Ken's Project Blog

December 12, 2011

FDR Letter Opposing Public Employee Collective Bargaining

Filed under: History,In The News — Ken @ 4:45 pm

See below the full text of FDR’s letter to Luther C. Steward, President of the National Federation of Federal Employees, of August 16, 1937.

My dear Mr. Steward:

As I am unable to accept your kind invitation to be present on the occasion of the Twentieth Jubilee Convention of the National Federation of Federal Employees, I am taking this method of sending greetings and a message.

Reading your letter of July 14, 1937, I was especially interested in the timeliness of your remark that the manner in which the activities of your organization have been carried on during the past two decades “has been in complete consonance with the best traditions of public employee relationships.” Organizations of Government employees have a logical place in Government affairs.

The desire of Government employees for fair and adequate pay, reasonable hours of work, safe and suitable working conditions, development of opportunities for advancement, facilities for fair and impartial consideration and review of grievances, and other objectives of a proper employee relations policy, is basically no different from that of employees in private industry. Organization on their part to present their views on such matters is both natural and logical, but meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government.

All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.

Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable. It is, therefore, with a feeling of gratification that I have noted in the constitution of the National Federation of Federal Employees the provision that “under no circumstances shall this Federation engage in or support strikes against the United States Government.”

I congratulate the National Federation of Federal Employees the twentieth anniversary of its founding and trust that the convention will, in every way, be successful.

Very sincerely yours,

Let’s look at each one individually:

“Organizations of Government employees have a logical place in Government affairs.” – Contrary to many people that choose to mis-represent this letter, in it FDR clearly supports the idea of federal employees organizing (forming unions).

“meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government.” – This is the set-up, in it FDR is preparing the reader, and by extension, the audience when his letter would be read aloud to them, that there is a special relationship between the public employees and the public…

All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. – In other words, public employees can not be considered the same as private-sector employees.

Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable. – Granting government workers the right to act militantly (aka strike) would allow the unions to subvert the will of the people by being able to grind government to a halt unless their demands are met. This would elevate the public sector unions into a sort of fourth branch of government with the ability to effectively nulify any action taken by the other three branches, as the government workers are typically the ones that implement the will of the other three branches of government (Executive, Judicial, and Legislative).

My point is that FDR believed that unions have their place in the public sector, but with some caveats. This letter clearly shows FDR congratulating the National Federation of Federal Employees for it’s insistence of, and adherence to, the understanding that the role of the public sector union is different from that of private sector unions, and that federal employees are held to different standard by virtue of their role in government.

Source:

The American Presidency Project: 112 – Letter on the Resolution of Federation of Federal Employees Against Strikes in Federal Service

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