Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Radio and Television Address to the American People on the Need for an Effective Labor Bill.

August 06, 1959

[Delivered from the President's Office]

My Fellow Americans:

I want to speak to you tonight about an issue of great importance to every man, every woman, and every child in this Nation. It is above any partisan political consideration. It affects every American, regardless of occupation, regardless of political affiliation.

I speak of labor reform legislation.

In these few minutes I hope to place before you some salient facts affecting this matter so that all of us may more fully understand what is at stake.

This Nation needs a law to meet the kind of racketeering, corruption, and abuses of power disclosed in many instances by the Senate Investigating Committee headed by Senator McClellan. For 2 years, I have advocated such a law.

For many months, newspapers have carried extensive accounts of racketeering and corruption in labor-management matters. Many of you have actually witnessed disclosures of this corruption on television in your own homes. It is a national disgrace.

The legislation we need has nothing to do with wages--or strikes--or problems we normally face when employers and employees disagree. Nor am I talking of any new approach to collective bargaining. Nor about any new labor-management philosophy. I am talking solely about a reform law--a law to protect the American people from the gangsters, racketeers, and other corrupt elements who have invaded the labor-management field.

You know, a great deal is being said and written about this subject. We hear one bill called a "weak" bill--another, a "strong" bill--and so on. The American people are not interested in adjectives--or in labels. They are interested in a law which will eliminate the abuses.

I want only effective protection from gangsters and crooks for the people of America--for the men and women who labor with their hands, their minds, their energies, to make America a better place for themselves and for their families.

We all know that only a small minority of individuals among unions and employers are involved in corrupt activities. We know that the vast numbers of employers and union officials are honest, and deplore corruption as much as you and I deplore it.

But any corrupt minority is too large.

The damage that such a minority does to working men and women, and to the American public cannot be tolerated.

After all--employers and unions operate in this field under the sanction and protection of Federal law. The people very properly look to their Government to pass effective laws to stop abuses.

To date, legislation to correct these deplorable conditions has not been enacted. Meanwhile, the evidence of abuses has continued to mount before congressional committees. Chief among the abuses from which Americans need protection are the oppressive practices of coercion.

Take a company in the average American town--your town. A union official comes into the office, presents the company with a proposed labor contract, and demands that the company either sign or be picketed. The company refuses, because its employees don't want to join that union. And remember, the law definitely gives employees the right to have or not to have a union--clearly a basic American right of choice.

Now what happens? The union official carries out the threat and puts a picket line outside the plant--to drive away customers--to cut off deliveries. In short, to force the employees into a union they do not want. This is one example of what has been called blackmail picketing. It is unfair and unjust. This could force the company out of business and result in the loss of all the jobs in the plant.

I want that sort of thing stopped. So does America.

Take another company--let us say, a furniture manufacturer. The employees vote against joining a particular union. Instead of picketing the furniture plant itself, unscrupulous organizing officials, in this case, use another scheme. They picket the stores which sell the furniture this plant manufactures. The purpose is to prevent those stores from handling that furniture.

How can anyone justify this kind of pressure against stores which are not involved in any dispute. They are innocent bystanders. This kind of action is designed to make the stores bring pressure on the furniture plant and its employees--to force those employees into a union they do not want. This is an example of a "secondary boycott."

I want that sort of thing stopped. So does America.

The blackmail picket line and the secondary boycott cannot possibly help the working men and women of America.

Another important problem is that of the so-called "no man's land." Under existing law, the States have practically no authority over labor cases, according to Supreme Court decision.

Here is a typical example of what can happen in this situation. A labor dispute occurs at a small plant. The union--or the employer-goes to the Federal Labor Board. The Board says the case is too small for Federal action--because it has only a small effect on interstate commerce. Then, the union, or the employer, goes to State officials, but they can't do anything because the States have no authority. That leaves the worker and his employer in this "no man's land"--cut off from Federal or State help.

What is the result? The disputing parties have' no recourse to law. So, all too often, the dispute is "settled"--if we can use such a word--by force, with a test of strength between them, with damage to one or both, and to the community.

I want the "no man's land" abolished, because I believe that small unions and small businessmen have rights, just as everyone else. I want to give the States authority to deal with cases the Federal Board cannot and should not handle and, by all means, we must not bring every case to the Federal level, as some have proposed. In this kind of situation the States can act more promptly and more effectively than can the Federal Government.

Now any reform bill worthy of the name must also protect the individual rights of union members--within their unions. It must assure them of fair elections. It must assure them of honest handling of their money--money made up by dues often collected under auspices of Federal law. It must also give to the Government effective authority to investigate and enforce these provisions. Unless it does these things, and deals effectively with the problems of coercive picketing, boycotting, and the "no man's land," it is not a reform bill at all.

Now let us examine what Congress has done so far this year. Has its action measured up to the minimum requirements I have outlined to protect the American people? I regret to say that, as yet, the answer is no--definitely no.

The bill which passed the Senate in April is not effective. It does not deal with or curb the picketing or boycotting practices I have described. And while it purports to deal with the "no man's land," it gives no real relief.

In the House of Representatives, the Labor Committee bill is even less effective than the Senate bill. It, too, fails to deal with picketing and boycotting practices I have described. Its provisions relating to the "no man's land" go precisely in the wrong direction. And it actually exempts about 70 percent of all unions from reporting on their finances. It even removes criminal penalties against those who violate the rights of union members.

Neither the Senate bill nor the House Committee bill will really curb the abuses the American people want to see corrected.

However, Congress need not limit itself to such a choice.

The Administration bill is still before the Congress. There is also before the House a bipartisan bill jointly sponsored by two Members of the House Labor Committee--Mr. Landrum of Georgia, a Democrat, and Mr. Griffin of Michigan, a Republican. The Landrum-Griffin bill is a good start toward a real labor reform bill, containing many of the corrective provisions I have urged.

Again I emphasize: labor reform is not a partisan matter. Further, I don't come before you in any partisan sense. I am not a candidate for office--in this or other issues. I do not seek the support of any special interests. I am only trying to make sure that American workers and the public get the kind of protection that Americans deserve.

Nearly one hundred years ago Abraham Lincoln in his memorable Address spoke of the sacrifices made so that, in his words: "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." That was the question he posed to our Nation in his generation.

In our lives and actions, the people of America, in private and public sectors, daily face millions of choices with this continuing question always in the background.

As the Congress prepares to vote on labor reform, this great question is still, as always, with us. In the basic sense, the issue is: shall the people govern? If they do not, crooks and racketeers could prevail.

This business of government, including this question of labor reform, is your business. It is every citizen's business.

Americans want reform legislation which will be truly effective. It is my earnest hope that Congress will be fully responsive to an overwhelming national demand.

Thank you, and good night.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Radio and Television Address to the American People on the Need for an Effective Labor Bill. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/235192

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