View original document

The full text on this page is automatically extracted from the file linked above and may contain errors and inconsistencies.

Form ft. K. 131


'Office Correspondence
To _

Chairman Eccles


Lauchlin Currie

Date _ January 13* 193_8A_
Subject: Memorandum on Attitude of
Leaders of Building Trades Unions with
Regard to Innovations in Building Trades
Labor Relations, by Iforcar &• Evans

I had a conversation sometime ago with the Director of Labor
Relations for Faim Security• He is a sober and competent person and
told me some stories in connection with the cooperative attitude of
labor unions so much at variance with much we hear that I asked him
to write me a brief memorandum on the subject* If you have the time
you might care to glance over it, particularly points 2 and 3. He
feels that the possibilities of substituting annual or monthly wages
for hourly rates are not nearly as hopeless as many people think*
I would like for you to meet him sometime when you are not busy.



in the early days of the Resettlement Administration, it
was proposed that several projects should be built on the
basis of prefabrication of the entire structure* In order
to pave the way for effective employment of labor in the
construction of these houses, my Division discussed the
plans with officers of the building trades departments of
the American Federation of Labor, and with officers of the
building trades councils in the cities in which such work
v/as contemplated* These discussions included, for example,
conferences with the President and secretary of each of the
two building trades departments of the American Federation
of Labor (these two departments have no^r been combined into
one department) and with international representatives of
some of the building trades unions* I e went over the plans
for construction in detail, exhibiting blue-prints and
models of the houses which we expected to build* The international officers and the officers of the building trades
departments all agreed to the employment of members of their
organizations in these activities, and gave us their personal
assurances that we would be protected from jurisdictional
disputes in the prosecution of the construction* At that
time we were under the regulations set forth in Executive
Order 7046, requiring the payment of a monthly wage to
workers. The union officers in the individual cities agreed
to facilitate working arrangements by concentrating the wage
rates of the skilled workers into three averages so that on
no project would we have to operate on the basis of more
than three schedules of limited hours of work* In effecting
this arrangement, it was necessary for the workers in a
number of crafts to accept hourly wage rates slighly lower
than the prevailing scales which their organizations at that
time were undertaking to maintain* These arrangements were
especially satisfactory to us in the case of projects located near Bound Brook, New Jersey, near Washington, D* C*,
and near Cincinnati, Ohio* As the plans for prefab ricat ion
of houses had been abandoned prior to our first negotiations
with the unions in Milv/aukoe, it was not necessary for us to
discuss this matter with the building trades leaders of that
city. I might add that the attitude of the labor organizations had nothing whatever to do with the abandonment of
plans for prefabrication of the houses.

2. In the course of our relationships with building trades organizations, I had occasion to discuss the questions of prefabrication and of annual wage payments, with local officers in
several cities. In the city of Milwaukee, I discovered that
the building trades unions had already entered into agreements


- 2 with a manufacturer of prefabricated houses in that city. These
agreements provided for the employment of on-site workers at the
hourly rates of pay established by the unions •
The unions waived
organization of the factory production workers, and they have since
been organized by the CIO. Ho disputes have arisen, however, concerning jurisdiction, and the building trades unions of the American Federation of Labor are harmoniously engaged in the erection
of houses produced in a factory manned by members of the CIO.
The factory workers, incidentally, are paid somewhat lower wages
than the on-site workers, and these lower wage rates meet with
the approval of the unions because of the more continuous employment provided for the factory workers. I was also advised that
all of the unions, except the painters and plumbers, had indicated a willingness to accept monthly employment on the basis of
an hourly wage 15 percent below the union scale, if the employer
would guarantee the monthly wage payments. A change in the
employer!s plans caused the abandonment of negotiations loading
to such full time employment.
In a recent discussion with the officers of the Washington, D« S»
Building Trades Council, it was indicated that the unions of this
city would have no objection to the payment of an annual wage based
on reduced hourly wage payments, if there were some real guarantee
of the annual payment. It was pointed out that some of the unions
in the city of Baltimore had agreed to such an arrangement, but
bhat their employers, after three months, had discharged the
workers because of the fact that they did not havo contracts for
the erection of additional buildings. As a result of this experience, the unions felt that they had been "double-crossed11 and
stated that while they were still open-minded with regard to such
arrangements, they would want to be sure that a binding contract
for full time employment was involved before they granted concessions in their hourly wage rates.
In our experience, we have also found the local organizations not
only willing but anxious to have their workers employed on a
monthly salary basis, at reduced hourly rates, when it was practicable for us to undertake full time employment. Quite generally,
for example, the unions have desired that foremen and even strawbosses should be employed on a monthly rate based on a reduction
in the hourly rates• On a large number of our projects, foremen,
straw-bosses, and, in some cases, even loading workmen of crews
have been employed on the monthly basis instead of the hourly basis*
On one of our projects, we have employed plasterers on 90-day field
work agreements at a monthly rate amounting to a considerable reduction in the hourly rato of pay. This action was taken with the
approval and even encouragement of the local union* (This project
was located in New Jersey where many contractors feel that the
building trades unions are not particularly subject to reasonable

