Broken Promise

Broken Promise: The Subversion Of U.S. Labor Relations

Copyright Date: 1995
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 422
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  • Book Info
    Broken Promise
    Book Description:

    The Wagner Act of 1935 (later the Wagner-Taft-Hartley Act of 1947) was intended to democratize vast numbers of American workplaces: the federal government was to encourage worker organization and the substitution of collective bargaining for employers' unilateral determination of vital work-place matters. Yet this system of industrial democracy was never realized; the promise was "broken." In this rare inside look at the process of government regulation over the last forty-five years, James A. Gross analyzes why the promise of the policy was never fulfilled. Gross looks at how the National Labor Relations Board's (NLRB) policy-making has been influenced by the President, the Congress, the Supreme Court, public opinion, resistance by organized employers, the political and economic strategies of organized labor, and the ideological dispositions of NLRB appointees. This book provides the historical perspective needed for a reevaluation of national labor policy. It delineates where we are now, how we got here, and what fundamental questions must be addressed if policy-makers are to make changes consistent with the underlying principles of democracy.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0370-4
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. 1 Taft-Hartley: A Fundamental Change in Labor Policy or Merely Adjustments to Eliminate Abuses?
    (pp. 1-14)

    In 1935 the Wagner Act established the most democratic procedure in U.S. labor history for the participation of workers in the determination of their wages, hours, and working conditions. The act was not neutral as between individual and collective bargaining; it intentionally favored collective bargaining.

    For Senator Robert Wagner, collective bargaining was actually more than a method of negotiating wages, hours, and working conditions or a system of checks and balances based on countervailing power. Wagner believed that “the struggle for a voice in industry through the process of collective bargaining is at the heart of the struggle for the...

  6. 2 Political Maneuvering to Control a New Law, a New Board, and a New Labor Czar
    (pp. 15-25)

    Even before the Taft-Hartley Act went into effect on August 22, 1947, supporters and opponents of the new law began maneuvering to influence the NLRB. By early August many of the most powerful CIa unions, in steel, automobiles, electrical, rubber, meat packing, farm equipment, lithography, food and tobacco, and longshore, had announced their intention to boycott the NLRB.¹

    Although only one AFL affiliate, the International Typographical Union, had publicly advocated an NLRB boycott, the Federation deliberately left open the possibility, saying only that a final decision would not be made until the September meeting of its Executive Council.² At a...

  7. 3 Improper Influences
    (pp. 26-41)

    The NLRB devoted most of July and August 1947 to preparing and carrying out changes in organization and procedure required by Taft-Hartley; developing new rules, forms, and instructions to personnel; and assembling all regional directors and attorneys at a conference to discuss new and anticipated problems. The Board also designed a new staff structure to administer the act.¹

    Although Congress clearly intended to separate the new general counsel’s functions of investigation and prosecution from the adjudication function of the five-member Board, it did so in very general and often imprecise statutory language. The major procedural problem confronting the general counsel...

  8. 4 Repeal Taft-Hartley: A Tale of Missed Opportunities
    (pp. 42-57)

    Public opinion polls taken before the 1948 Democratic convention showed that Truman’s approval rating among the American people had dropped from approximately 70 percent immediately after Roosevelt’s death to an all-time low of 32 percent.¹ In 1946, for the first time since 1930, the nation had voted the Republican Party into control of both houses of Congress: 51 Republicans and 45 Democrats in the Senate, and 246 Republicans and 188 Democrats in the House. Jubilant Republicans had interpreted the election as a repudiation of New Deal liberalism.² While the Republican Party appeared to be growing in strength, unity, and popularity,...

  9. 5 Taft-Hartley Was Here to Stay
    (pp. 58-71)

    Beginning in the earliest days of Taft-Hartley, evidence had been accumulating that the separation of powers between the Board and the general counsel was not working. From the hostile negotiations over the delegation agreement in 1947, the dispute over the scope of the noncommunist affidavit provision, and Denham’s role in the ITU episode, to the ongoing power struggle over who had the authority to determine the NLRB’s jurisdiction, the clashing of two powerful egos—Herzog and Denham—often obscured, or was used to obscure, the fundamental structural defects in the two-headed agency. It was easy to be distracted from deeper...

  10. 6 Bargaining National Labor Policy: A Misguided Process
    (pp. 72-91)

    Truman appointed George Bott to replace Robert Denham as general counsel of the NLRB. In sharp contrast to the flamboyant and combative Denham, Bott was a quiet, humorous, unpretentious man who got along with everyone and maintained such a low profile that when his appointment was announced, neither Washington reporters nor NLRB publicists could find pictures of him, newspaper clippings about him, or speeches to indicate his views on the act.¹ Before becoming associate general counsel, the forty-year-old agency career man had worked up through the ranks as an attorney in the Detroit regional office, a litigation attorney in Washington,...

