Franklin D. Roosevelt

Letter from the American Federation of Labor on the Automobile Code.

January 28, 1935

Dear Mr. President:

You are acquainted with the reasons for the withdrawal by the American Federation of Labor from the automobile settlement of March 25th, last. These reasons were made clear to you in a letter sent to you at Hyde Park, September 11, 1934, by President Green of the American Federation of Labor with the accompanying resolutions adopted August 31st by the National Council of Automobile Workers. The reasons for this withdrawal were given you in my letter to you of December 19th and were reiterated in the public announcement made by Mr. Green through the press on the 24th instant, which had heretofore been withheld.

You are thus familiar with our construction of the settlement of March 25th, which is that this was an agreement between the parties to the controversy then threatening a strike, to wit, the automobile manufacturers and the American Federation of Labor. Your successful mediation of this controversy resulted in the announcement by you of the terms of settlement accepted by both sides, one of the terms of which included the appointment of a board with limited jurisdiction—one a labor representative, another an industry representative, and a neutral chairman, all to be appointed by the N.R.A. The labor representative was selected by the American Federation of Labor Federal Labor Unions, as parties to the agreement, the industry member by the manufacturers, as parties to the agreement, and the chairman was designated by the N.R.A. The announcement of the settlement made by you and the appointment of the board were not done under your Executive Order.

An analogy is found in many union contracts with employers under which both sides agree to leave unsettled issues to an arbitration board composed of one member representing the union, one representing the employer, and an impartial chairman to be appointed by a Federal District Judge who, if he accepts the task, thus becomes responsible for the appointment. Such an arbitration board, however, is not a judicial board or creature of the court.

You are thoroughly familiar with our view that since this agreement was without duration of time, either party could withdraw by giving notice to the other party. Before the ending of the agreement by such withdrawal all decisions and rulings of the Board within its jurisdiction are binding on the two parties.

This withdrawal is in no sense an abrogation of the agreement, but is a perfectly legal manner of ending it. Had the agreement been for a fixed duration of time, we would have necessarily awaited the expiration date.

The Automobile Labor Board thus had no legal status except under this agreement of the two parties. The withdrawal of one party from the agreement, thus bringing the agreement to an end, naturally terminates the existence of the Board.

During the period of uncertainty pending the public announcement of the withdrawal of the American Federation of Labor from this settlement, serious controversies under Section 7(a) of the Recovery Act have been accumulating in the automobile industry, some of them in their nature outside of the limited jurisdiction of the Automobile Labor Board. These issues are pressing for settlement; some are in an acute stage. The automobile labor problem is today by far the most serious labor problem in America. The facts adduced by the recent N.R.A. investigation of the automobile industry under your order demonstrates this fact.

Automobile workers have the same rights as all other workers in coded industries to self-organization guaranteed them in Section 7(a) of the Recovery Act, and to have their controversies under Section 7(a) submitted to the National Labor Relations Board for investigation and findings of fact, pending a determination by you of whether a special impartial board should be appointed for the automobile industry with full powers. The exercise of this jurisdiction by the National Labor Relations Board will, I am sure, relieve the present tension, which is extremely grave.

Mr. Green's statement and my letter to you of December 19th, regarding the disappointing record of the Automobile Labor Board and its unwarranted ordering of elections among employees without the consent and against the wishes of organized labor, make it clear why the personnel of this Board, regardless of other factors, render it completely unacceptable to organized labor.


Charlton Ogburn Counsel,

American Federation of Labor

The President, White House Washington, D.C.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Letter from the American Federation of Labor on the Automobile Code. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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