thumbnail of The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; Battle Over Labor Law Reform
Hide -
ROBERT MacNEIL: They have come in thousands, sent five million pieces of mail, spent seven million dollars-- the forces of labor and business mounting one of the greatest lobbying efforts in Washington history. Tonight, the battle over labor law reform.
Good evening. For thirteen days all other business on the floor of the United States Senate has been blocked by a classic and determined filibuster. The issue is a bill to reform the law on the rights of labor unions. It passed the House last fall with the backing of the Carter administration and the heavy support of organized labor. But just as strongly arrayed against it is the full weight of business and industry. While labor wants the measure to regain lost organizing momentum, particularly in the South, business says the bill unfairly tilts the scales in labor`s favor. Two attempts to stop the Senate filibuster have failed, and emotions have grown stronger as the battle approaches a climax. Tonight; why so much emotion over labor law reform, and who`s likely to win? Jim?
JIM LEHRER: Robin, the labor law reform bill is a complex piece of legislation with many separate provisions, most of them the subject of hot debate between the two sides over what their effect would be. A few examples: increase the number of National Labor Relations Board members from five to seven; set specific time limits within which elections on union representation must be held; allow union organizers to do their organizing on company premises; streamline and speed up judicial and administrative procedures for handling unfair labor practices complaints, including refusal to bargain; bar repeated labor law violating companies from receiving federal contracts for up to three years;-permit courts to stop strikes not authorized by a certified union; require companies found guilty of firing an employee for union activities to repay lost wages at a rate of one and a half times the lost wage rate.
As Robin said, much of the attention of both sides in the debate over the consequences of these and other provisions has been on the South, and one only has to look at this map to see why. The lighter color shows the states where union membership among workers is under twenty-five percent, the darker color for those where it is above twenty-five. We`ll be getting a flavor of the Senate argument over the legislation in a moment, but first a couple of personal stories from both sides of the argument.
Dottie Hararas is president of the Washington Hospital Center Staff Nurses Association, which is on strike now, claiming the hospital management has been bargaining in bad faith, a charge denied by the hospital and now going to the NLRB for adjudication. Ms. Hararas, the merits of your case we`ll leave to the NLRB to decide in a specific way, but from your perspective, how would this labor reform bill affect your situation?
DOTTIE HARARAS: Well, if they would not take so much time in deciding on an unfair labor case. We`ve filed with the NLRB for failure to bargain, and we`re still waiting for a decision. As you know, it could affect our strike; we could return to our jobs securely if we were on an unfair labor practice strike rather than an issues strike. We were also evicted from the hospital when we tried to have meetings on off-duty time.
We had to seek out a facility outside of the premises to meet, and also the hospital hasn`t bargained in good faith with us. In December they stopped talking to us, and in April actually took unilateral action and withdrew recognition that the NLRB had given to us.
LEHRER: As I said, we don`t want to argue that; we have a statement from the hospital, of course, which denies that -- they say they have been bargaining. But go ahead; I just wanted to get that on the record.
HARARAS: But after that happened they did come back to the table, which is how they saw that it should be resolved. But we are on strike because of that.
LEHRER: All right. On the delay question, if there is no labor reform bill, if it never is passed and enacted into law, what have you been told or what do you anticipate to be the amount of time it will take to finally get a decision, whichever way it goes, on the complaint that you`ve filed?
HARARAS: No one can give me an answer. It`s indefinite. You just have to wait and wait.
LEHRER: On the question of the premises, as I said in laying out one of the provisions of the bill, the meetings you said you could not hold at the hospital, under this law you could, is that right?
HARARAS: I would assume so, yes.
LEHRER: In an overall way, looking at it strictly from your perspective now, where you say that the company has not been bargaining in good faith, how would this bill specifically cause them to bargain in good faith?
HARARAS: Well, I think that if in fact they were not bargaining in good faith they would have to pay back wages, any benefits that may have happened between the time they weren`t bargaining in good faith and when the NLRB would decide that for a fact. It would penalize the institution.
LEHRER: In a word, from your perspective, from the labor side, this bill would be good for you and your cause at the Washington Hospital Center.
HARARAS: Absolutely. I`ve been waiting three years for a contract, and I`m still waiting.
LEHRER: All right, thank you. Robin?
MacNEIL: Let`s get the view of a southern businessman on how the bill would affect his operation. Robert Cousins is president of Curtis 1000, a printing company with twenty-seven plants located all over the country. Those and its forty-three additional fast-print shops had some $70 million in sales last year. Mr. Cousins is with us in the studios of the Georgia Public Television Network in Atlanta. Mr. Cousins, first of all, how many of your plants are unionized now?
