Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

May 09, 1944

Q. Have you heard of the Montgomery Ward case?


Q. Could you say anything about that, sir?...

THE PRESIDENT: You know, it's a funny thing, there's a thing called law. We don't hear about it much- except through the Department of Justice. And the Department of Justice has a duty, which we are very apt to forget. It happens to be in one of the early statutes; I think it's the original law that created the Department of Justice. It wasn't in the Constitution. You probably know by now—I would say, if you remember back to the early days when you first came to Washington, that the departments are not set up under the Constitution. They are set up in the law. Well, the law which set up the Department of Justice way, way, way back-before you were born- said that the Attorney General, meaning the Department of Justice, would be the legal adviser of the Government of the United States. Well, that law stayed ever since, and works in with the Congressional law. It is set up in this particular case that you are asking about.

Soon after Pearl Harbor, I got pledges from the great bulk of organized labor, saying there would be no strikes. You remember that. That is recent history. And they said they would very much like it if we could get established a National War Labor Board. This is ABC stuff, but sometimes it's a good thing to read it over. And the ABC stuff said that this National War Labor Board would be a tribunal where labor disputes would be settled in an orderly manner. Well, on the whole now, it has been going on from January, 1942, until now, the late spring, 1944.

And on the whole, where there have been strikes, the ending of those strikes has been fairly prompt. There have been exceptions, of course, both here and in the other great democracies which are fighting at our side, and with similar laws such as England. And the total percentage of strikes has been, on the whole, very low. We have had that out before.

And in order to implement the progress of this, and because of a very serious strike which threatened to tie up not just one industry or one series of supplies for the Government—the coal strike—it looked as if it might tie up the whole of industry, which was a terrible threat against the Government—Congress passed a thing called the Smith-Connally Act, which gave statutory authority to the War Labor Board, which had been in existence for some time before that, and provided in that Act that whenever a labor dispute threatened to interfere with the war effort, the Board would take jurisdiction and fix the terms and the wages and conditions of employment. That would continue until changed by the Board.

And then came this Montgomery Ward case. The War Labor Board by unanimous vote, including the industry members on that Board, took jurisdiction. After the hearings, the Board by unanimous vote ordered Montgomery Ward to continue the wages and terms of conditions of employment that had existed for a year until an election could be held.

Montgomery Ward refused to comply, on the ground that the union no longer represented a majority of its employees. Well, they had a right, except that they laid themselves open for subsequent action.

Q. You said they had a right?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Montgomery Ward, like any citizen, had a right to say, "I won't live up to the law"— the action of this War Labor Board which is now duly authorized by law, just as you would have the right to say, "I won't go to jail." But the police would have a right to take you to jail, if they thought they had a case. Same thing— you would have a perfect right to decline to go, only I don't think you would.

The employees thereupon went on strike—I am just giving you a little history that the country doesn't know. Now that's an actual fact. I want to emphasize that. And if this had been only the old press conference, I would have said the press hasn't let the country know, but being a radio conference also now, besides press, I will say that the radio hasn't let them know. Now that's mathematically provable. It's a perfectly simple thing. And I am not charging it. I am merely stating .it as a fact. I am not even asserting, I am not even admitting it.

After all other efforts to secure compliance with this Order failed, the Board again by unanimous vote- second time recommended that the property be taken over, pending an election by the employees. That their recommendation be taken was after their second notice to me that there had been no compliance.

The Director of Economic Stabilization, who passes on sanctions, joined in the recommendation.

The Attorney General submitted an opinion that under the law the Government had authority to take possession.

Thereupon came out the telegram to Montgomery Ward and the union, and it stated that an election, which would clear things up, would be held within thirty days. Then, having announced that the election would be held within thirty days, I called on the company to continue its contractual relations until the election, and called on the employees to return to work.

The employees complied.

The company refused.

Then I directed Secretary of Commerce Jesse Jones to take possession of the property, and as employer to continue with the contractual relations until we could have the election.

This election over the protest of the union—it's too quick—was ordered, and it is being held today. They are having an election today.

If the election shows that the union does not have a majority of the employees, that is the end of the case. Now that's simple. That has never been stated by press or radio. On the other hand, if the election shows that the union has a majority, then the management has already declared that it is willing to continue its contract, and that will end the case.

There used to be all sorts of bedtime stories about children who saw things under the bed. And as you know, sometimes when people grow up, they see things under the bed. And you have got a very interesting thing. Mind you, I was able to see it because I was away [at "Hobcaw Barony"], and I could look down on the whole thing. And that is what it is, what I saw happen, a lot of people seeing things under the bed in this country, because they haven't got over their childhood habits. Maybe that's an allegory.

And I will repeat this last thing just once.

If the election shows that the union does not have a majority of the employees, that will end the case. On the other hand, if the election shows that the union has a majority, then the management has declared that it is willing to continue its contract, and that will end the case.

So I hope that by tonight when the news comes over the ticker, that we will all feel better . . .

Q. Mr. President, may we turn from mail order to politics for a minute? (Laughter)


Q. Last night, Chairman Robert E. Hannegan made a very direct statement, that it was his personal judgment that you were going to be the candidate in 1944 for the Democratic ticket.

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, look—look. I am only just back. And I am not going to talk about it now, any more than I did before. And number one, I didn't read what he had said. And number four, if I do read it, I am not going to talk to you about it. That's easy—and you could have answered it yourself. (Laughter)

Q. Well, Mr. President, there are only 71 days before the Democratic National Convention. (Much laughter, with the President laughing loudest)

THE PRESIDENT: My gracious, have you been counting?

Q. Yes, sir. On the calendar.

THE PRESIDENT: I haven't. Bad habit. (Continued laughter)

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Excerpts from the Press Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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