Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer

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Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952)

"With all its defects, delays and inconveniences, men have discovered no technique for long preserving free government except that the Executive be under the law, and that the law be made by parliamentary deliberations. Such institutions may be destined to pass away. But it is the duty of the Court to be last, not first, to give them up." --- From Justice Frankfurther's concurring opinion


Contents

History and Appeals

On December 15, 1950, President Truman announced that he was consolidating the economic organization of the war effort into a new Office of Defense Mobilization (ODM). He appointed Charles E. Wilson, president of General Electric (also a Republican) to the position of director. Truman originally envisioned the position as being one strictly involved with mobilization of the nation's industry, but Wilson believed that a single office should handle both mobilization and the economic stabilization of prices and wages that would inevitably follow. Union leaders found Wilson hostile to organized labor, and Wilson didn't help matters any with his arrogant approach to the job.

Almost immediately after Chinese intervention in the Korean conflict, it was widely believed that government regulation of industry would soon occur, so labor and business leaders alike went into a frenzy of raising prices and demands for wages. Sure enough, in early 1951, a price freeze was instituted, along with across-the-board mandatory controls on several key industries.

On March 15, 1951, the President set up a National Advisory Board on Mobilization Policy that included labor and business representatives. It recommended (over the objections of the business representatives) that the President set up a wage stabilization board with enlarged powers to handle labor disputes, which he did. Interestingly, the Wage Stabilization Board, when it was proposing wage measures, had to submit its regulations to the economic stabilization administrator (Wilson, above), on disputes, its findings went straight to the President.

Unfortunately, the wage controls put in place did not allow those industries who had not raised their prices and wages as swiftly to catch up to those who had, and as a result, labor leaders pulled out of participating in the Wage Stabilization Board entirely. They said the WSB's decision wouldn't allow for cost of living increases, correction of substandard wages or adjustment of existing wage rates. Also, the government refused to connect "scaling up" of industries via government contract to higher wages. (The WSB position was that a wartime government contract was an artificial increase in demand which wouldn't be sustained in a postwar economy - thus they didn't want to lock wages into a higher scale.) Also, the government refused to institute rent control policies generally. This sparked a mass labor withdrawal from government positions of all kinds.

Truman and the government regulators were then faced with the difficult proposition of placating a labor movement their appointees had alienated. Fortunately for him, Truman had many contacts in organized labor. In 1940, his Senate campaign had been formed on the backs of organized labor, and he had campaigned vigorously against yellow-dog contracts and for the right to organize. The relationship had been strained by Truman's threats to draft railroad strikers in 1946, but his veto message of the Republican-backed Taft-Hartley Act in 1948 was pro-labor and pro-union. It was largely thought by labor at the time that the Taft-Hartley Act "strait-jacketed" unions by forcing them into a particular forum for negotiation with business (the National Labor Relations Board). Truman then astutely built upon this veto message to repudiate practically every labor and business act of the 1948 Congress.

The most important of Truman's links to labor was the appropriately named John R. Steelman, Assistant to the President. He had many years under his belt as head of the Federal Conciliation Service (a voluntary federal labor negotiation service) and was essentially Truman's most important expert in the field. He was described by one journalist as "a horse of a man weighing over two hundred pounds, with energy to match, who had the scrubbed, bright-eyed appearance and the brisk geniality of an Eagle Scout".

Labor leaders were willing to accept wage stabilization during the Korean conflict, but wanted an independent government dispute resolution board, and the United Labor Policy Committee, a loose labor organization that crossed many industry lines, proposed as much. This was opposed as too intrusive into the collective bargaining process by the business community. (The Taft-Hartley Act contained strike-delaying provisions but no provisions for actually resolving the disputes that might lead to strikes.) On the business side of matters was the Joint Committee for the Business Advisory Council, the National Association of Manufacturers (one of the oldest anti-labor business organizations in the U.S.) and the Chamber of Commerce of the United States.

In 1951, labor disputes erupted between many steel mill owners and their employees, who were represented by a powerful union, the United Steelworkers of America - C.I.O. Negotiations started to break down at the end of the year, and on December 18, 1951, the USA-CIO said that starting on the New Year, there would be strikes everywhere, as existing bargaining agreements expired.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service failed to achieve any kind of settlement. The FMCS was the first line of federal attempts to balance industry-labor relations, and it was unusual for the FMCS to be unable to reach an understanding at least for future negotiations. But in this case the animosity between management and labor was so great as to paralyze even the FMCS. On December 22, 1951, President Truman ordered a Federeral Wage Stabilization Board investigation, and the strikes were delayed while the federal board tried to find exactly where the difficulty was.

However, the investigation ended with no satisfactory answer and on April 4, 1952 the USA-CIO gave notice of an April 9 strike. Late on the night of April 8, President Truman issued Executive Order 10340, ordering the Secretary of Commerce to seize and operate the steel mills. The justification for this was that the nation needed to keep steel production moving in order to continue fighting the Korean conflict. The Secretary of Commerce obligingly appointed as the managers of the steel mills the very owners who had failed to settle with the USA-CIO workers.

The mills operated under protest for a while, but then on April 30, the Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company filed a lawsuit alleging the Truman's order was unconstitutional and void. (Charles Sawyer, the "Sawyer" in the title was Truman's Secretary of Commerce.) The U.S. District Court issued a preliminary injunction halting the order, and that same day the Court of Apeals stayed the injunction. On May 3, the Supreme Court granted certioari and they heard oral arguments on May 12 and 13. They swiftly issued a decision on June 2 to invalidate President Truman's action.


Selected excerpts (awaiting larger article on this):

"Before the cares of the White House were his own, President Harding is reported to have said that 'government after all is a very simple thing'. He must have said that, if he said it, as a fleeting inhabitant of fairyland." -- From Justice Frankfurter's concurring opinion

“The order cannot properly be sustained as an exercise of the President's military power as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. The Government attempts to do so by citing a number of cases upholding broad powers in military commanders engaged in day-to-day fighting in a theater of war. Such cases need not concern us here. Even though ‘theater of war’ be an expanding concept, we cannot with faithfulness to our constitutional system hold that the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces has the ultimate power as such to take possession of private property in order to keep labor disputes from stopping production. This is a job for the Nation's lawmakers, not for its military authorities.”[1]


Interestingly, some scholars believe that Truman could have legally sought to keep the steel mills open by using the Congressional authority granted in the Labor Relations Management Act (also known as the Taft-Hartley Act, after its two major Congressional proponents) or in some other method. (From Justice Black's opinion: "There are two statutes which do authorize the President to take both personal and real property under certain conditions. However, the Government admits that these conditions were not met, and that the President's order was not rooted in either of the statutes. The Government refers to the seizure provisions of one of these statutes (section 201(b) of the Defense Production Act) as 'much too cumbersome, involved, and time-consuming for the crisis which was at hand.'") This would have had Truman bring the emergency to a Congressional committee, who would then vote on whether the mills should be federalized for the duration of the emergency. However, Truman was violently opposed to the Taft-Hartley Act and would not even consider using it!

The Broader Implications of Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer

The Youngstown case is principally important today because it shows that the President does not have the authority to disregard the law, the Congress and the Courts in the name of national security. Often this proposition is uncontroversial, but the Bush Administration has made the assertion of unchecked executive authority one of its hallmarks.

Bibliography

Opinions

External link

  • 50 Years Of Youngstown, a pamphlet put out describing the years 1900-1950 of Youngstown Sheet and Tube


(Some of this article was taken from another article I wrote on my own website about Youngstown Sheet and Tube. Obviously since it's mine, I have permission to do this! - JDCorley)

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