ROBERT COUSINS: Well, I`m proud to say that none of our plants are unionized. We area 100 percent non-union firm.
MacNEIL: Have any of your workers ever tried to form a union?
COUSINS: Yes, sir, we did have a union in Cleveland, Ohio in 1965, and a year later our employees voted to decertify the union and return to the management and not pay dues to an outside organization.
MacNEIL: I see. You said you`re proud that none of your plants are unionized. Have you done anything to prevent unionization of the plants?
COUSINS: Yes, sir, we have. We`ve tried to build a team spirit in our company. Our management and our people work together. We haven`t had a layoff in over thirty-two years. No one in our company has lost work because of a work stoppage, because of a strike. We try to make wage surveys and be sure that our employees are paid fairly and that their fringe benefits are as good as paid in our industry in the particular area or better, and we maintain the open door policy where our employees can talk to management and be part of the team rather than fighting them.
MacNEIL: Okay. Now, from your perspective, what would this bill do to your business if it passed?
COUSINS: Well, it`s going to tilt the fair balance between management and labor to the point that we`re going to have to spend a lot more time constantly educating our employees of the benefits they enjoy; and we`re going to probably have to get a legal counsel on retainer to he sure that we are prepared and we have necessary legal advice to comply with all the provisions; and it`ll probably affect the way we feel that we`re going to expand the operations of our company, because we are not going to start new operations or expand in areas where we`re going to be faced with union harassment. All this adds to cost, all this is going to be inflationary.
MacNEIL: You say union harassment. Is that the only reason you think. the costs would go up, or do you think you would have to raise wages if your workers unionized?
COUSINS: Well, when you have lost production due to strikes, that costs money. When you have unreasonable demands which are not economically feasible for you to put into your business but if you fail to bar gain with the union, severe penalties are put against the company because of that and all these are in this so-called Labor Reform Act -- there`s a lot of reason to want to fight it. No, sir, we pay our employees well, we provide the fringe benefits as necessary; they aren`t identical to what union benefits are, but we feel, and I think our employees feel, by our record, that they are better.
MacNEIL: I see. Why would you worry about the bill if none of your workers want to organize in a union? Why would it affect you? For instance, the provision on a time limit on union elections -- why would that affect you if none of them want to join a union?
COUSINS: Well, unions organize in secret. They can be working on an employee group for a matter of months, and this will give them the emotional timing to strike when they feel that they have the advantage. They can promise the employees anything; the company cannot. And then you`ll be faced with a quickie election of twenty-five days. Our management is working with our employees, but we`re also trying to serve customers to improve our productivity and be part of this American economy. But if this bill is law we`re going to have to change our whole method of doing business to be prepared to resist any change in the way we like it.
MacNEIL: Thank you, sir; we`ll come back. Jim?
LEHRER: Yes; now back to Washington and the United States Senate, where the battle over this bill is being fought. Senator Jacob Javits, Republican from New York, is one of the leaders of the pro forces. Senator, why is this labor reform bill needed, in your opinion?
Sen. JACOB JAVITS: It is needed to protect the rights of the individual who wants, to be in a union. Just as Mr. Cousins says, he`s proud that there is no union for thirty-two years; that`s his privilege, if he can convince his people otherwise. But for those who want to be in a union, they`re just as much entitled as he is to have it. And the present operation of the law has inhibited it in the following ways: one, delay. And the most outstanding case of that is J.P. Stevens, which has been flouting this law for fifteen years, paying penalties in the process occasionally, but making a mockery of it. That`s been horror case number one.
Then in our testimony before our committee, which passed out this bill, we`ve had people who`ve waited years to get, as was said here a minute ago by the representative of the nurses, reimbursement when you`re fired for trying to bring a union into your particular shop. It`s taken one, .two, three, four, five, six and seven years; also to get an employer to finally bargain with the union, even though the employees have elected a union, because of the delays inherent in the law, has taken many years. Now, what we`re doing in this bill is simply protecting the rights of that individual so that if that individual wants a union he can get one and can get prompt redress and prompt action. That`s what it`s all about.
LEHRER: Mr. Cousins and others on the other side, Senator, say that this shifts the balance toward labor, or tilts the balance toward labor. Is that true?
