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1898 Erdman Railway Labor Act

William McKinley

1898 Erdman Railway Labor Act: William McKinley was the 25th American President who served in office from March 4, 1897 to September 14, 1901. One of the important events during his presidency was the passage of the Erdman Act.

Definition and Summary of the 1898 Erdman Railway Labor Act
Summary and definition:
The Erdman Act was passed in 1898 and sponsored by Constantine Jacob Erdman (1846 1911), a lawyer and a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania who the law is named for.

The Erdman Act was a Railway Labor Act that set up arbitration procedures through the policy of mediation and conciliation to settle railway disputes.

The Erdman Act of 1898 for kids: Background History
The Erdman Act of 1898 was passed in the wake of industrial disputes involving the railroad workers. The events of the
Pullman Strike that occured in 1894 were still in the minds of the politicians and the general public. The Pullman strike had started in Chicago and spread right across the country involving over 100,000 employees working on 24 different railroads. The strike had turned violent and President Cleveland was forced to send in US troops to quell the riots. The military used harsh methods to suppress the strikers resulting in deaths,  serious injuries and hundreds of arrests.   

Reasons and Purpose of the Erdman Act of 1898
The reasons and purpose of the Erdman Act were

  • To alleviate labor unrest in the railroad industry by requiring mediation of any labor dispute

  • To avoid a repetition of another railroad strike

  • It aimed to provide a process to settle railroad disputes that were "seriously interrupting or threatening to interrupt" interstate commerce

Erdman Act for kids: Provisions of the Erdman Act
What did the 1898 Erdman Act do? The provisions of the Erdman Act were as follows:

  • The Erdman law provided for arbitration for disputes between the interstate railroads and their workers organized into unions

  • The law applied to employees who worked on the moving trains such as the drivers, conductors, brakemen and firemen

  • Maintenance workers and station clerks did not come under the jurisdiction of the Erdman Act as their work was not related to interstate work

  • The law only applied if the train transported freight and passengers between states

  • The Erdman Act set up arbitration procedures via the policy of mediation and conciliation to settle railroad disputes

  • The act provided for an arbitration board whose decision would be binding

  • The law made it illegal for workers to strike during the arbitration process

  • The law also made it illegal for companies to fire a worker during the arbitration process, except for neglecting duty or inefficiency   

  • The act prohibited the use of 'yellow-dog' contracts on the railroads. ('Yellow-dog' labor contracts included a clause stating that an employee would not join a Union)

Erdman Act for kids: 'Yellow-dog' Contracts Provision overturned
The provision relating to 'Yellow-dog' labor contracts was overturned by the Supreme Court as an unconstitutional infringement upon the freedom of contract   

Significance of the Erdman Act
Railroad workers were granted more rights under the provisions of the 1916 Adamson Act in 1916 that shortened the working day from 10  hours to 8 hours at the same rate of pay. For additional facts refer to the History of Labor Unions.

US American History
1881-1913: Maturation Era

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Updated 2018-01-01

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