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Yellow-dog Contract: History and Significance

Buzzle Staff May 10, 2019
A yellow-dog contract is written agreement between the worker and his/her employer in which the former promises not be a part of any union. Read on to know more about the history and significance of the yellow-dog contract.
A yellow-dog contract is a legal agreement between the employer and the employee, wherein the latter agrees as a condition of employment, not to be a member of any labor union or engage in any collective labor action, during the period of employment.
Signing contracts is a regular part of the corporate culture. Projects and assignments are done on contractual basis, companies sign mega deals with each other, and contracts exist among every hierarchy in a company.
A contract is a kind of agreement, stating certain terms and conditions, which if not fulfilled or breached, can result in severe consequences. Many a time, employees (and employers alike) are cheated in the name of illegal contracts, where they are forced to do things they do not want to.
One such agreement in history whose name crops up at such times is the yellow-dog contract. It is called so, because it literally rendered the workers useless, and forced them to cower in front of their bosses (like a dog), even if they were subjected to humiliation.
In a modern context, the term implies a cowardly person who does not have a spine or does not speak up for himself. Here you will understand the history and significance of this agreement.

History and Origin

  • The origin of this practice can be traced back to the 1870s. At that time, it was popularly nicknamed the Infamous Document or the Iron-clad Document.
  • It was a written promise by the workers that they would not be a part of any union, and if they were already a member of one, they would resign promptly.
  • The employees were forced to make a choice between signing the agreement or getting fired, since it also stated that the worker would agree to forfeit the employment if he is found to be guilty. The practice was surreptitiously carried out throughout the United States.
  • In 1898, the Erdman Act was passed, which prohibited the use of yellow-dog contracts on the railroad laborers and their disputes. The practice, however, did not cease to exist.
  • In 1908, this Act was struck down in the Adair vs. United States Supreme Court case of 1908, as an unconstitutional infringement upon the freedom of contract.
  • The general consensus was that the Act forced the employer to retain a worker against his will, and that this was a violation of the U.S. Constitution. The case took a different turn, and the main clause to be discussed was left in the lurch.
  • Towards the end of the 19th century and in the beginning of the 20th century, the workers themselves began to agitate at the lack of freedom to organize. Some of the major reasons for this included low pay, no security, no benefits, long hours of work, unsafe work environment, etc.
  • Strikes had begun to take place, though they amounted to nothing and no improvement was seen in practice.
  • Finally, in 1932, the Norris-LaGuardia Act was passed by Senator George Norris and Congressman Fiorello LaGuardia, which outlawed this illegal practice and made the contracts unenforceable in the federal courts.
  • It was one of the first federal labor laws to be passed, which changed the face of labor reforms. However, this practice carried on, for quite a while, until the middle of the 20th century, especially in the government sector.

Purpose and Significance

  • There was just one purpose of this agreement―to prevent employees from organizing.
  • The employers were possibly terrified that the workers' union might resort to unnecessary strikes and practices.
  • To get maximum work done and to prevent glitches in the smooth functioning of the factories, the agreement was created in an attempt to divide and rule.
  • They hated unions and thus, they played rough, doing whatever was in their power to keep unions from forming.
  • The term holds significance, when there arises a situation in the workplace when an employee is required to do something against his/her will, for the fulfillment of a written clause, to which he had agreed upon earlier. In fact, it can also refer to non-disclosure bonds, which prevent an employee from working for other employers in the same industry.
Technically, such agreements are illegal and are forbidden. However, some organizations still resort to certain ways by means of which they can prevent the creation of a workers' unions.
It is essential that we carefully read and understand all the documents which require our signature (at the workplace), and only then sign them, that too after a discussion with the employer, so as to avoid any serious consequences.