JAVITS: I don`t think so at all. It`s completely neutral as to whether employees do or do not elect a union. The fact is that Mr. Cousins has been successful for over thirty years. There is nothing in this bill, in my judgment, which will keep him from being successful again. But he cannot cheat the employees of their union by. the law`s delays or the law`s circumvention`s, and the time since the original law was passed, which goes back now over forty years, has demonstrated that the law can be made a mockery if you`ve got enough lawyers and the will to use them. And this bill is simply intended to see that that doesn`t happen, because it`s very unfair to the American worker.
LEHRER: .Is it your feeling, then, that if there is a tilt as it exists now the tilt is toward management?
JAVITS: Yes. Exactly. The law`s delays have made it possible to flout the law, and therefore it needs to be tied up so that the penalty for trying to flout it is severe and the opportunities for flouting it are very materially cut down. And that`s all this bill is about.
LEHRER: Senator, from your perspective, why has this legislation created such a royal blue battle?
JAVITS: Because business has utilized this opportunity to rouse tens of thousands of businessmen out of fear, strictly fear, by giving them the illusion that it`s changing the balance between business -- that is, management -- and labor, which it is not doing. It doesn`t affect what happens in respect of a union election. If they want a union, they`re entitled to get one, as promptly as possible. If they don`t want a union they can vote it down. And business has been sold on the idea that that is not so in this bill. And that`s an illusion and a misrepresentation which has trapped millions of business people into excitement about this. As a matter of fact, three quarters of small business which has workers is not affected by the bill at all. The bill exempts them completely, once the people who are filibustering it either are overridden by a vote or step aside.
LEHRER: All right; thank you. Robin?
MacNEIL: The filibuster forces this week defeated two attempts to invoke cloture -- that is, shut off debate. Their leader is Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. Senator, what`s wrong with this bill, from your point of view?
Sen. ORRIN HATCH: Well, there are so many things wrong with it it would be very difficult to cover in just a few minutes, but let me take issue with my friend Senator Javits. Seventy-two percent of all businesses are sole- employee owned businesses with just one employee, that`s the employer. They are exempt from the bill. The other four percent that Senator Javits seems to be referring to are so small that no union would try to organize them to begin with. But if I were to list a number-of reasons, the provisions of the bill itself are repugnant; it has quickie elections, really are unfair; has this equal access provision, if the employer exercises his rights to free speech on his premises at his time and his expense and talks about the unionizing effort, then he has to open up his premises and allow the union organizers to come on. He has to subsidize the unionization of his own plant.
You talk about packing the National Labor Relations Board so that it will be weighted even further in favor of labor, which it is right now; you talk about punitive measures, like federal contract debarment, injecting the federal government into blacklisting businesses all over America; in double back pay awards in the House, one and a half times in the Senate; and a make-whole provision that will provide much more high wage settlements and rates. But I think the two big reasons are really, number one, that it`s inflationary, it will lead to double-digit inflation, according to the only economic impact analysis done; and that it`s detrimental to small business. I have in my possession right here and now a small business situation report of the Office of Advocacy that I had to go through a lot of pain to get, against the whole federal government, which consistently throughout says words like this:
"In effect, the equal access provisions will penalize employers for utilizing the only available forum for presenting their case; that is the work site." They go on to say, "It must not be forgotten that the employer will not be the only one to suffer the effects of contract debarment. Very simply, if the firm loses government business, then employees lose jobs.` They say, "The inescapable conclusion is that small firms will be most vulnerable to the proposed sanctions." On the quickie elections: "The expedited election provisions of the proposed legislation will render small business virtually helpless in the face of surreptitious organizing activity."
MacNEIL: Senator?
HATCH: I could go on and on. This report`s so astounding, no wonder they didn`t want to give it to me, had it locked up and numbered so that nobody could find it.
MacNEIL: Senator, let me ask you a question comparable to one Jim asked Senator Javits. Why do you feel the labor side is fighting for this bill so strongly?
HATCH: Well, because labor has lost 767,000 dues-paying members in the last two years. The AFL-CIO has lost better than seventy-five percent of the decertification elections, where they throw the union out. They`ve lost 1,300 local unions. The labor movement has dropped from about twenty six percent control of the labor market down to about twenty percent. The fact of the matter is they`re suffering, therefore they come to the federal government, which they think owes them so much, and they`re asking the government to force unionization across America by these provisions that make it easy to organize, easy to intimidate employers, especially small business employers, and frankly, easy to intimidate employees. It isn`t fair. That`s the problem. That`s at the basis of this; that`s why we`ve been fighting for thirteen days now, and I suspect for a number of days more, and if I can I`m going to do everything in my power to bring some balance into this situation. We don`t have i t now; it`s tilted in favor of labor now. That may be as it should be, but it shouldn`t be totally tilted, nor should it be tilted by the provisions of this bill.
