Breadcrumb

Veto of the Taft-Hartley Labor Bill

June 20, 1947

To the House of Representatives:

I return herewith, without my approval, H.R. 3020, the "Labor Management Relations Act, 1947."

I am fully aware of the gravity which attaches to the exercise by the president of his constitutional power to withhold his approval from an enactment of the Congress.

I share with the Congress the conviction that legislation dealing with the relations between management and labor is necessary. I heartily condemn abuses on the part of unions and employers, and I have no patience with stubborn insistence on private advantage to the detriment of the public interest.

But this bill is far from a solution of those problems.

When one penetrates the complex, interwoven provisions of this omnibus bill, and understands the real meaning of its various parts, the result is startling.

The bill taken as a whole would reverse the basic direction of our national labor policy, inject the Government into private economic affairs on an unprecedented scale, and conflict with important principles of our democratic society. Its provisions would cause more strikes, not fewer. It would contribute neither to industrial peace nor to economic stability and progress. It would be a dangerous stride in the direction of a totally managed economy. It contains seeds of discord which would plague this Nation for years to come.

Because of the far-reaching import of this bill, I have weighed its probable effects against a series of fundamental considerations. In each case I find that the bill violates principles essential to our public welfare.

I. The first major test which I have applied to this bill is whether it would result in more or less Government intervention in our economic life.

Our basic national policy has always been to establish by law standards of fair dealing and then to leave the working of the economic system to the free choice of individuals. Under that policy of economic freedom we have built our nation's productive strength. Our people have deep faith in industrial self-government with freedom of contract and free collective bargaining.

I find that this bill is completely contrary to that national policy of economic freedom. It would require the Government, in effect, to become an unwanted participant at every bargaining table. It would establish by law limitations on the terms of every bargaining agreement, and nullify thousands of agreements mutually arrived at and satisfactory to the parties. It would inject the Government deeply into the process by which employers and workers reach agreement. It would superimpose bureaucratic procedures on the free decisions of local employers and employees.

At a time when we are determined to remove, as rapidly as practicable, Federal controls established during the war, this bill would involve the Government in the free processes of our economic system to a degree unprecedented in peacetime.

This is a long step toward the settlement of economic issues by government dictation. It is an indication that industrial relations are to be determined in the halls of Congress, and that political power is to supplant economic power as the critical factor in labor relations.

II. The second basic test against which I have measured this bill is whether it would improve human relations between employers and their employees.

Cooperation cannot be achieved by force of law. We cannot create mutual respect and confidence by legislative fiat.

I am convinced that this legislation overlooks the significance of these principles. It would encourage distrust, suspicion, and arbitrary attitudes.

I find that the National Labor Relations Act would be converted from an instrument with the major purpose of protecting the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively into a maze of pitfalls and complex procedures. As a result of these complexities employers and workers would find new barriers to mutual understanding.

The bill time and again would remove the settlement of differences from the bargaining table to courts of law. Instead of learning to live together, employers and unions are invited to engage in costly, time-consuming litigation, inevitably embittering both parties.

The Congress has, I think, paid too much attention to the inevitable frictions and difficulties incident to the reconversion period. It has ignored the unmistakable evidence that those difficulties are receding and that labor-management cooperation is constantly improving. There is grave danger that this progress would be nullified through enactment of this legislation.

III. A third basic test is whether the bill is workable.

There is little point in putting laws on the books unless they can be executed. I have concluded that this bill would prove to be unworkable. The so-called "emergency procedure" for critical nation-wide strikes would require an immense amount of government effort but would result almost inevitably in failure. The National Labor Relations Board would be given many new tasks, and hobbled at every turn in attempting to carry them out. Unique restrictions on the Board's procedures would so greatly increase the backlog of unsettled cases that the parties might be driven to turn in despair from peaceful procedures to economic force.

IV. The fourth basic test by which I have measured this bill is the test of fairness.

The bill prescribes unequal penalties for the same offense. It would require the National Labor Relations Board to give priority to charges against workers over related charges against employers. It would discriminate against workers by arbitrarily penalizing them for all critical strikes.

