At a meeting of the C.I.O. this week, union members revealed their waning support of the President and their lack of confidence in the labor policy of the Administration. Republicans who were displeased two months ago when the A.F. of L. punctuated Vice-President Nixon's convention speech with mocking laughter can be no more encouraged by the icy silence which met Eisenhower's message to the C.I.O. Both reactions to the President's statements on labor show graphically the need for equitable, quick action on the Taft-Hartley Act in the next session of Congress.
Before his resignation, Secretary of Labor Durkin and representatives of labor and management had drawn up nineteen amendments to the Act. Though Durkin's suggestions are worthwhile, Eisenhower must not limit his consideration to them alone. A re-examination of the broad aims of the Taft-Hartley Act and how well it has served these aims is essential.
Contrary to widespread fable, the Taft-Hartley Act was drafted to protect labor as well as to correct some of the abuses unions were permitted under the Wagner act. In one respect, however, the laws makes the same omission in protection as its predecessor: it contains no effective provision to deal with an employer who breaks the law while fighting attempts of a union to organize his factory. Since an unfair practices suit requires at least a year to settle, an obstructionist employer can easily stave off union organization with delays. Even should the union ultimately win its suit against him, attempts to organize are usually quashed by time.
There are two ways to remove this opening for unscrupulous employers. Congress could expand section (10)j of the law so that more efficient restraining orders can be filed against illegal acts on the part of employers. Or the national Labor Relations Board could discourage the delaying practice by jumping cases involving particularly obstructionist employers or unions to the top of its docket.
Another area in which protection under Taft-Hartley is vague is in the protection afforded "neutrals" in labor disputes. Under Section 8 (b) (4) (A), Taft-Hartley forbids a union to strike against an employer if its motive is to pressure the employer from dealing with some other producer. But if this law were to be enforced with its present hazy wording, employees in a plant could be required to continue work for one employer while other union members were striking in the factory of his ally. The law should be so amended that if such an alliance is shown, neither employer is termed neutral, and strikes at both locations are permitted.
Perhaps the greatest single contribution the Taft-Hartley Act should provide, however, is a workable labor policy for time of national emergency. But it is in establishing emergency procedures that some of the gravest weaknesses in the law have appeared. The injunction provision of the bill, invoked twelve times, has been actually successful in only three of them. Often the unpopularity of the injunction with union officials has delayed arbitration when it should have facilitated it. In place of this clumsy, unpopular procedure, Congress should authorize a plan similar to the one recently proposed by economist Sumner Slichter. Such an act would give the President a variety of choices more effective than present injunction powers.
He could hold a show-cause hearing at which parties would be asked to show why their disagreements should not be arbitrated by the government board. Where it was feasible, the president could order limited production to protect the nation's safety while both sides are being heard. At the end of the initial thirty days of inquiry, the President should have the power to order an additional ninety days of the status quo if agreement has not been reached.
These are a few of the broad problems to be met in revising the Taft-Hartley law; the very number of Mr. Durkin's amendments shows that many smaller issues are unsettled. He would, for example, reduce a required 60-day notice-of-contract-termination clause in the act to thirty. But here again, it is not enough to effect these changes without considering the many associated questions. In this instance, the penalty for violating the sixty-day notice requirement is one-sided: stringent on laber, not so harsh on management. While the length of notification is being considered, penalties should be equalized also.
Even with its admitted faults, the Taft-Hartley Act has been successful in practice. Filling a need in labor-management legislation, the act deserves careful study and revision. The cool reception which union members have accorded Eisenhower's cloudy promises should be a warning to the Administration that revisions in the law are essential and should top the agenda when Congress reconvenes.