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Labor Boards: The New Mechanism for Industrial Relations

by John A. Fitch

Director of Industrial Courses, New York School of Social Work

November 1934


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Strike
Keystone photographs
Guards


Mechanisms of war. [Left], detectives on strike duty at the Lakeside Power Plant, Milwaukee.
[Right], his friends guard the home of the leader of striking onion-field workers, Hardin County, Ohio.

On February 1, the President issued an order authorizing the National Labor Board to supervise elections of representatives for collective bargaining. In this order the President required the Board to "publish promptly the names of those representatives who are selected by the vote of at least a majority of the employes voting and have thereby been designated to represent all the employes eligible to participate in such an election." (Italics mine.)

This order seemed to be a reversal of the previous position of the Administration, but three days later General Johnson and Mr. Richberg issued another joint statement declaring that the Executive Order did not "restrict or qualify in any way the right of minority groups of employes or of individual employes to deal with their employer." The agreement by which the threatened automobile strike was averted was in line with this interpretation. It even went further and provided for proportional representation of minority groups on the collective-bargaining committee.

 

Strike
Keystone photographs

Strike discipline. [Above], strike vote at a North Carolina textile-mill. Below,
a picket-line at the Dunean Mill in South Carolina


Strike

 

Strike

Representatives of cotton-textile wokers on strike in Greenville, South Carolina,
meet with their organizer to discuss plans after learning that troops had been
called out. Except for a few minor disturbances, their strike was peaceful

 

In the meantime, the National Labor Board took the presidential order at its face value, and made findings upholding the majority rule. Its successor, the National Labor Relations Board took the same position in a case involving the Houde Engineering Company of Buffalo. On March 8 the old board had ordered an election of the employes of this company and had ruled that the company must bargain collectively with all of its employes through the agency getting most of the votes. The election was held and the union was designated as their representative by a majority of the workers. Nevertheless the company refused to recognize it as the exclusive bargaining agency; so the case came before the new Board. On August 30, the Board handed down a carefully reasoned decision favoring the majority rule. The Houde Company announced that it would disregard the Board's action and the National Association of Manufacturers sent word to its members that there were now two interpretations of the law on this point and that employers should take their choice until the courts had made a final ruling. The case has been referred to the Department of Justice for further action. In the meantime it is obvious that a consistent Administration attitude on this point must somehow be achieved.

So far we have been dealing with the problems before the with the problems before the boards without indicating the nature of these agencies. That there are scores of them altogether was remarked at the beginning of this article. The most important ones for present purposes are the National Labor Board and its successor, the National Labor Relations Board, the relatively independent Petroleum Labor Policies Board, and the boards set up especially to deal with difficulties in three major industries, automobiles, steel and textiles.

These boards, and the unmentioned ones also, have made an important contribution to our understanding both of what is possible in the adjustment of labor disputes under government auspices, and of the technique of that adjustment.

A study of their work indicates that there have been two distinct periods during the life of the Recovery Administration with respect to the handling of labor disputes and the administration of Section 7-a. The first was an experimental period during which four boards of major importance were set up: August 5, 1933, the National Labor Board; August 8, 1933, the Cotton Textile National Industrial Relations Board; December 22, 1933, the Petroleum Labor Policies Board; March 27, 1934, the Automobile Labor Board.

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