Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967

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Author: Lyndon B. Johnson  | Date: April 10, 1967

170
Special Message to the Congress on the Impending Nationwide Rail Strike.
April 10, 1967

To the Congress of the United States:

The threat of a crippling and paralyzing nation-wide railroad strike now faces America.

At 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, April 13th, 137,000 shopworkers—mechanics, powerhouse employees and shop laborers—without whose services the trains cannot operate are scheduled to begin a walkout against virtually every major railroad in this country. Over 95 percent of the Nation’s railroad mileage will be affected.

For almost a year the parties have engaged in extensive collective bargaining to reach a settlement. These negotiations have proceeded with a seriousness of purpose. The parties have bargained hard and with skill.

The major issues on the bargaining table are traditional but vital. They include higher wage rates, larger wage differentials between skilled and unskilled workers, and the length of the contract.

Since October, 1966, the negotiations have taken place under the Railway Labor Act-the machinery established by the Congress to handle disputes involving the Nation’s railroads.

Through mediation and through the recommendations of an Emergency Board that I established last January, some progress has been made.1 Recently, at my direction, Secretary of Labor Wirtz and Under Secretary of Labor Reynolds have worked, with National Mediation Board Chairman O’Neill, to achieve a fair settlement. Out of this process many of the issues have been narrowed. Others have been eliminated.

1 The Emergency Board was established on January 28, 1967, by Executive Order 11324 (3 Weekly Comp. Pres. Docs., p. 129; 32 F.R. 1075; 3 CFR, 1967 Comp., p. 245). On the same day the following members were appointed to the board: David Ginsburg, Washington attorney, Chairman; John W. McConnell, president of the University of New Hampshire; and Frank J. Dugan, dean of the Graduate School of Law, Georgetown University.

Now, however, the procedures under the Railway Labor Act have run their full course—but the parties have still not been able to resolve their differences.

Under the law, the unions are free to strike on 12:01 a.m. April 13th unless:

—A settlement is immediately reached.

—The unions agree to a voluntary extension of the "no strike" period. The government’s request for such an agreement has already been rejected.

—Congress takes special action to keep the trains running while the parties can continue to work toward a settlement through collective bargaining without a nation-wide strike.

In this Message I call upon the Congress to take that special action.

THE PROPOSAL

I have carefully weighed the type of action Congress might usefully consider to meet the needs of the immediate situation.

I have consulted with the wisest advisors available to a President.

The legislation I am proposing takes full account of two central considerations. The first is the significance of uninterrupted rail service to the national welfare and safety, and particularly to defense production. The second is that even in these extreme circumstances, collective bargaining must be given every opportunity to work—with the bargainers fully aware of the national significance of their responsibility.

With these considerations in mind, I recommend that Congress approve a joint resolutionto extend the 60-day "no strike" period in this case/or an additional 20 days.

The resolution would have the effect of extending the "no strike" period under the Railway Labor Act for this case to a full 80 days—the same period allowed under the Taft-Hartley Act. The normal period of restraint under the Railway Labor Act has already expired.

The proposed joint resolution follows the finding made by the Emergency Board of three distinguished Americans to whom this case was referred under the Railway Labor Act. The Board was of the conviction that:

"There should be established a longer period of statutory restraint subsequent to the submission of an Emergency Board’s report in order to give the parties additional time to negotiate a settlement. The Board notes that under the Taft-Hartley Act the parties have a period of 80 days after the Board Report is submitted to the President."

The proposed resolution gives the process of collective bargaining a last clear chance in this case, while giving the Nation the uninterrupted railroad service it must have. I have always believed that solutions arrived at through hard and honest negotiations are preferable to those imposed by decree.

I will appoint a panel of special mediators to assist the parties in reaching a settlement during this 20-day period. I have also asked the Secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz, Secretary of Transportation Alan Boyd, and representatives of the other interested government agencies to work with the parties.

THE IMPACT OF A STRIKE

The differences which remain in this dispute are important. But they are slight when compared with the price to the country and to these parties from a suspension of rail service.

The purpose of this Message and of this proposal is to impress upon the parties and to make clear to the Nation what is at stake here.

The cost of a nation-wide railroad strike would be incalculable. I urge you to consider these facts:

—On the first morning of the strike three-quarter of a million rail commuters in New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia alone would be unable to take their trains to work.

