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an illustration of a group of business people holding a yellow sheet of paper
figure 1  

 

yellow dog contract. An employer-employee contract, no longer legal, by which the employee agrees not to join a union while employed.reference 1

I have been able to find one source that suggests that the yellow dog reference is to the cowardly nature of the contract, though the commentator notes that he is not sure if this refers to the cowardice of the signer or one who proffers such a contract. This leads me to think that he is just speculating, based on what he thinks the term “yellow” means in this context. He may not have a clue as to why these contracts are called this.reference 2 The OED cites a reference to Kipling (writing about the US ): “America 's paved with the kind er horse you are—jist plain yaller-dog horse—waitin' ter be whipped inter shape.”reference 3 This would suggest that it is the worker who is likened to a yaller dog.

Let's see what exactly a yellow dog contract looks like. UCLA Law School thoughtfully provides the exact wording of an 1883 yellow dog contract enforced by the Western Union Telegraph Company:

1. Auntie Nolo. 2001. Everybody's Legal Dictionary. Nolo Press. Accessed Sep 22 2001 from http:// www.nolo.com/ dictionary/ wordindex.cfm.

2. Owens, Dennis. 2001. Quips, Quotes and Questions. Assembled Ears. WGMS. Accessed Sep 22 2001 from http:// www.wgms.com/ earchivesmay18.shtm.

3. Kipling, Rudyard.1898. The Day's Work. London: Macmillan, 71. Quoted in The Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2005. 3d ed. Accessed Jan 23, 2006 from http:// dictionary.oed.com.
I, [name] of [city] in consideration of my present reemployment by the Western Union Telegraph Co. hereby promise and agree to and with the said company that I will forthwith abandon any and all membership, connection or affiliation with any organization or society, whether secret or open, which in anywise attempts to regulate the conditions of my services or the payment thereof while in the employment now undertaken. I hereby further agree that I will, while in the employ of said company, render good and faithful service to the best of my ability, and will not in anywise renew or re-enter upon any relations or membership whatsoever in or with any such organizations or society.reference 4

The OED also suggests that the meaning of this term in regards to labor may have seen a later life as a not-to-compete clause in separation agreements.reference 5 However, their source is the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Having been a regular reader at the time they cite, I am skeptical about whether this represents an actual reflection of usage, or simply a science fiction writer's speculation.

4. Western Union Telegraph Company. 1883. The “Yellow-Dog” Contract: An Example. University of California Los Angeles Law School. Accessed Sep 22 2001 from http:// www.law.ucla.edu/ Students/ AcademicInfo/ CoursePages/ s2001/ 337/ YellowDog.htm.

5. Oxford English Dictinary Online.
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About the illustration: These people look happy, don't they? Do you think they are labor or management? Adapted from an illustration © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.
see also: yaller dog; Yellow Dog Democrat Last updated: March 31, 2008
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