- 3 I would also call actention to the fact that many of the unions
maintain hourly rates of "wages for "maintenance employees, who,
presumably, will secure more full time employment, considerably
below the regular construction wago rates* In our o%m experience, the unions have agreed to the employment of maintenance
workers on # monthly salary bases involving considerable con,
cessions in the hourly wage rates*


I would also call attention to the fact that the building
trades unions did not object to the establishment of the schedule
of monthly earnings for workers employed by the Works Progress
Administration or by agencie-s operating with WPA funds* The
major objections to the TiPA arrangements appear to lie (a) in the
low monthly salaries, (b) in bhe long monthly hours generally
established by State 1/PA Administrators — making the hourly
wage rates excessively low, (c) in the classification of workers
as skilled building trades craftsmen who had insufficient training and experience for such classifications, and (d) in the assumption that the works program would resulb in the training of a
very large number of additional craftsmen who would be thrown
into the labor market in competition with the adequately trained
cialtsmen already available* Of these four objections, I am
impressed that the fourth one wasr^pne that most concerned the
building trades unions.
It is probably worth while to note the following paragraphs
quoted from an article entitled "Worker and Owner Look at Housing
Snarl", in Jhe Journal of Electrical T/orkers and Operators:
*The urge now is for more cooperation between capital and
labor in the construction industry, and the suggestion is
made that building trades unior^s accept a 20 percent cub in
hourly wage scale in return for 40 weeks guaranteed employment per year. Ho?/ if this could be made an actuality and
the thousands of building trades workers who have been suffering for years from intermittent employment could sign contracts
guaranteeing them a stated yearly income, which would absolutely
be paid whether they worked or not, the unions could not possibly
bar the way. But as yet no individual contractor has put a
plan so ambitious into effect*

The only such arrangement we have been able to find in our
records calls for a guarantee of 10 hours work a week, and
included an increase of wages instead of a decrease. This
was signed by the licensed electrical contractors of Sioux
bity, Iowa, July 1, 1937. Hourly wage rates for journeymen
?/ere $1 an hour in 1935* At the signing of this agreement
the hourly rate was advanced to £l*12g* The section dealing
with guaranteed hours of work reads as follows:

- 4 *Sec« 2« Electrical contractors eligible to sign this agreement
must guarantee a mnir/ium payroll of ten (10) manhours per week
to journeymen members of !•!!• Mo* 231 when employed regularly by
them* Hours in excess of minimum stated above shall not apply
on payroll of any other week**
"The Council on Industrial Relations for the Electrical Construction Industry, a cooperative council representing employers and
the I*3*JJ*W« unions, has been in operation for the past 17 years•
The proposal for a lower hourly scale, in return for an annual
wage, has been discussed many times* Even the biggest of these
contractors, who maintain crews employing the same men continuously year after year, do not feel sufficiently confident of their
ability to furnish steady work to offer these man an annual wage*

7Jhen ITilliam Green, president of the .American B^ederation of Labor#
said such a plan was impractical,1 ib does not mean that the
plan is arbitrarily dismissed from further consideration but it
does nean bhat building trades unions will protect their membership and their wage scales from experimentation*1*