Much has been made of the claim that the bill is intended simply to equalize the positions of labor and management. Careful analysis shows that this claim is unfounded. Many of the provisions of the bill standing alone seem innocent but, considered in relation to each other, reveal a consistent pattern of inequality.

The failure of the bill to meet these fundamental tests is clearly demonstrated by a more detailed consideration of its defects.

1. The bill would substantially increase strikes.

(1) It would discourage the growing willingness of unions to include "no strike" provisions in bargaining agreements, since any labor organization signing such an agreement would expose itself to suit for contract violation if any of its members engaged in an unauthorized "wildcat" strike.

(2) It would encourage strikes by imposing highly complex and burdensome reporting requirements on labor organizations which wish to avail themselves of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act. In connection with these reporting requirements, the bill would penalize unions for any failure to comply, no matter how inconsequential, by denying them all rights under the Act. These provisions, which are irrelevant to the major purposes of the bill, seem peculiarly designed to place obstacles in the way of labor organizations which wish to appeal to the National Labor Relations Board for relief, and thus to impel them to strike or take other direct action.

(3) It would bring on strikes by depriving significant groups of workers of the right they now enjoy to organize and to bargain under the protection of law. For example, broad groups of employees who for purposes of the Act would be classed as supervisors would be removed from the protection of the Act. Such groups would be .prevented from using peaceful machinery and would be left no option but the use of economic force.

(4) The bill would force unions to strike or to boycott if they wish to have a jurisdictional dispute settled by the National Labor Relations Board. This peculiar situation results from the fact that the Board is given authority to determine jurisdictional disputes over assignment of work only after such disputes have been converted into strikes or boycotts.

In addition to these ways in which specific provisions of the bill would lead directly to strikes, the cumulative effect of many of its other provisions which disrupt established relationships would result in industrial strife and unrest.

2. The bill arbitrarily decides, against the workers, certain issues which are normally the subject of collective bargaining, and thus restricts the area of voluntary agreement.

(1) The bill would limit the freedom of employers and labor organizations to agree on methods of developing responsibility on the part of unions by establishing union security. While seeming to preserve the right to agree to the union shop, it would place such a multitude of obstacles in the way of such agreement that union security and responsibility would be largely cancelled.

In this respect, the bill disregards the voluntary developments in the field of industrial relations in the United States over the past 150 years. Today over eleven million workers are employed under some type of union security contract. The great majority of the plants which have such union security provisions have had few strikes. Employers in such plants are generally strong supporters of some type of union security, since it gives them a greater measure of stability in production.

(2) The bill would limit the freedom of employers and employees to establish and maintain welfare funds. It would prescribe arbitrary methods of administering them and rigidly limit the purposes for which they may be used. This is an undesirable intrusion by the Government into an important matter which should be the subject of private agreement between employers and employees.

(3) The bill presents a danger that employers and employees might be prohibited from agreeing on safety provisions, rest period rules, and many other legitimate practices, since such practices may fall under the language defining "feather-bedding."

3. The bill would expose employers to numerous hazards by which they could be annoyed and hampered.

(1) The bill would invite frequent disruption of continuous plant production by opening up immense possibilities for many more elections, and adding new types of elections. The bill would invite electioneering for changes in representatives and for union security. This would harass employers in their production efforts and would generate raiding and jurisdictional disputes. The National Labor Relations Board has been developing sound principles of stability on these matters. The bill would overturn these principles to the detriment of employers.

(2) The bill would complicate the collective bargaining process for employers by permitting-and in some cases requiring--the splitting up of stable patterns of representation. Employers would be harassed by having to deal with many small units. Labor organizations would be encouraged to engage in constant inter-union warfare, which could result only in confusion.