—Shipments of perishable foodstuffs to many major cities would be halted at once.

—Actual food shortages could soon occur in several cities.

—Some health hazards would develop. For example, supplies of chlorine used to purify community water supplies would grow short.

—The coal mining industry, with 140,000 workers, would cease operations almost at once.

—Many other industries which rely heavily on the railroads—such as metal mining, steel, chemicals—would be badly crippled and soon begin to close down.
—For a week or more most factories could operate from their inventories. Soon, shortages and bottlenecks would begin to curtail production drastically. A spreading epidemic of lost production and lost jobs would sweep through the Nation.

—A one-month strike would reduce the gross national product by 13 percent.

That would be nearly four times as great as the total decline that occurred in the Nation’s worst post-war recession. It would drive the unemployment rate up to 15 percent—for the first time since 1940—putting millions of workers out of jobs.

In short, a railroad strike would affect every man, woman and child in this Nation. It would increase the cost of living. Each day the strike continued would bring pyramiding losses in goods, services and income—losses which can never be fully regained. A prolonged strike could well break the back of the Nation’s stable prosperity for some period to come.

Beyond this, there remains the impact of a rail strike on defense production, and particularly on our 500,000 brave servicemen in South East Asia. For example:

—Forty percent of the total freight shipped by the Defense Department is moved by the Nation’s railroads. A strike would materially disrupt these vital operations.

—Shipments of ammunition will be critically affected. During April, 210,000 tons of ammunition are scheduled to move to ports for overseas shipment. About 175,000 tons are going by rail.

—Production of ammunition will be hindered. Sulphuric acid, a key ingredient for ammunition, moves only by rail car.

—The movement of gasoline and jet fuel for our combat and transport aircraft heavily depends on railroads.

—The M-48 tank and other heavy military equipment used in Viet-Nam, can be shipped only by rail.

—Strategic missiles such as Polaris and Minuteman are moved by specially equipped rail cars.

CONCLUSION

The costs are so heavy and the consequences so dire that there have been only two brief national rail strikes in this century. This is a clear example of the responsibility—and restraint—which can be displayed by railroad labor and management.

Almost three years ago to the day the Nation was faced with an equally grave railroad strike. Then, both the carriers and the unions placed the national interest first. The strike was postponed and a fair and just settlement reached.

On that occasion I said:

"This agreement is American business and American labor operating at its very best, at the highest levels of public responsibility. This is the face of American industrial democracy that we can proudly show to the entire world, that free enterprise, free collective bargaining, really works in this country, and that the needs and the demands of the people’s interest are understood and those needs and those demands come first."

It is my fervent hope—and I believe that I speak for all Americans—that the parties to the railway dispute which now threatens the Nation arrive at a just settlement, for "He that keepeth understanding shall find good."

More drastic measures could have been proposed. But I believe that the parties should be given one more opportunity—a last clear chance—to resolve their differences, in their own way, in the spirit of free collective bargaining.

As President I have the firm responsibility to represent this nation at the meeting of the heads of Latin American States at Punta del Este. The commitment to go to Punta del Este was made many months ago-and it must be honored.

But as President, I also have the clear responsibility to take action that will assure uninterrupted rail service for our Nation. I am taking that action in submitting thisJoint Resolution today and requesting prompt action by the Congress.
LYNDON B. JOHNSON

The White House

April 10, 1967

NOTE: The joint resolution extending the "no strike" period in the railroad dispute was approved by the President on April 12 (see Item 174). See also Items 172, 188, 194, 207, 310, 311, 386.

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Chicago: Lyndon B. Johnson, "170 Special Message to the Congress on the Impending Nationwide Rail Strike.," Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967 in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1196 440–442. Original Sources, accessed September 25, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LIUNVCZM3X9NFFQ.

MLA: Johnson, Lyndon B. "170 Special Message to the Congress on the Impending Nationwide Rail Strike." Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967, in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1196, pp. 440–442. Original Sources. 25 Sep. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LIUNVCZM3X9NFFQ.

Harvard: Johnson, LB, '170 Special Message to the Congress on the Impending Nationwide Rail Strike.' in Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967. cited in , Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1196, pp.440–442. Original Sources, retrieved 25 September 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LIUNVCZM3X9NFFQ.