Landrum-Griffin Act Targets Union Corruption Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

By regulating union elections, requiring disclosures, establishing a bill of rights for members, and eliminating “hot cargo” clauses, the Landrum-Griffin Act attempted to reduce union corruption.

Summary of Event

On September 14, 1959, in response to revelations of corrupt labor practices during hearings of Senator John L. McClellan’s Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field , President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, popularly known as the Landrum-Griffin Act. The McClellan Committee had focused much of its investigation on the Teamsters Union Teamsters Union and its president-elect, Jimmy Hoffa Hoffa, Jimmy . The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) had responded to the adverse publicity by expelling the Teamsters and other unions from its ranks. In addition, the McClellan Committee’s recommendations in favor of legislation to regulate benefit funds and to ensure union democracy received widespread public support. In 1958, Congress passed the Welfare and Pension Plans Disclosure Act Welfare and Pension Plans Disclosure Act (1958) to regulate benefit funds. The public anticipated further legislative action in 1959. Landrum-Griffin Act (1959)[Landrum Griffin Act] Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (1959)[Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act] Labor unions;Landrum-Griffin Act[Landrum Griffin Act] [kw]Landrum-Griffin Act Targets Union Corruption (Sept. 14, 1959)[Landrum Griffin] [kw]Griffin Act Targets Union Corruption, Landrum- (Sept. 14, 1959) [kw]Union Corruption, Landrum-Griffin Act Targets (Sept. 14, 1959) [kw]Corruption, Landrum-Griffin Act Targets Union (Sept. 14, 1959) Landrum-Griffin Act (1959)[Landrum Griffin Act] Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (1959)[Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act] Labor unions;Landrum-Griffin Act[Landrum Griffin Act] [g]North America;Sept. 14, 1959: Landrum-Griffin Act Targets Union Corruption[06180] [g]United States;Sept. 14, 1959: Landrum-Griffin Act Targets Union Corruption[06180] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Sept. 14, 1959: Landrum-Griffin Act Targets Union Corruption[06180] [c]Business and labor;Sept. 14, 1959: Landrum-Griffin Act Targets Union Corruption[06180] [c]Crime and scandal;Sept. 14, 1959: Landrum-Griffin Act Targets Union Corruption[06180] Landrum, Phillip Mitchell Griffin, Robert P. Meany, George McClellan, John L.[Macclellan, John L.] Barden, Graham Arthur Goldwater, Barry Eisenhower, DwightD. [p]Eisenhower, Dwight D.;and organized labor[organized labor] Rayburn, Sam

There were several labor bills before the Senate in 1959, the most important of which were the Kennedy-Ervin Bill Kennedy-Ervin Bill (1959)[Kennedy Ervin bill] , successor to the Kennedy-Ives Bill of 1958, and the Goldwater Bill Goldwater Bill (1959) , which reflected the Eisenhower administration’s interests. Both bills contained provisions requiring regulation of and reporting and disclosure of financial information by trusteeships, which had been misused by national unions to assume control of dissident locals.

The AFL-CIO AFL-CIO[AFL CIO] Labor unions;AFL-CIO[AFL CIO] and its president, George Meany, backed the Kennedy-Ervin Bill, subsequently called the Kennedy Bill. Management groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers National Association of Manufacturers, U.S. and the Secondary Boycott Committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Chamber of Commerce, U.S. objected to several provisions in the Kennedy Bill that were favorable to unions. The management groups argued that Congress should place unions under antitrust laws and curb their use of secondary boycotts. In a secondary boycott, a union involved in a labor dispute with one employer brings pressure to bear on a second employer, which may be a customer of the first, to encourage the second employer to refrain from purchasing the first’s products or otherwise doing business with the first. More than one hundred conservative amendments, including more than seventy by Senator Barry Goldwater, were introduced on the floor of the Senate.

The most important of the proposed amendments was Senator McClellan’s “bill of rights for union members.” In response to an impassioned speech, McClellan’s amendment passed the Senate by one vote. The Senate subsequently softened the amendment when it was realized that McClellan’s bill of rights inadvertently opened union membership to black workers. The labor movement was stunned by the antilabor amendment’s passage, because congressional Democrats had won a substantial majority in 1958. Labor believed that Congress would inevitably support its interests.

A bipartisan group proposed a compromise between conservative and labor interests that saved the Kennedy Bill by including the McClellan amendment. Ultimately, to the AFL-CIO’s chagrin, the Kennedy Bill, including the McClellan amendment, passed the Senate. Labor faced setbacks in the House of Representatives as well, and its intransigence with respect to the compromise bill resulted in the ultimate passage of the Landrum-Griffin Bill, which was even more antagonistic to labor’s interests than was the Kennedy Bill. The House Committee on Education and Labor House Committee on Education and Labor , chaired by Representative Graham Arthur Barden, reported a revised version of the Kennedy Bill in spite of intensive lobbying by the AFL-CIO. George Meany became embroiled in an argument about it with Sam Rayburn, speaker of the House, and wrote a letter to all members of Congress stating the AFL-CIO’s opposition to the committee’s bill. Only four days after the committee voted to report its version of the bill, committee members Phillip Mitchell Landrum and Robert P. Griffin introduced their bill, which was backed by management groups and the Eisenhower administration.

