Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Special Message to the Congress on Labor-Management Relations.

January 11, 1954

To the Congress of the United States:

I submit herewith for the consideration of the Congress a number of legislative recommendations affecting labor-management relations. These recommendations are in the interests both of working men and women, and our business and industrial community. In a broader sense, they are in the interests of all our people, whose prosperity is in so great a degree dependent on the existence of genuine mutual respect and good feeling between employers and employees.

This field of legislation has had a long, contentious history. It has taken time for objective principles to emerge which can command mutual acceptance of the fundamentals which govern the complex labor-management relationship. Although the process is not and perhaps never will be complete, we have now achieved a measure of practical experience and emotional maturity in this field which, I do not doubt, is responsible for the relatively peaceful character of recent industrial relations. No drastic legislative innovations in this field are therefore desirable or required at this time.

Federal labor-management legislation at best can provide only the framework in which free collective bargaining may be conducted. It should impose neither arbitrary restrictions nor heavy-handedness upon a relationship in which good will and sympathetic understanding should be the predominant characteristics.

The National Labor Relations Act--known as the Wagner Act and adopted in 1935 by bipartisan majorities--came into being because American working men and women needed the protection of law in order to guarantee them the free exercise of their fight to organize into unions and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing. As unions became strong, a need arose to protect the legitimate rights of employees and employers and to protect the general public from the consequences of unresolved labor disputes that created emergencies endangering the health or safety of the nation. To meet this need the Labor-Management Relations Act, 1947, commonly known as the Taft-Hartley Act, was adopted by bipartisan majorities.

In enacting labor-management legislation, the Congress has always built upon the legislation which preceded it. We have never turned backward. The Labor-Management Relations Act, 1947, was no exception. It built upon the National Labor Relations Act, and not only reaffirmed, but reinforced the right of working men and women to organize into unions and to bargain collectively with their employer. The protection of this right is firmly fixed in our law and should remain a permanent policy of our Government.

The Labor-Management Relations Act, 1947, is sound legislation. Experience gained in the operation of the Act, however, indicates that changes can be made to reinforce its basic objectives.

In the area of employer-employee relations the injunction has always been a controversial process. It is apparent, however, that where irreparable damage threatens, the restraining effect of an injunction is required in the interest of simple justice. Nevertheless, where a collective bargaining relationship exists, the issuance of an injunction often has the effect of making settlement of the dispute which led to the injunction more difficult.

Therefore, I recommend that whenever an injunction is issued under the National Labor Relations Act where a collective bargaining relationship exists between the parties, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service shall empanel a special local board to meet with the parties in an effort to seek a settlement of their dispute. I further recommend that in secondary boycott cases, the application for an injunction be discretionary.

The prohibitions in the Act against secondary boycotts are designed to protect innocent third parties from being injured in labor disputes that are not their concern. The true secondary boycott is indefensible and must not be permitted. The Act must not, however, prohibit legitimate concerted activities against other than innocent parties. I recommend that the Act be clarified by making it explicit that concerted action against (1) an employer who is performing "farmed-out" work for the account of another employer whose employees are on strike or (2) an employer on a construction project who, together with other employers, is engaged in work on the site of the project, will not be treated as a secondary boycott.

As the Act is now written, employees who are engaged in an economic strike are prohibited from voting in representation elections. In order to make it impossible for an employer to use this provision to destroy a union of his employees, I recommend that, in the event of an economic strike, the National Labor Relations Board be prohibited from considering a petition on the part of the employer which challenges the representation rights of the striking union. I further recommend that for a period of four months after the commencement of the strike, the Board be prohibited from considering a petition on the part of any other union which claims to represent the employees. The prohibition against considering a petition by the employer should continue as long as the strike continues, provided, however, that a reasonable limit of time, which I suggest be one year, be stipulated.

The Act has been interpreted to mean that even though a collective bargaining contract is in force, either party may insist that the contract be reopened for the purpose of bargaining about matters that were not the subject of negotiations when the contract was made. Thus stabilization of the relationship between the parties for the period of the contract can be completely frustrated. I recommend that the law be amended so as to protect both parties to a valid collective bargaining agreement from being required to negotiate during its term unless the contract so authorizes or both parties mutually consent.

