The 1927 federal court case United Mine Workers of America v. Red Jacket Consolidated Coal and Coke Company, affirming the use of injunctions against union organizing efforts, was a landmark event in West Virginia labor history. The litigation was an important element in massive employer resistance to unionization in the southern coalfields. It symbolized for many the central role of the courts in accommodating the industry.
By 1920, the UMW had launched a vigorous campaign to unionize southern West Virginia. John L. Lewis announced the effort in a January speech in Bluefield soon after becoming president of the union. Coal operators were equally determined to stay nonunion, and a major conflict ensued.
One tactic the operators used was to require each of their employees to sign a so-called yellow-dog contract, in which the worker agreed not to join a union or to urge others to do so. Then, if the union attempted to recruit a company’s miners, the company sued to enjoin the union from interfering with these individual employment contracts. The tactic spread throughout the region during the early 1920s. In all, 231 southern West Virginia coal companies filed federal court actions, and the requested injunctions were issued to each. The court orders barred union organizers from (among other things) holding meetings, distributing information, urging the companies’ workers to join the union, paying court costs for fired workers evicted from their company houses, and giving aid to striking miners. State courts issued similar injunctions to 85 more companies. The union appealed the federal cases, which were consolidated in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals into the Red Jacket case.
That court sustained a previous judge’s finding that the union had violated antitrust laws by conspiring to interfere with production and shipment of coal, and that the union had interfered with the company’s employment contracts with its workers by asking miners working under the yellow-dog contract to join the union. Thus the injunctions were held to be proper. The UMW appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it denied review.
The Red Jacket decision rendered southern West Virginia virtually off limits to the UMW, a condition that persisted until federal legislation in the mid- ’30s effectively overturned the holdings in the case.
This Article was written by Robert M. Bastress
Last Revised on October 22, 2010
Cite This Article
Bastress, Robert M. "Red Jacket Case." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 22 October 2010. Web. 25 April 2015.