The Landrum-Griffin Bill, the committee’s bill, and a bill supported by the AFL-CIO all had similar anticrime provisions. The chief differences among them concerned economic issues unrelated to crime in unions. The Landrum-Griffin Bill had stronger provisions with respect to organizational picketing, secondary boycotts, and “hot cargo” clauses than did the other bills. Under hot cargo clauses, an employer agrees not to handle the goods of nonunion employers.

Lobbying was intense. President Eisenhower made a television appearance in support of the Landrum-Griffin Bill. Management lobbyists broadcast and publicized the Armstrong Circle Theater’s Armstrong Circle Theater (television program) television play The Sound of Violence, Sound of Violence, The (television program) which depicted union corruption.

The labor movement was divided about reform. The Teamsters and the United Mine Workers opposed any legislation, the United Auto Workers favored strict legislation, the construction unions were ambivalent, and the AFL-CIO supported mild legislation. Despite the divisions, which weakened the labor movement’s lobbying efforts, the Senate-House Conference Committee softened some of the bill’s provisions, for example, by offering special provisions to unions in the construction and garment industries.

As passed, the Landrum-Griffin Act had two distinct objectives: first, to regulate unions and end corruption, and second, to tighten the proscription of secondary boycotts contained in the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. The Landrum-Griffin Act’s first six titles concern corruption. Title I, the bill of rights, guarantees members’ rights to vote in union elections, to sue their unions, to run for union office, and to speak openly. It prohibits increases in dues except by secret ballot or appropriate procedures at the national level.

Title II requires unions to adopt constitutions and to file annual financial reports and disclosures of officers’ assets with the secretary of labor. It also requires that unions report on qualifications for union membership, procedures for the calling of elections, and disciplinary procedures.

Title III regulates trusteeships. It requires that a report be filed with the secretary of labor within thirty days of the imposition of a trusteeship. Title IV regulates the election of union officers and requires that elections be held by secret ballot or by convention not less often than once every five years.

Title V imposes fiduciary standards; that is, it declares that every union officer is a trustee who is open to suit by union members in case of unethical conduct. It establishes bonding requirements for union officers and prohibits loans in excess of $2,000 by unions to their officers or employees. It also prohibits communists and individuals convicted of a crime within the last five years from holding union office. Title VI makes picketing for the personal enrichment of union officers illegal.

Title VII, the most controversial portion of the act, proscribes secondary boycotts and hot cargo clauses. It proscribes organizational picketing when the employer has previously recognized another union, when the union has not petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for an election within thirty days, or when there has been a union election within the preceding year. More favorable to union interests, it permits strikers who have walked off the job for economic reasons to vote in union elections.


The Landrum-Griffin Act was a harbinger of a long decline in the labor movement’s political and organizational power. Its economic provisions, which received much of the lobbyists’ and politicians’ (but not the public’s) attention in 1959, may have been more important than its provisions on labor racketeering. There were tangible results from the act’s anticrime rules. Fifty-four unions revised their constitutions to comply with the act, and by 1970 the Department of Labor’s Department of Labor, U.S. Office of Labor-Management and Welfare-Pension Reports was processing thousands of complaints under the Landrum-Griffin Act each year. More than 90 percent were found to be lacking in merit or were settled voluntarily.

Indictments for embezzlement and other offenses under the act proceeded at a rate of at least seventy per year from the 1960’s through the 1980’s. Furthermore, the Department of Labor supervised a number of court-ordered elections and oversaw national and international elections in which officers of the Steelworkers, Electrical Workers, and Teamsters were removed or defeated by opposition candidates. In addition, the number of trusteeships of locals fell by 60 percent, from five hundred to two hundred per year, subsequent to the act’s passage.

For most working people, the act’s availability of lawsuits against union officers in court is impractical to use for financial reasons. The costs of bringing suit are out of most workers’ reach. Furthermore, some observers have noted that the Department of Labor has been reluctant to bring suits on behalf of individuals who have been denied the right to a fair election and that this reluctance undermines the act. Ronald G. Goldstock, director of a task force on organized crime in New York State, argued that the Department of Labor should be relieved of responsibility for enforcing Landrum-Griffin and that attorneys’ fees should be more readily available to plaintiffs. Although it is difficult to measure the act’s effects on rates of crime and racketeering, Goldstock provided extensive documentation of continued criminal influences in unions thirty years after the Landrum-Griffin Act was passed. Criminal laws with respect to embezzlement, racketeering, and violence in unions existed prior to Landrum-Griffin and continue to exist under state criminal codes.