MacNEIL: Okay, sir. We`ll carry on with Jim. Jim?
LEHRER: Gentlemen, let`s flesh out some of these points, first of all, back to you, Senator Javits, on the point that this would subsidize unionization, force small businessmen to subsidize unionization. What`s your view of that?
JAVITS: It`s untrue, flatly. And for this reason: my colleague says that four percent of the businesses are affected; that`s not a fact. There are 3,900,000 small businesses in the United States. As the bill stands on the Senate floor today, I repeat, seventy-four percent of those entrepreneurs who have employees will be exempted. Now there are 13,900,000 business tax returns which were filed in 1976, but of those, ten million are single proprietorships, not affected either way. So either way, I`m right about it: small business is not affected. In addition, we have now exempted from the equal access provision under the bill on the floor anybody who employs ten people or less. And finally, and very importantly, we have very materially moderated the equal access provision so that the equal access only goes in non-working time on non-working premises -- cafeterias and parking spaces, and then with a very limited number of organizers.
LEHRER: Senator Hatch?
HATCH: I want to answer those, because actually eighty percent of all employees in America are covered. The only ones that aren`t are sole proprietorships -- in other words, only one worker; the guy owns the business -- and those businesses which are so small they wouldn`t try to organize them anyway. Twenty-five percent of all union elections are held against companies of ten employees or less; fifty-seven percent, fifty employees or less; eighty-seven percent, a hundred employees or less; and ninety-eight percent, 400 employees or less. That`s small business, and that means every small business in America could suffer as a result of this bill. And respectfully, I think that it`s deception. It`s deception...
JAVITS: Let me take that on. seems to me, to try and act that this doesn`t across the board affect small businesses which are capable of being organized. In other words, having more than three employees.
JAVITS: Well, now, let me take that one on. It is said that it is deception to point out that seventy-five percent of the entrepreneurs are not affected at all. Now, if they`re not affected by this bill, they`re still under the existing law; if they are, nothing has been changed and nothing has been tilted. Senator Hatch can`t have it both ways. He can`t have it affecting them and at the same time not affecting them. And again I repeat, big business in the United States has panicked the small businessman into opposing this bill on the theory that he`s affected.
HATCH: That`s absolutely incorrect. If anybody`s panicked, it`s every small businessman, who has panicked the big business sector because the big business sector knows that the creativity, the future of this country, depends on small business, which literally produces a lot of the creativity and about forty-seven percent of the gross national product of this country. Virtually every small business that has more than two employees comes under this bill, and to be frank with you that`s eighty- percent of all employees in this country, and that`s pretty important; it`s a repressive bill.
LEHRER: Gentlemen, I think I can already answer this if the two of you are any indication, but...
LEHRER:... is there any chance of a compromise being worked out on this?
JAVITS: Now, we have offered on the Senate very material modifications in many elements of this bill, but I deeply believe that the people like Senator Hatch are simply against trade unionism under this law or an amendment to the law or any other law. Many of them come from right- to-work states, which are very unhappy with trade unionism, and I think the hard core opposition to this bill rests in exactly that proposition.
HATCH: Boy, I`d hate to have some of my colleagues here on this program; to be frank with you, I was raised in the union movement, so I take issue with that. I learned a trade; I went through a formal apprenticeship program. As a matter of fact, I worked in the building trades for ten years and I have a lot of regard for the union movement, and as a matter of fact, I`m pro- union. But I am not pro-union any more than I am pro-big business to tilt the balance either way in this country, because this country can`t survive that type of -- I think -- officious conduct. Now, the substitute which has been offered, let`s just be honest about it. AFL-CIO spokesmen have said on the record in open meetings, that sure, they`ll accept some amendments in the Senate, but when it gets right down to it they`re going to have their bill when we get to the conference: Now, I will acknowledge Senator Javits has said that he would work hard to stop that, but he`s a member of the minority, as I am also, and frankly, when we get there he isn`t going to control the conference.
LEHRER: Are you going to be able to break the filibuster, Senator?
JAVITS:I think so, and I think we should break it.
