Collective Bargaining in the Soft-Coal Industry

March 13, 1937

Report Outline
Wage Negotiations and New Coal Legislation
Progress of Unionism in Bituminous Industry
Stabilization Legislation as Aid to Miners
Production Control in British Coal Industry
Special Focus

Wage Negotiations and New Coal Legislation

Representatives of bituminous-coal operators in the Appalachian region and of the United Mine Workers of America have been negotiating in New York City since February 17 on the terms of a new wage contract to replace the existing agreement, which expires April 1, 1937. Simultaneously, Congress has had under consideration a new bill for the stabilization of the soft-coal industry, to replace the act invalidated by the Supreme Court on May 18, 1936. The current bill, introduced early in the session by Senator Guffey (D., Pa.) and Rep. Vinson (D., Ky.), was passed by the House on March 11 without a record vote. Its approval by the Senate before the end of the month is anticipated.

Passage of the Guffey-Vinson bill, demanded by the United Mine Workers and favored by a majority of the operators, is regarded as essential to the success of the present wage negotiations. Without its provisions for fixing of minimum prices for soft coal at the mines, it is feared the industry would revert to the demoralized condition from which it suffered for a decade before 1933. That experience proved that wage scales could not be maintained in the face of ruinous price competition. Under the N. R. A. such competition was ended. Furthermore, the union was able to extend its organization throughout most of the industry. If protection of the price structure is assured by the pending legislation, it is believed the United Mine Workers and the operators can succeed in reaching an agreement governing wages and working conditions for the next two years. Failure of the Guffey-Vinson bill, on the other hand, would greatly increase the possibility of a nation-wide bituminous strike.

Significance of Labor Organization in Coal Industry

Labor organization has occupied a significant role in the history of the soft-coal industry. Collective bargaining between the United Mine Workers and the operators in the principal producing fields was regularly conducted from 1898 to 1927. It was the failure of the union to organize the southern fields, which gained an important competitive position after the war, rather than recalcitrancy on the part of northern operators, that led to the breakdown of collective bargaining in 1927. The high degree of unionization now existing may thus be looked on as a stabilizing factor. For example, it assures almost automatic extension to the outlying districts of any wage agreement concluded for the Appalachian region. Since wages constitute a large proportion of total mining costs, inability to cut wages seriously restricts ability to cut prices. Existence of a strong and active union therefore reduces the likelihood of cutthroat competition. Legislation providing for minimum prices strengthens the price structure, and the union, so much the more.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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May 01, 1954  State Powers in Labor Relations
Oct. 02, 1953  Toward Labor Unity
Apr. 11, 1953  Industry-Wide Bargaining and Industry-Wide Strikes
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Mar. 13, 1937  Collective Bargaining in the Soft-Coal Industry
Jan. 22, 1937  Responsibility of Labor Unions
Nov. 11, 1936  Industrial Unionism and the A.F. of L.
Jul. 30, 1936  Federal Intervention in Labor Disputes
Jul. 14, 1936  Labor Relations in the Steel Industry
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