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Letter to the Speaker of the House and to the Senate Majority Leader on the Railroad Strike.

July 17, 1967

Dear Mr. Speaker: (Dear Senator Mansfield:)

I am sending this letter to you in response to your request for a review of the meeting we had yesterday and the current rail strike situation.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, the threat of a railroad strike became a grim reality. Affecting first the west and midwest, the strike has now spread throughout the entire country, snarling our lines of commerce and leaving chaos and confusion in its wake.

By noon today, the Secretary of Transportation informs me that 80 to 90 percent of the Nation's rail lines will be down. By tonight, the stoppage will be total and rail paralysis will be complete.

As this crisis unfolded, the Secretaries of Defense, Transportation and Labor, the Attorney General and I met yesterday afternoon with the bipartisan Congressional Leadership and the Chairman and ranking majority and minority members of the appropriate Congressional committees. We discussed the action that must be taken to end the ruinous strike and to resolve finally the underlying dispute.

The consequences of the day-old strike-the first nation-wide railroad strike in over 20 years and only the second in the last 45 years--are already becoming clear to every American:

--This morning, hundreds of thousands of commuters found it difficult or impossible to get to their jobs.

--400,000 carloads of freight have already been stranded.

--Shipments of fresh vegetables, meats and other perishable foods have already been halted.

--Mail deliveries of packages and parcels, magazines and newspapers, have already been embargoed by the Post Office.

--Secretary McNamara has reported the strike is having "an immediate impact on the movement of ammunition and heavy equipment to Ports of Embarkation for Vietnam. Ammunition cars--a thousand each week--must move without interruption to support our fighting men in Vietnam."

Every minute and every hour the strike continues will create ever-increasing damage to our economic well being and America's national security.

The Nation has been more than patient.

The dispute is more than a year old. The parties have attempted unsuccessfully to reach agreement among themselves. Three labor boards have worked diligently and skillfully with the parties:

--The National Mediation Board, chaired by Francis O'Neill, the most experienced member of the Board.

--A Railway Labor Act Emergency Board headed by David Ginsburg, a distinguished Washington attorney with Frank Dugan, Professor of Law at Georgetown University, and John W. McConnell, President of the University of New Hampshire as members.

The Special Panel appointed by the President, chaired by Judge Charles Fahy, with Dr. John Dunlop of Harvard and Dr. George Taylor of the University of Pennsylvania as members.

Despite the efforts of these three Boards, the parties to this dispute have been unable to come to an agreement. In each case, the union rejected the recommendations of the Board.

During the current round of railroad contract negotiation, over 500,000 union members-some 80% of the industry--have settled their differences with management through the processes of free collective bargaining. What then can we say of this shopcraft dispute?

We are witnessing, in this strike, a complete breakdown of private responsibility.

No man and no institution can stand above the American people and our men in uniform defending our country around the world.

There comes a time when the public interest must be paramount over private interests. That time is now.

On April 10th, with all the legal machinery available to a President exhausted and with a nationwide strike imminent, I asked the Congress to extend the no-strike period in this case for 20 more days to keep the parties talking in the hope that a solution could be found and a disastrous strike avoided.

On April 28, I again asked the Congress to extend the no-strike period, this time for 47 more days, while the parties searched for a solution.

Congress promptly and favorably responded to both of these requests.

On May 4th, after three boards had worked with the parties and after almost a year of negotiation, I submitted a recommendation to the Congress to resolve this protracted dispute fairly and finally. That was 75 days ago. This recommendation was shaped by the most experienced and skilled labor advisors available to a President. We were all determined to treat labor and management fairly. The recommendation was drawn from the procedures and experience of the War Labor Board which settled hundreds of labor disputes. It was designed to provide a just settlement for the working man and for the railroads, based on the record made by the parties themselves.

The Senate accepted the Administration's proposal, by a vote of 70-15, while the House struck from its bill that portion which would insure a final resolution to the dispute.

This case has moved slowly through Summer and Fall, Winter and Spring--and still another Summer--while the parties unsuccessfully tried to reach final agreement. Now the Nation is gripped by a crippling strike, but the parties are no closer to a solution than they were over a year ago.

Simply extending the no-strike period is a prescription without a cure. It will only postpone the day of settlement--already postponed for more than a year--for in 90 days the Nation and its fighting men will be faced again with the prospect of another crippling strike.

The parties to this dispute have tried to reach agreement and failed. Boards and Panels have tried and failed. Congressional Chairmen and Members of the Congress, the Secretary of Labor and many other public officials have tried and failed. We are faced with a national crisis. The public interest must take precedence over private interests. The power to act now rests with the Congress.

As a prominent legislator commented yesterday "We have had a year of talk. It is time for action." I believe the American people share that view.

I therefore appeal to you to act swiftly on the proposal overwhelmingly passed by the Senate because of the urgent need to end the work stoppage and to resolve finally the dispute in the interests of the security, health and safety of America.

I assure you if the Congress will promptly and finally act, I will immediately appoint a blue ribbon board--with understanding of both labor and management, but subservient to neither and I feel confident this dispute can be resolved with dispatch and with justice to all.



Note: This is the text of identical letters addressed to the Honorable John W. McCormack, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and to the Honorable Mike Mansfield, Majority Leader of the Senate.

On July 16 the White House Press Office announced that the President had met that day with the bipartisan congressional leadership and the chairmen and ranking minority members of appropriate congressional committees. At the meeting, the release stated, the Members of Congress were informed of the impact of the railroad labor dispute by Secretary of Transportation Alan S. Boyd, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, Attorney General Ramsey Clark, and Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz (3 Weekly Comp. Pres. Docs., p. 1022).

See also Items 170, 172 , 174, 188, 194, 207, 311, 386.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Letter to the Speaker of the House and to the Senate Majority Leader on the Railroad Strike. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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