• U.S.

LABOR: Pay Up, Price Up

4 minute read

Florence Kathryn Lewis, a plump, soft-voiced young woman of 25, sat tensely blowing smoke at a mystery thriller in her suite in Manhattan’s swank St. Regis Hotel one day last week. Born in dingy Panama, Ill., she had grown up as the daughter of a rising young union official in Springfield. By the time she was ready, her still rising father had been able to send her to the Kirk School in Bryn Mawr, Pa., then on to Bryn Mawr College. But college seemed dull after living with her dynamic father and his problems; after two years she quit to go to work for him as secretary. That was four years ago. Since then Father John Lewellyn Lewis has become the biggest Labor Leader in the land. Noted for her tact in cooling off his frequently angry visitors, Daughter Kathryn calls her father “Mr. Lewis” in his office, but is reputed his frankest, most intimate adviser.

Last week Kathryn Lewis’ face, bare of rouge and lipstick, adamant against press photographers, was whiter, more tired than usual. Waiting by a telephone, she breathed: “I do, do hope they’ll settle.” They were her father, his United Mine Workers lieutenants and a committee of bituminous coal operators who, off & on since Feb. 17 in Manhattan, had been negotiating a new two-year working contract to replace the one expiring midnight March 31. That deadline had already passed without agreement as Kathryn Lewis talked, and in twelve States some 400,000 men had laid down their tools. On that first day they would have been idle anyway, for since 1898 miners have taken a holiday on April 1—named first after U.M.W.’s late great President John Mitchell and now called John L. Lewis Day— to celebrate their winning of the eight-hour day. But a second day dawned without agreement, and now the work stoppage was in dead earnest.

One day’s work, however, was all the disagreement cost, for at mid-afternoon U.M.W. and the operators came to terms.

As usual, both sides had backed down from their original stiff demands—the operators for a 40-hour week with no increase in pay, the miners for a 30-hour week, $1,200 minimum pay per year, a two-week vacation with pay. With the 35-hr, week preserved, basic pay was raised 50¢ per day—to $6 in the North, $5.60 in the South—with increases of 55¢to $1 per day for machine and piece work employes. Also for the first time, soft-coal miners were promised time-&-a-half pay for overtime.

To operators’ payrolls, these raises would add an estimated $85,000,000 per year. To consumers’ coal bills: 25¢ per ton, an estimated $100,000,000 per year.

Though the Appalachian Conference contract is binding only in eight Appalachian States, the rest of the nation’s operators customarily swing into line with it.

This week 20,000 Alabama miners settled down at home to wait until their employers had done so. In Pennsylvania, many a mine failed to re-open because operators were uncertain of their sick industry’s prospects. Same day in Washington, however, strong medicine was brewed when the Senate passed the new Guffey Coal Bill (see p. 16). aimed to end the overproduction and cut-throat competition which have laid Coal low, making last week’s Labor gains doubly sure of fulfillment.

United Mine Workers is the biggest, richest, strongest, best-disciplined union in the land, and one man—John L. Lewis —has made it all those things. But if U. M. W.’s strength is in Leader Lewis, his strength is no less in that great union, some 500,000 strong. Its half-million votes, plus its $150,000 contribution to the Democratic campaign fund last summer, have made him a prime political power. Needing money for the C. I. O. campaign which has carried him to Labor’s peak, he raised—and can raise again when he needs to—a $1,000,000 war chest simply by tapping each of his miners $1 per month for two months. As he sped back to Michigan last week with the coal settlement in his pocket, Leader Lewis and U. M. W. had once again given public and employers an object lesson in industrial order, furnished unruly new automobile unionists (see p. 20) and millions of workers whom he hopes still to organize, with impressive proof of the gains to be won under his leadership.

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