Lincoln Federal Labor Union No. 19129, American Federation of Labor, et al., v. Northwestern Iron and Metal Co., et al., 335 U.S. 525; 69 S. Ct. 251; 93 L. Ed. 212 (1949)

Lincoln Federal Labor Union No. 19129, American Federation of Labor, et al., v. Northwestern Iron and Metal Co., et al., 335 U.S. 525; 69 S. Ct. 251; 93 L. Ed. 212 (1949)

Facts—North Carolina made it unlawful for an employer to refuse employment to or to discharge anyone because of membership or non-membership in a labor union, or for a labor organization and an employer to enter into a contract for a closed or union shop. An employer and officers of a labor union were convicted of a misdemeanor for entering into such a contract.

Question—Do these right-to-work laws violate rights guaranteed employers, unions, and their members by the U.S. Constitution?


ReasonsJ. Black (9–0). Neither the due process clause nor the equal protection clause prohibits the states from outlawing closed or union shop agreements. The constitutional right of workers to assemble to discuss and formulate plans for the furthering of their own interest in jobs cannot be construed as a constitutional guarantee that none shall get and hold jobs except those who join in such plans. Where conduct affects the interest of others and the general public, the legality of that conduct must be measured by whether the conduct conforms to valid laws.

The liberty of contracts protected by the Fourteenth Amendment is not unqualified. Due process does not forbid a state to pass laws designed to safe- guard the opportunity of nonunion members to get and hold jobs, free from discrimination because they are not members of a union. The Court rejected the earlier due process philosophy of the cases and returned to the even earlier philosophy that the states have the power to legislate against what are found to be injurious practices in their internal commercial and business affairs, so long as their laws do not run afoul of some specific federal constitutional prohibition or some valid federal law. “Under this constitutional doctrine the due process clause is no longer to be so broadly construed that the Congress and state legislatures are put in a strait jacket when they attempt to suppress business and industrial conditions which they regard as offensive to the public welfare. Just as we have held that the due process clause erects no obstacle to block legislative protection of union members, we now hold that legislative protection can be afforded non-union workers.”

Note—In a decision involving labor and food stamps, the Court held that Congress could withhold food stamps from a household of strikers without violating the First and Fifth Amendments Lyng v. International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, 485 U.S. 360 (1988). In still another important decision affecting labor, the Court held that a union is not permitted to solicit and extract dues from nonunion members for activities not related to labor-management bar- gaining Communication Workers v. Beck, 487 U.S. 735 (1988).

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