(3) The bill would invite unions to sue employers in the courts regarding the thousands of minor grievances which arise every day over the interpretation of bargaining agreements. Employers are likely to be besieged by a multiplicity of minor suits, since management necessarily must take the initiative in applying the terms of agreements. In this respect, the bill ignores the fact that employers and unions are in wide agreement that the interpretation of the provisions of bargaining agreements should be submitted to the processes of negotiation ending in voluntary arbitration, under penalties prescribed in the agreement itself. This is one of the points on which the National Labor-Management Conference in November, 1945, placed special emphasis. In introducing damage suits as a possible substitute for grievance machinery, the bill rejects entirely the informed wisdom of those experienced in labor relations.

(4) The bill would prevent an employer from freely granting a union shop contract, even where he and virtually his entire working force were in agreement as to its desirability. He would be required to refrain from agreement until the National Labor Relations Board's workload permitted it to hold an election--in this case simply to ratify an unquestioned and legitimate agreement.

Employers, moreover, would suffer because the ability of unions to exercise responsibility under bargaining agreements would be diminished. Labor organizations whose disciplinary authority is weakened cannot carry their full share of maintaining stability of production.

4. The bill would deprive workers of vital protection which they now have under the law.

(1) The bill would make it easier for an employer to get rid of employees whom he wanted to discharge because they exercised their right of self-organization guaranteed by the Act. It would permit an employer to dismiss a man on the pretext of a slight infraction of shop rules, even though his real motive was to discriminate against this employee for union activity.

(2) The bill would also put a powerful new weapon in the hands of employers by permitting them to initiate elections at times strategically advantageous to them. It is significant that employees on economic strike who may have been replaced are denied a vote. An employer could easily thwart the will of his employees by raising a question of representation at a time when the union was striking over contract terms.

(3) It would give employers the means to engage in endless litigation, draining the energy and resources of unions in court actions, even though the particular charges were groundless.

(4) It would deprive workers of the power to meet the competition of goods produced under sweatshop conditions by permitting employers to halt every type of secondary boycott, not merely those for unjustifiable purposes.

(5) It would reduce the responsibility of employers for unfair labor practices committed in their behalf. The effect of the bill is to narrow unfairly employer liability for anti-union acts and statements made by persons who, in the eyes of the employees affected, act and speak for management, but who may not be "agents" in the strict legal sense of that term.

(6) At the same time it would expose unions to suits for acts of violence, wildcat strikes and other actions, none of which were authorized or ratified by them. By employing elaborate legal doctrine, the bill applies a superficially similar test of responsibility for employers and unions--each would be responsible for the acts of his "agents." But the power of an employer to control the acts of his subordinates is direct and final. This is radically different from the power of unions to control the acts of their members--who are, after all, members of a free association.

5. The bill abounds in provisions which would be unduly burdensome or actually unworkable.

(1) The bill would erect an unworkable administrative structure for carrying out the National Labor Relations Act. The bill would establish, in effect, an independent General Counsel and an independent Board. But it would place with the Board full responsibility for investigating and determining election cases--over 70 per cent of the present case load--and at the same time would remove from the Board the authority to direct and control the personnel engaged in carrying out this responsibility.

(2) It would invite conflict between the National Labor Relations Board and its General Counsel, since the General Counsel would decide, without any right of appeal by employers and employees, whether charges were to be heard by the Board, and whether orders of the Board were to be referred to the Court for enforcement. By virtue of this unlimited authority, a single administrative official might usurp the Board's responsibility for establishing policy under the Act.

(3) It would straitjacket the National Labor Relations Board's operations by a series of special restrictions unknown to any other quasi-judicial agency. After many years of study, the Congress adopted the Administrative Procedures Act of 1946 to govern the operation of all quasi-judicial agencies, including the National Labor Relations Board. This present bill disregards the Procedures Act and, in many respects, is directly contrary to the spirit and letter of that Act. Simple and time-saving procedures, already established and accepted as desirable by employers and employees, would be summarily scrapped. The Board itself, denied the power of delegation, would be required to hear all jurisdictional disputes over work tasks. This single duty might require a major portion of the Board's time. The review function within the Board, largely of a non-judicial character, would be split up and assigned to separate staffs attached to each Board member. This would lead to extensi