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United Mine Workers, United States v.


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330 U.S. 258 (1947), argued 14 Jan. 1947, decided 6 Mar. 1947 by vote of 7 to 2; Vinson for the Court, Frankfurter and Jackson concurring in the judgment, Black and Douglas concurring in part and dissenting in part, Murphy and Rutledge in dissent. After contract negotiations broke down between the miners union and coal operators in the spring of 1946, the federal government determined that the resulting shortage of coal had created a national emergency. President Harry S. Truman seized the mines on 21 May 1946, claiming coal production to be essential to both the war effort and to sustaining the domestic economy in the transition from war to peace. The union, with the silent approval of its president, John L. Lewis, refused to work in government-held mines until a contract had been signed. The government in turn secured an injunction against further work stoppages, and when the workers refused to return to the pits, the district court fined the union $3.5 million and Lewis $10,000 for contempt of court.

The union appealed on the grounds that the Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932 prohibited federal courts from issuing injunctions against labor during a strike. The government responded that the War Labor Disputes Act of 1942 superseded the Norris-LaGuardia Act in situations in which the president, as commander-in-chief, issued an executive order pursuant to the declaration of a national emergency.

The Court held that the Norris-LaGuardia Act did not apply when the government was the employer and that the district court therefore had jurisdiction in the case. General public approval of this decision led Congress to pass the Taft-Hartley Act later in the year, cutting back some of the privileges labor had been granted during the New Deal, especially by the Wagner Labor Relations Act of 1935.

Melvin I. Urofsky

Subjects: Law.


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