Few observers believe that union democracy has increased dramatically as a result of the act. There is little evidence to suggest that membership participation in internal affairs has appreciably increased. Despite its conservative impetus, some labor analysts see it as reaffirming federal policies that fundamentally support collective bargaining and labor unions.

The law’s impact on existing unions may not have been as great as its impact on the establishment of new unions. For example, the law had scant effect on the Teamsters. The union merely followed the act’s election procedures and rewrote its hot cargo clause in 1961 to emphasize the individual worker’s right to refuse to handle hot cargo. The 1961 Teamster’s contract disingenuously included a section emphasizing the need for employers to deliver goods subject to secondary boycotts and waiving the union’s jurisdiction in case of a secondary boycott, although the courts rejected this ruse. It was not until the late 1980’s that the federal government took aggressive action against the Teamsters.

The act’s symbolic and practical effects on the union movement’s political power and ability to organize may have been most significant. When Landrum-Griffin was passed, the American labor movement was at its historical peak of political influence and power. Even with a Democratic Senate and House, however, it could not command the votes necessary to pass the Kennedy-Ervin Bill, the crime bill it supported. Furthermore, the act’s prohibitions on aggressive organizational picketing, secondary boycotts, and hot cargo clauses may have contributed to the subsequent decline in union membership from nearly 32 percent of the nonagricultural labor force in 1959 to about 12.5 percent in 2004. Landrum-Griffin Act (1959)[Landrum Griffin Act] Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (1959)[Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act] Labor unions;Landrum-Griffin Act[Landrum Griffin Act]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Benson, Herman. Rebels, Reformers, and Racketeers: How Insurgents Transformed the Labor Movement. Rev. ed. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Association for Union Democracy, 2005. This unique study tells the story of post-Landrum-Griffin Act “reformers throughout the labor movement [who] fought to gain control of their unions by strengthening union democracy and eradicating corruption.” Highly recommended.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chamberlain, Neil W., and James W. Kuhn. Collective Bargaining. 3d ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1986. An excellent introduction to the concepts and ideas behind collective bargaining. The authors argue that in the historical context of the development of labor law, both the Taft-Hartley Act and the Landrum-Griffin Act can be viewed to have affirmed that labor unions are essential.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goldstock, Ronald G. Corruption and Racketeering in the New York City Construction Industry: Final Report to Governor Mario M. Cuomo. New York: New York University Press, 1990. A 233-page report of interest to students of organized crime and corrupt labor practices. Provides detail on continuing pervasive corruption in New York City’s construction unions. Argues that Landrum-Griffin has failed and recommends specific reforms.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gould, William B. A Primer on American Labor Law. 4th ed. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004. A 260-page book of interest to general readers. Offers an overview of U.S. labor law and describes the Landrum-Griffin Act in its legal context.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hutchinson, John. The Imperfect Union: A History of Corruption in American Trade Unions. New York: Dutton, 1970. Analyzes the history of labor racketeering and corruption in several industries. Argues that the Landrum-Griffin Act has been moderately successful.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jacoby, Daniel. Laboring for Freedom: A New Look at the History of Labor in America. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1998. A study of labor and labor issues in the United States. Examines the labor movement and its accomplishments.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">James, R. C., and E. D. James. Hoffa and the Teamsters. Princeton, N.J.: D. Van Nostrand, 1965. A 430-page classic describes two university professors’ ninety-day field study of Hoffa. Of interest to general readers. Includes discussions of practices that led to the Landrum-Griffin Act and an analysis of the Teamsters Union’s reaction.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Katz, Harry C., and Thomas A. Kochan. An Introduction to Collective Bargaining and Industrial Relations. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1992. Well-written introduction to the general subject of industrial relations by two leading scholars in the field.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McAdams, Alan K. Power and Politics in Labor Legislation. New York: Columbia University Press, 1964. This 346-page book analyzes the legislative background and history of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959. Valuable for its information about the political context in which Landrum-Griffin was passed and its step-by-step analysis of the law’s development in Congress.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">National Labor Relations Board. Legislative History of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959. Reprint. Buffalo, N.Y.: William S. Hein, 1977. A 1,927-page reference work containing documents concerning the Landrum-Griffin Act. Vol. 1 includes early drafts, including drafts of related bills and conference committee reports. Vol. 2 includes the congressional debate and a comparison of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 with amendments made by the Landrum-Griffin Act.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Summer, Clyde W., et al. Union Democracy and Landrum-Griffin. New York: Association for Union Democracy, 1986. Includes a good description of the Landrum-Griffin Act.

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