Some Recollections of a Brief Tenure

By Dunlop, John T. | Monthly Labor Review, February 1988 | Go to article overview

Some Recollections of a Brief Tenure


Dunlop, John T., Monthly Labor Review


Some recollections of brief tenure

I was the first tenant-Secretary of the new Labor Department building (except for 1 week) that previous Secretaries had dreamed of and planned. But the larger environment was not strange. I had worked for the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1938. I had known each Secretary beginning with Frances Perkins, and I had often worked directly with them before they held office on problems of labor-management-government relations. Under President Nixon, I had been chairman of the tripartite Construction Industry Stabilization Committee, and director of the Cost of Living Council, attending Cabinet meetings and serving as a member of the Economic Policy group which met daily at the White House and on a weekly basis with the President. I had also been chastened by congressional committees and the press. Shortly after President Ford took office, he asked me to recommend a labor-management advisory committee which he announced on September 28, 1974, at the end of the Conference on Inflation; I served as coordinator of the committee(1) through my tenure as Secretary of Labor(2).

(1) The Conference on Inflation, held at the request of President Gerald R. Ford and the Congress of the United States, Washington, DC, Sept. 27-28, 1974, pp. 291-92.

(2) Subsequently, labor and management members decided to continue their joint meetings as a private group and asked me to continue to serve as coordinator. The labor-management group continues to the present. See John T. Dunlop, Dispute Resolution, Negotiation and Consensus Building (Dover, MA, Auburn House Publishing Co., 1984), pp. 252-66.

When President Ford invited me to be Secretary, I asked him what the job was as he was it, and what he wanted done in the post. He responded that he had two particular concerns: (1) he wanted to improve communications between the labor movement and himself and his administration, and (2) he recognized that the economy was entering a serious recession, and he wanted the best advice and judgment of labor and management as to how to deal with the situation. At its December 1974 meeting, the Labor-Management Advisory Committee had unanimously recommended a precise form and distribution of a tax cut that was later accepted by the President and the Congress.(3) In the swearing-in ceremony of March 18, 1975, President Ford said, "The labor-management committee he chairs told us that what we most need is a tax cut even before I asked for a tax cut in my State of the Union Message in January."(4)

(3) On Jan. 10, 1975, the White House released the recommendations of the Committee. This was the first time organized labor had supported an investment tax credit.

(4) Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, Mar. 24, 1975, pp. 281-82.

My response to the President at the swearing-in ceremony formulated major elements of a philosophy of the assignment publicly undertaken. The major themes were the need for a strong collective bargaining system with labor and management working together with government, the limitations of regulation, and the short-term concern to get the economy moving and the related long-term need for attention to structural problems. A few paragraphs express the spirit and philosophy:

The group here this afternoon, Mr. President, is symbolic of the diversity of our country -- labor and management, academics and practitioners, old hands and young specialists, both sides of the legislative aisle, and active minority groups -- and no one can neglect the historical tensions of geography.

Mr. President, we are a 'can-do' people. Again, as you said..., Mr President, 'Our people cannot live on islands of self-interest. We must build bridges and communicate our agreements as well as our disagreements. Only then can we honestly solve the Nation'sd problems.'

A corollary of that theme is that a great deal of government needs to be devoted to improving understanding, persuasion, accommodation, mutual problem solving, and informal mediation. …

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