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Statement of the Vice President of the United States on Collective Bargaining, Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York, NY

October 20, 1960

In our country collective bargaining is a shining demonstration of democracy in action - a key symbol of our free economic life. Believing in the integrity of this process, this administration told labor on one hand and management on the other - you settle your differences; we will not interfere - we are taking the Federal Government out of the collective bargaining business. It has been our stand that the influence of the executive branch is not going to be thrown on one side or the other, for when it is, you make a mockery of free collective bargaining, as events in the Truman administration amply demonstrated.

Our faith in this system has been proved time and time again. For one example, the ratio of man-days lost to man-days worked because of strikes since 1952 is half that lost in the 7 years prior to 1952 - a fact of tremendous meaning to labor and management alike.

The national emergency provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act have performed creditably, but the President needs certain additional powers to protect the American people against national emergency strikes.

Under present law, the powers of the Government can be brought to bear only when a national emergency in fact exists. After the 80-day injunction period has been consumed and the strike is resumed, the President can submit a report to Congress along with his recommendations. Thus, the final decision as to whether the Government should use its full power to settle a dispute is placed, not on one man in the White House, but on the people themselves through their elected representatives.

I completely agree with that principle and would preserve it.

I am completely opposed to the proposal of Senator Kennedy that the President be granted the power to seize a major industry. Power of this kind should continue to reside in the people, and should be exercised by Congress only when a crisis warrants it.

The Taft-Hartley Act does need amendment in two respects, however.

First, the President should be given the statutory power to convene a factfinding board when a major dispute ensues - at any time he sees fit. This process should function as a regular part of the mediation activities of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and outside of the emergency provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act. The factfinding board should be empowered to call hearings, to subpoena witnesses and testimony, and to produce a public record of the issues and the positions of both parties. The board would not have the power to make recommendations for settlement unless both parties specifically agreed that it should assume such power.

The purpose of the board would be to clarify the issues before a major dispute develops into a national emergency, for the public is often lost in a cloud of propaganda from both sides.

Second, the law should be amended so that a board convened under the Taft-Hartley provisions could make recommendations before an injunction has been sought.

In the event that public pressures should fail and an emergency occur, the present law empowers the President to convene a fact-finding board which reports to him. But under present law, this board cannot make recommendations.

Obviously, the board should be able to make recommendations. It would move up the timetable, so the Government could act before the injunctive process becomes necessary. The President would place the recommendations before the parties, in clear view of the public, before the 80-day injunction begins.

In his speech to the Steelworkers Union recently Senator Kennedy suggested two ways of dealing with emergency disputes. His first would "leave with labor and management in specific critical industries responsibility for establishing their own settlement procedures" whenever they cannot agree on the terms of a new contract by collective bargaining. They would do this, presumably, in advance of the time when alternative procedures were needed; once needed it would be too late to try them.

In effect, this proposal asks labor and management in critical industries to agree on a procedure for a settlement if they cannot agree on the settlement itself. This is utterly unrealistic.

Major disputes are rarely settled by resort to a number of bargaining methods and a variety of procedures. They are settled by economic pressure or the pressure of public opinion. Senator Kennedy's first proposal asks labor and management to deny themselves the means to exert pressure, on one or the other, from the outside.

No labor leader and no management representative would agree to a settlement if he thought he had a better chance to win his terms by going to the outside. That is the lesson of both common sense and experience.

Senator Kennedy's second proposal - in the event the private procedure should break down - is presented in the terms of a question: "Why should we be armed only with the power to enjoin labor when there is a whole arsenal of other weapons available - including mediation, factfinding with and without public recommendations, temporary Government operations, retroactive pay orders, and the right not to interfere at all?" I take it Senator Kennedy's words, "temporary Government operations" are meant to sound more palatable than plain seizure," but the meaning is the same.

When this list first appeared on October 9, 1959, during the steel strike, in a speech Senator Kennedy prereleased before delivery at Fayette City, Pa., that same paragraph read this way: "These measures should include mediation, factfinding, seizure, compulsory arbitration, injunctions with or without retroactive clauses and right not to interfere at all." I referred to this language in my third debate with Senator Kennedy.

Now the Senator announces he did not see his speech until after the public had it. He said he ignored his released views; he is not for compulsory arbitration after all. This makes it risky to assume that the rest of what he said to the steelworkers is his own thinking, not his advisers'.

Even so, if Senator Kennedy still wants to seize American industry, he can't logically be against compulsory arbitration too. His present position leaves him willing to club errant management around but unwilling to chasten errant labor. It leaves him willing to strike with his right hand but not with his left hand.

The President should not be given the power to strike with either hand. Inherent in such power is the power, certain to develop later, to destroy free collective bargaining.

What Senator Kennedy proposed boils down to this; the President would have every power he would need to settle major labor disputes, including a power not to act, which would intimidate the parties into settlement because they feared what he might do if and when he did act. My opponent might as well state the truth; as President he would settle major labor disputes himself, holding in his hands the power of decision. That federalistic approach fits his concepts in other areas as well.

I reject the notion of clothing the Presidency with such wide powers for discretionary use. Instead I believe we should rely upon practical amendments which would do the job but avoid the federalizing of collective bargaining, avoiding the political chicanery that in the past brought this entire system to the brink of ruin.

Richard Nixon, Statement of the Vice President of the United States on Collective Bargaining, Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York, NY Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/274050

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