Franklin D. Roosevelt

Letter on Seizure of the Coal Mines.

October 29, 1943

Dear Mr. Davis:

I have your letter of October 28, informing me of the need for action to prevent further interruption of production in the coal mines. I am watching the situation carefully and shall not hesitate to take whatever steps may be necessary to see that the coal is mined.

We are short of coal to meet our war needs. We must have more coal. We can no more tolerate the letting down of coal production than we can tolerate letting down of the shipping of supplies to our fighting men.

I am not planning to take decisive action, however, until after the meeting of the Policy Committee of the miners next Monday. I am loath to believe that the miners, after careful consideration, will reject the proposal which the Board has indicated it would approve and which goes very far toward meeting the demands of the miners.

Certainly in wartime the miners will not take the position that they will sign no contract other than one dictated by their leaders. We are at war, and all of us must make sacrifices for our common good and common safety.

The Board has indicated that it will approve the Illinois contract with modifications which will give the miners for a 51-hour, portal-to-portal, 6-day week $54.00, which is $8.50 a week more than they are now receiving for 42 hours' actual work at their working places in the mines. It is about $2.50 less per week than they would receive under the Illinois contract as it was submitted. But we must recall that already $1.50 per week has been added to the rates prevailing under the old contract by reason of the adjustments previously allowed by the Board.

In making this proposal it seems to me that the Board has resolved every reasonable doubt with respect to the requirements of the stabilization program in favor of the miners' demands. Some may reasonably question whether the Board has not gone too far.

There is no basis for the assertion that the Board's proposals involve in any way a reduction in the basic rates that the miners are receiving. On the contrary, the assertion ignores the fact that the present basic rates are for production work at their working places, and make no allowance whatever for travel time as such. Under the Board's proposal the miners for the first time will receive pay for travel time, as such.

As a matter of fact, a 51-hour, portal-to-portal, 6-day week does not, conservatively estimated, average more than 46 1/2 hours' productive work in the mines. For a 46 1/2-hour, 6-day week of productive work, which is the equivalent of a 51-hour, portal-to-portal week, the miners would get under existing rates $52.25. Miners under the Board's proposal would get $54.00 for the same work. In addition they would get $1.50 special allowances previously granted. This certainly does not constitute a reduction of basic rates.

In order that there may be no misunderstanding among the miners, the Board should consider the wisdom of an announcement that it has no objection to the insertion of a clause in the contract that in no case shall a miner receive for a day's work less than he would have received for his productive work at the straight time hourly rate under the old contract.

I am confident that when the patriotic American miners realize the substantial increase in benefits the Board's proposal offers them they will not reject the opportunity given to them to secure a contract.

But if I am mistaken and the miners do not accept the Board's proposals, I shall take decisive action to see that coal is mined.

William H. Davis,

Chairman, National War Labor Board

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Letter on Seizure of the Coal Mines. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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