JAVITS: I`m very hopeful that it can be broken within the next week or two, and I don`t think -- one other thing I want to make clear: big business in this country is unionized, and that`s the people who are opposing this bill, because they like the idea that they can duck it by using the law array. And that`s what it`s all about, is General Motors, Ford Motor Company, General Electric -- they`re all unionized.
LEHRER: Are you going to hang in there on the filibuster?
HATCH: We`re going to hang in. It`s overwhelmingly against us; it`s two freshman Senators against the overwhelming weight and power of the big labor movement in Washington, and honestly I don`t know where Senator Javits gets this big corporation kick on this bill; small businessmen all over America are up in arms, and they should be. It`s about time.
LEHRER: If I don`t go to Robin, he`s going to be up in arms. Robin?
MacNEIL: Yeah, let`s go back to Ms. Hararas in Washington. You`ve heard what Senator Hatch said about unions losing membership and losing strength. Do you in the union movement feel that this is a make-or-break time for unions in this country, that this bill means a sort of historic moment when they may get weaker or stronger as a result of it?
HARARAS: Well, to be perfectly honest with you, I`m new into unions. They call us a fledgling union. We`re on strike, but I see myself as an average, middle-income, taxpaying citizen who is faced with this huge, million- dollar business and I`m alone and I need a union; and I need the kinds of things to face big business. I need some people on my side.
MacNEIL: I see. Mr. Cousins in Atlanta, do you in the South particularly regard this as the moment when the sort of future of unionism, whether it`s going to grow or whether it`s not going to grow, is going to b e decided -- particularly in your region of the country?
COUSINS: Well, sir, I think it`s going to grow if this bill is passed, and I can understand Senator Javits` position; I mean, he comes from one of the most highly unionized states in the country. And I can also disagree with him because big business is not the only group that is in opposition to this so-called Labor Reform Act; businesses my size, and every small business around the United States is against this bill, and that`s sixty- six percent of the American workers. And I`d like to remind him that I represent a business that`s non-union, and that`s seventy-six percent of the American workers in the United States. And neither big business nor the unions necessarily represent the feeling of the worker.
MacNEIL: Senator Javits, is this a moment of truth for the union movement in this country, a turning point -- one way means decline and weakness, the other way means growth and strength?
JAVITS: I think climatically it is, because these large sections of the country which have not really had access to unions represent a form of competition with other sections of the country which are unionized, which is very unfair to the worker. And I think Ms. Hararas has said it properly. Let`s remember why unions came about: because of the inequality of bargaining power between the individual worker and the traditional employer. Otherwise you wouldn`t have unions at all, and you wouldn`t have 20 million people belonging to them. I think that`s the answer in this situation.
MacNEIL: Senator Hatch, we have less than a minute. Do you think this is the make-or-break point in the history of unionism?
HATCH: Heavens, no. If we`re fortunate enough to defeat them this year, they`ll be back next year again. We`ve had one philosophy rule in this country for forty-two of the last forty-six years in the Congress. That, I`m afraid, isn`t going to change because of the concentrations of power in these special interest groups back here in Washington, and to be honest with you, it won`t make one hill of beans worth of difference to them, but boy, it could crush small business all over this country and it`s about time somebody stood up for them.
MacNEIL: Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Cousins in Atlanta; Ms. Hararas and Senators in Washington -- thank you all. Good night, Jim.
LEHRER: Good night, Robin?
MacNEIL: That`s all for tonight. We`ll be back on Monday night. I`m Robert MacNeil. Good night.
The MacNeil/Lehrer Report
Battle Over Labor Law Reform
Producing Organization
NewsHour Productions
Contributing Organization
National Records and Archives Administration (Washington, District of Columbia)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/507-mc8rb6wt31).
Episode Description
This episode features a discussion on the Battle Over Labor Law Reform. The guests are Dottie Hararas, Jacob Javits, Orrin Hatch, Robert Cousins, Carol Buckland. Byline: Robert MacNeil, Jim Lehrer
Created Date
Social Issues
Politics and Government
Copyright NewsHour Productions, LLC. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License (
Media type
Moving Image
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Producing Organization: NewsHour Productions
AAPB Contributor Holdings
National Records and Archives Administration
Identifier: 96648 (NARA catalog identifier)
Format: 2 inch videotape
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; Battle Over Labor Law Reform,” 1978-06-09, National Records and Archives Administration, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 20, 2024,
MLA: “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; Battle Over Labor Law Reform.” 1978-06-09. National Records and Archives Administration, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 20, 2024. <>.
APA: The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; Battle Over Labor Law Reform. Boston, MA: National Records and Archives Administration, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from