Skip to main content
Select Source:

Yellow Dog Contracts


A yellow dog contract is a labor contract in which workers are required to refrain from joining a union in exchange for being hired. It emerged in the nineteenth century as one of many tactics companies used to discourage workers from organizing to win wage increases and improved working conditions.

During rapid industrialization of the United States in the years after the American Civil War (18611865), many workers endured seven-day workweeks, minimal pay, and inhumane working conditions. As a result, the U.S. labor movement successfully organized many new unions. As unions pushed for eight-hour days, pro-business legislators and sympathetic judges passed laws to prevent labor unions from recruiting new members. Across the country legislatures passed laws outlawing "combinations" of workers that, in the words of one such law, "willfully or maliciously injured another in his . . . business." Because unionizing a company's labor force could be viewed as "injuring" that business, union activism was successfully thwarted.

In the famous Pullman Strike of 1894 which was led by socialist Eugene V. Debs (18551926), members of the American Railway Union went on strike against the Pullman Palace Car Company of Chicago when it cut wages by 25 percent. Refusing to work on any train that pulled a Pullman railcar, the union looked like it could prevail because almost every train passing through Chicago carried Pullman cars. When the striking workers began attacking the trains, however, President Grover Cleveland (18851889) called in the U.S. Army to end the strike. When Pullman reopened its plant later that year, it required all new employees to sign yellow dog contracts.

In 1898 Congress passed the Erdman Act, which prevented railroads that were engaged in interstate commerce from forcing their employees to sign yellow dog contracts. In Adair v. the United States, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Erdman Act was unconstitutional. Throughout the 1920s many U.S. businesses continued to require workers to reject union membership as a precondition of employment, but the onset of Great Depression (19291939) finally shifted the law to the side of labor. The Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932, the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, and the Wagner Act of 1935 formally recognized the rights of labor unions to organize and explicitly outlawed yellow dog contracts.

See also: Closed Shop, Labor Movement, Labor Unionism, National Industrial Recovery Act, Norris-LaGuardia Act

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Yellow Dog Contracts." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . 22 Mar. 2018 <>.

"Yellow Dog Contracts." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . (March 22, 2018).

"Yellow Dog Contracts." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Retrieved March 22, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.