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Labor-management relations a high priority: 1961-62.

Labor-management relations a high priority: 1961-62 ARTHUR J. GOLDBERG

The conventional widsom about the Kennedy Adminstration is that it was high on charisma but bereft of legislative achievements.

I cannot speak of the experience of other executive departments of the Government, but the reality, rather than the myth, is that more labor and related legislation was enacted during 1961-62 than during the tenture of any prior Secretary of Labor, with the exception of the great legislation of the New Deal.

There follows a summary list of initiatives and accomplishments involving the Department of Labor during this period. This list is illustrative rather than all-encompassing:

The Temporary Extended Unemployment Compensation Act of 1961, which temporarily extended unemployment benefits on a national basis, rather than State by State, without trigger points;

A bill increasing the minimum wage (effective September 3, 1961);

The Area Redevelopment Act, providing retraining for persons in high-unemployment areas (Public Law 87 -- 27, signed May 1, 1961);

A bill to provide for an additional Assistant Secretary of Labor, a woman, with enlarged responsibilities beyond heading the Women's Bureau (signed August 1961);

Amendment of the Welfare and Pension Plans Disclosure Act (Public Law 87-420, signed March 20, 1962) to authorize the Secretary of Labor to examine reports from health and welfare plan adminstrators, and to investigate suspected cases of wrongdoing;

Amendment of the Jevenile Delinquency Act to safeguard the rights of youthful offenders;

An amendment of the Railroad Retirement Act which permitted early retired on reduced benefits for certain workers (Public Law 87-285, signed September 22, 1961);

Executive veto of a bill relating to longevity step increases for postal employees;

A bill providing health and housing protection for migrant workers (Public Law 87-345, signed October 3, 1961); and

The Manpower Development and Training Act of 1962, which authorized and appropriation of $435 million for a 3-year program of occupational training for the unemployed and underemployed (Public Law 87 -- 45, signed March 15, 1962).

In addition, there was a host of Executive Orders and important statements relating to labor matters. I shall cite only several:

Establishment of the President's Advisory Committee on Labor-Management Policy;

An order creating the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity;

The statement on Youth Empoyment Opportunities and Training;

An order regarding minimum wage rates for government employees;

An order requiring, for the first time, that Government agencies engage in collective bargaining with their employees (Executive Order 10988, signed January 17, 1962);

Creation of the President's Commission on the Status of Women (Executive Order 10980, signed December 14, 1961);

The establishment of the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Plan;

An order improving the provosion for aid for the handicapped.

Further, in recognition of the role of labor in our economic life, the Secretary of Labor was a member of a small "kitchen cabinet" advising the President on the state of the economy.

All of the above was surprising to some, in light of the fact that the Department of Labor was, at the time, the smallest department of the Government, but on the whole, this volume of activity was not controversial.

What was controversial during my tenure as Secretary Labor was the intervention of the Secretary and the Department in the settlement of major industrial disputes. This should not have been surprising, as both admirers and critics of the policy professed. President Kennedy believed in an activits government to protect the public interest. I shared this belief.

But what about the Conciliation Service?

The U.S. Conciliation Service had been severed from the Department and reestablished as an independent Federal agency in 1947, at the insistence of Senator Robert Taft, in a move viewed by some as a rather spiteful attack on then Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins. This separation was, and is untenable. To successfully mediate settlements in major labor disputes, the prestige and "muscle" of the President and of the Secretary are often required and, on the whole, invited by the parties concerned. Thus, as Secretary, I--with the support of the President, and often with his personal participation--successfully mediated many important labor disputes.

Here, too, I shall mention only several of the areas in which we sought to mediate disputes: tugboats, steel, airlines, missile sites, maritime, aerospace, nuclear submarine, longshoring, automobile manufacture, construction, and, to the astonishment of many, the Metropolitan Opera.

In light of the peculiar nature of the last of the above-mentioned settlements, why should a secretary intervene in the case of the Metropolitan Opera? The reason is that the Metropolitan Opera is our only national opera company and, if a prolonged strike shuts down teh opera, the principals, who are very much in demand, may be offered contracts of relatively long duration by European opera companies. Without the arbitration settlement reached in December 1961, the net result might well have been the end of the Metropolitan Opera, a national cultural asset. Besides, Jackie Kennedy asked the President to have me intervene and what President or Secretary of Labor could turn down a request from Mrs. Kennedy?

Inasmuch as I possessed no statutory power to enforce settlements and only mediated them, why the controversy over this approach? It is gospel for both managmeent and labor at conventions, meetings, and the like to say that there should be no government interference with collective bargaining. This is empty rhetoric. I am not for compulsory arbitration, mandated by law, except in the most exigent circumstances, but mediation is a different matter.

All a good mediator can do is try to persuade the parties to agree upon a responsible compromise. Surely any administration, faced with economic problems of great magnitude, cannot afford prolonged strikes. At the very least, it should exercise its powers of persuasion to prevent them.

It needs emphasis that mediation in no way interferes with but, on the contrary, faciliates collective bargaining settlements.

In mediating these strikes, was I violating the law which separated the Conciliation Service from the Department of Labor? My answer to that is simple. The President can certainly offer his good services to mediate any industrial dispute which may have profound economic consequences. And, because the President can do this, his designated Cabinet officer, the Secretary of Labor, can do likewise.

In all of these highly publicized strike settlements, in virtually every case solicited by influential members of both parties, I had the complete support of Mr. William E. Simkin, the Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, which was the successor agency to the U.S. Conciliation Service. This wise mediator knew the value of having the power and prestige of the Presidency, as exercised through his Secretary of Labor, employed in the settlement of strikes affecting the national interest. Mr. Simkin and the Mediation Service were not lacking for other disputes in which to employ their undisputed talents of mediation.

As a by-product of the high-profile strike settlements and the public support which they engendered, Congress voted the Department of Labor the most effective Department in our Government in a Gallup poll. And because this was Congress' view, the legislation we sponsored was by and large supported on a bipartisan basis by Congress. This, I think, is something to reflect upon at the present time and perhaps for the future.

A final word. My agreement with President Kennedy, before accepting appointment, was that there would be no John Steelman in the White House. In previous administration, the President's staff often exercised the final word in labor matters. This was notably true during the tenture of John Steelman, a Presidential aide in the White House during the Truman adminstration.

There is a Parkinson's law applicable to both labor and management. The White House is the ultimate seat of executive power, and both labor and management sought to override the Secretary of Labor in their own interest by resorting to the White House when they did not get the results they wanted from the Labor Department.

This did not happen during my tenure. I had direct access to the President when necessary.

I express the hope, rather than the conviction, that all Secretaries will have similar access, without having to clear proposals with a staff member at the White House who usually does not prossess the Secretary's expertise.

". . .all a good mediator can do is try to persuade. . . ."

Arthur J. Goldberg served as Secretary of Labor in 1961-62.
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Title Annotation:Reflections of Eight Former Secretaries
Author:Goldberg, Arthur J.
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Feb 1, 1988
Words:1386
Previous Article:Gender, race, and the policies of the Labor Department.
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