  11. 7 The Eisenhower Board Remakes Labor Policy
    (pp. 92-121)

    Despite its failure to amend Taft-Hartley in Congress, the Eisenhower administration was still able to bring about major changes in the meaning of the act: a Republican-controlled NLRB reversed many of the Truman Board’s interpretations. By March 1954 the NLRB, for the first time in its history, had a Republican-appointed majority, and by March 1955, a Republican-appointed general counsel.

    Until then, Taft-Hartley had been enforced under what critics called “the shadow of a hostile administration” by a Board that had supported the act’s repeal in 1949. Taft-Hartley advocates accused the Truman-appointed Herzog Board of sabotaging the act.¹ Actually, Herzog’s Board,...

  12. 8 Labor Law Reform, Employer Style
    (pp. 122-145)

    Control over appointments to the NLRB remained with the Republicans throughout the 1950s, since Eisenhower retained the presidency by defeating Adlai Stevenson again in 1956 by ten million votes, almost double his margin of victory in 1952.¹ During the same period, however, Democrats regained and strengthened their control of the House and Senate, increasing their margin over the Republicans in the House from 29 in 1954, to 33 in 1956, to 129 in 1958, and in the Senate from 1 in 1954, to 4 in 1956, to 20 in 1958.² (Eisenhower was the first president to have to deal with...

  13. 9 The New Frontier Labor Board: A Commitment to Industrial Democracy
    (pp. 146-162)

    The passage of the Landrum-Griffin amendments in 1959 once again demonstrated the limited extent of the Democratic Party’s commitment to organized labor and Taft-Hartley Act reform. Many liberals, in and out of the party, moreover, no longer considered organized labor a force for social reform; from their perspective there was little to distinguish “big labor” from “big business.”¹

    What historian Arthur Schlesinger called the “alarmingly narrow margin”² of John Kennedy’s presidential election victory over Richard Nixon in 1960 only sharpened the differences between labor and the Democrats. Despite the popular impression that Kennedy was fighting for lofty ideals, he and...

  14. 10 A New Labor Policy: Taking Industrial Democracy Seriously
    (pp. 163-191)

    For eight years, the Eisenhower Board had deregulated employer opposition to unionization and collective bargaining and intensified the regulation of unions’ use of economic weapons, particularly organizational picketing. McCulloch, Brown, and Fanning quickly set about reversing Eisenhower Board policy, just as the Farmer Board had done to the Truman Board’s doctrines in the early 1950s. Almost immediately, the new Board greatly increased restrictions on employer speech and lessened restrictions on union economic weapons, including organizational picketing. The new Board also issued early decisions changing existing rules governing the appropriateness of bargaining units in ways that increased the likelihood of unionization....

  15. 11 Irreconcilable Differences
    (pp. 192-216)

    The events of the 1960s illustrated how national labor law had been made and the inadequacy of the process. The issue of management prerogatives raised inFibreboard,¹ for example, was at the core of the national labor policy. The determination of what business decisions should be subject to collective bargaining with a labor organization was, as one scholar put it, “but a step removed from the determination of whether or not there shall be collective bargaining at all.”² Yet Congress defaulted and resolved no basic labor policy issue. It settled for merely tinkering with Taft-Hartley and having various Senate and...

  16. 12 Making the Law Favor Employers Again
    (pp. 217-241)

    The Labor Law Reform Group hoped the 1968 elections would provide two keys to the success of its Labor Law Reform Project: a favorably disposed Republican president, Richard Nixon, and a Congress at least not actively opposed to the group’s legislative proposals. It got neither. Nixon won the presidential election but with barely a plurality of the popular vote. Moreover, he was also saddled with a Democratic Congress, at least until 1970. The Republicans still needed twenty-six seats in the House and nine in the Senate to gain a majority. As the LLRG saw it, Nixon would “tread softly on...

  17. 13 Management Interests over Workers’ Statutory Rights: The Final Irrelevance of National Labor Policy?
    (pp. 242-271)

    Although Congress rejected union-sponsored labor law reform during Carter’s one-term administration, the Carter White House was able to have a short-lived effect on the national labor policy through the appointment process. Democrats regained control of the Board when Carter named John Fanning chairman in April 1977 and, six months later, appointed NLRB executive secretary John Truesdale to replace Peter Walther, who had resigned. After that, Fanning, Jenkins, and Truesdale produced many rulings popularly associated with the Fanning Board. Betty Southard Murphy, who remained on the Board after being removed as chairman, and John Penello generally constituted a Board minority.


  18. 14 Conclusion
    (pp. 272-286)

    U.S. labor policy has been at cross-purposes with itself ever since Congress incorporated into the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 not only the Wagner Act statement that it is the policy of the federal government to encourage collective bargaining but also a new Declaration of Policy saying that the purpose of the act is to protect the rights of individual employees. Although there is no necessary conflict between the encouragement of collective bargaining and the protection of individual rights, experts at the time Taft-Hartley became law predicted correctly that the written affirmation of the protection of individual rights, particularly the right...

  19. Notes
    (pp. 287-390)
  20. Index
    (pp. 391-404)