The National Emergency provisions of the Act are essential to the protection of the National health and safety. As the Act is now written, the board of inquiry established to inquire into the facts of the dispute causing the emergency must report the facts to the President without recommendations. In order that the President may have the authority to require the board's recommendations, I recommend that after he has received and made available to the public the last report of the board of inquiry (if the dispute has not then been settled), he be empowered to reconvene the board and direct it to make recommendations to him for settlement of the dispute. Although the recommendations of the board would not be binding upon the parties, yet there is real value in obtaining the recommendations of informed and impartial men for the settlement of a dispute which imperils the national health and safety.

Employees engaged in the construction, amusement and maritime industries have unique problems because their employment is usually casual, temporary or intermittent. I recommend that in these industries the employer be permitted to enter into a pre-hire contract with a union under which the union will be treated initially as the employees' representative for collective bargaining. I also recommend that in these industries the employer and the union be permitted to make a union shop contract under which an employee, within seven days after the beginning of his employment, shall become a member of the union.

Under the Act as presently written, both unions and employers are made responsible for the actions of their agents. In order to make it clear that a union cannot be held responsible for an act of an individual member solely because of his membership in the union, I recommend that the Act be amended to make the traditional common law rules of agency applicable.

The Act presently provides that the facilities of the National Labor Relations Board are available only to those unions whose officials execute affidavits disclaiming membership in Communist organizations. The Communist disclaimer provisions are not presently applicable to employers. I recommend that they be made applicable. Specific proposals for legislation dealing with Communist infiltration generally are now under study. If such legislation is enacted, making the Communist disclaimer provisions of the Act unnecessary, I then will recommend that they be entirely eliminated.

The right of free speech is fundamental. Congress should make clear that the right of free speech, as now defined in the Act, applies equally to labor and management in every aspect of their relationship.

The Act presently prohibits an employer from making payment to a union to assist in the financing of union welfare funds unless the fund meets certain standards. These standards are not adequate to protect and conserve these funds that are held in trust for the welfare of individual union members. It is my recommendation that Congress initiate a thorough study of welfare and pension funds covered by collective bargaining agreements, with a view of enacting such legislation as will protect and conserve these funds for the millions of working men and women who are the beneficiaries.

The Act should make clear that the several states and territories, when confronted with emergencies endangering the health or safety of their citizens, are not, through any conflict with the Federal law, actual or implied, deprived of the right to deal with such emergencies. The need for clarification of jurisdiction between the Federal and the State and Territorial governments in the labor-management field has lately been emphasized by the broad implications of the most recent decision of the Supreme Court dealing with this subject. The Department and agency heads concerned are, at my request, presently examining the various areas in which conflicts of jurisdiction occur. When such examination is completed, I shall make my recommendations to the Congress for corrective legislation.

In the employer-employee relationship there is nothing which so vitally affects the individual employee as the loss of his pay when he is called on strike. In such an important decision he should have an opportunity to express his free choice by secret ballot held under Government auspices.

There are two other changes in the law that I recommend. The authorization which an individual employee gives to his employer for the check-off of the employee's union dues should be made valid until the termination of the collective bargaining contract which provides for such check-off, unless the employee sooner revokes such authorization. The provisions of the Act which require reports from unions concerning their organization and finances should be simplified so as to eliminate duplication in the information required by such reports.

I hope that the foregoing changes will be enacted by Congress promptly, for they will more firmly establish the basic principles of the law. The appropriate Committees of the Congress will, I am certain, wish to keep the law under continuous study and in the light of experience under it propose further amendments to implement its objectives and constantly improve its administration.

Government should continue to search diligently for sound measures to improve the lot of the working man and woman, mindful that conditions and standards of employment change as the products, habits and needs of men and women change. It will be continually a challenge to Government to sense the aspirations of the working people of our country, that all may have the opportunity to fairly share in the results of the productive genius of our time, from which comes the material blessings of the present and a greater promise for the future.


Dwight D. Eisenhower, Special Message to the Congress on Labor-Management Relations. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/233568

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