were either late or did not file financial reports at all; that number rose to 34 percent in 2000. Additionally, the Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards, which conducts audits of these financial reports, audited 1,583 in 1984 but only 238 in 2001. According to Findlay, 10 of the nation's largest unions have never been audited.

Key Players

Griffin, Robert Paul (1923-): Born in Detroit, Michigan, Griffin was admitted to the Michigan bar in 1950. After practicing law, he was elected as a Republican to the 85th Congress, where he served from 1957 to 1966. In May 1966 he was appointed to fill a Senate vacancy caused by the death of Patrick McNamara, and later that year he was elected to a full term. In 1972 he was reelected, but he lost his bid for reelection in 1978.

Landrum, Phillip Mitchell (1907-1990): Landrum was born in Martin, Georgia, where he was admitted to the bar in 1941 after serving as superintendent of a high school in Nelson, Georgia, from 1937. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1942, but after World War II he was assistant attorney general of Georgia (1946-1947) and executive secretary to the governor of Georgia (1947-1948). He was then elected as a Democrat to the 83th and 11 succeeding congresses (1953-1977).

McClellan, John L. (1896-1977): McClellan was born in Sheridan, Arkansas. He was admitted to the Arkansas bar in 1913 and practiced law until he entered politics in 1920 as city attorney in Malvern, Arkansas. In 1926 he was elected prosecuting attorney for the Seventh Judicial District of Arkansas. In 1934 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served two terms before launching an unsuccessful bid for a Senate seat. In 1942 he tried again, this time successfully, and he served in the Senate until his death. He gained public notice not only as chair of the Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field but also for leading a walk-out of the McCarthy communist witch hunt hearings and, later, for investigating the activities of Jimmy Hoffa and Texas financier Billie Sol Estes.

See also: Taft-Hartley Act; Wagner Act.



Bellace, Janice R., and Alan D. Berkowitz. The Landrum-Griffin Act: Twenty Years of Federal Protection of Union Members' Rights. Labor Relations and Public Policy Series No. 19. Philadelphia: The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, 1979.

Gregory, Charles O. Labor and the Law. New York: W. W.Norton & Co., 1961.

Koretz, Robert F., ed. Statutory History of the United States: Labor Organization. New York, Chelsea House, 1970.

Lee, R. Alton. Eisenhower and Landrum-Griffin: A Study in Labor-Management Politics. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1990.

Taylor, Benjamin J., and Fred Witney. Labor Relations Law,3rd ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1979.


Findlay, D. Cameron. Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Employer-Employee Relations, Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, and the Committee on Education and the Workforce. 10 April 2002 [cited 14 October 2002]. <>.

Interim Report of the Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field, Report No. 1417. 85th Congress, 1958.

—Michael J. O'Neal

Landrum-Griffin Act

views updated May 21 2018


The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (29 U.S.C.A. § 401 et seq.), commonly known as the Landrum-Griffin Act, is an important component of federal labor law. The act was named after its sponsors, Representative Phillip M. Landrum of Georgia and Senator Robert P. Griffin of Michigan. The provisions of Landrum-Griffin seek to prevent union corruption and to guarantee union members that unions will be run democratically.

The act resulted from a highly publicized investigation of union corruption and racketeering chaired by Senator john l. mcclellan of Arkansas. The Senate Select Committee on Labor and Management Practices, popularly known as the McClellan Committee, was created in 1957 in large part because of the perception that the Teamsters Union was corrupt and under the influence of organized crime. The McClellan Committee's investigation revealed that officials of the Teamsters Union and other groups had taken union funds for private use and that the union was clearly linked to organized crime. One result of the probe was the expulsion of the Teamsters and two other unions from the american federation of labor and congress of industrial organizations (AFL-CIO). The AFL-CIO is the largest U.S. labor organization, a federation of autonomous labor unions that is dedicated to enhancing and promoting unionism.

The other result was the passage of the Landrum-Griffin Act. To prevent abuses and acts of oppression, the act attempts to regulate some internal union affairs and provides for reporting to the government on various union transactions and affairs. Senator john f. kennedy of Massachusetts was instrumental in inserting title I of the act (29 U.S.C.A. § 411 et seq.), which has been dubbed the union bill of rights. Title I mandates freedom of speech and assembly in the conduct of union meetings, equality of rights regarding voting in elections, the nomination of candidates, and attendance at meetings. A secret ballot is required for voting on increases in dues or assessments. In regard to disciplinary actions, a member must be given written charges, time to prepare a defense, and a fair hearing. The act also guarantees that a member will not be subject to union discipline for attempting to exercise statutory rights. A member must have access to union financial records and has the right to recover misappropriated union assets on behalf of the union when the union fails to do so.

Title II (29 U.S.C.A. § 431 et seq.) deals with the management and reporting of union finances, a particular area of concern for Congress in the wake of the Teamsters Union's misappropriation of funds. The act requires unions to have constitutions and bylaws and to file copies of both with the U.S. secretary of labor. They must file reports that show dues, fees, and assessments; qualifications for membership; financial auditing; and authorization for the disbursement of funds and other types of spending. Unions must also file financial reports that show assets and liabilities at the beginning and end of the fiscal year, receipts, salaries, expense reimbursements, and loans to any officer, employee, member, or business enterprise. Officers and employees of unions may be required to disclose in written reports any personal financial interests that may conflict with duties owed to union members and any transactions or business interests that would present a conflict of interest with union duties.

The act also has provisions that apply when a labor organization suspends the autonomy of a union local and places the local or another unit under a trusteeship. This provision addresses a concern that corrupt national union leaders may take over control of union locals to maintain power. The law provides the conditions under which a trusteeship may be imposed and certain restrictions under which it may operate.

Landrum-Griffin also addresses the personal responsibility and integrity of union officers and representatives. Under the act, officers and representatives are held to common-law principles of trust relationships through express provisions that they occupy positions of trust in relation to the organization and its members as a group. This means that persons in union leadership positions must act in the best interests of the union. If a union official acts for personal gain, the official can be held accountable for breach of duty. embezzlement of union funds is a federal offense under the act. And persons who have been convicted of certain specified crimes are barred from serving as union officers, agents, or employees for five years after being released from prison.

The Landrum-Griffin Act provides the tools for union democracy, but it also provides greater government control over union affairs previously believed to be the province of the unions themselves.

further readings

Boetticher, Helene. 2000. "How to Hold a Union Election and Stay Out of Trouble." Labor Law Journal 51 (winter): 219–24.

Nelson, Michael J. 2000. "Slowing Union Corruption: Reforming the Landrum-Griffin Act to Better Combat Union Embezzlement." George Mason Law Review 8 (spring): 527–86.

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