Why Congress Can Intervene in Some Union Negotiations

Negotiations between unions and employers generally do not involve the participation of the US President and Congress. Yet there are two industries where the federal government can intervene: railroads and airlines.

Indeed, in 1926, Congress passed the Railway Labor Act as one of the nation’s first labor laws. This law gives Congress the right to intervene in disputes between railroad unions. In 1936, an amendment extended the scope of the law to include the airline industry.

The rationale for the Railway Labor Act and its airlines amendment is that rail and airline strikes disrupt interstate commerce; and since the Constitution gives Congress the right to regulate interstate commerce, Congress should be able to intervene to prevent rail and airline strikes from occurring. However, the federal government’s use of this law is often controversial, drawing strong criticism from workers and unions.

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