Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Beyond the f-word: The Teagle Plan

by the Sandwichman

The Teagle Committee was recruited in August 1932 by President Hoover in an attempt to promoted voluntary work-sharing as a palliative to unemployment. It is part of the context for the introduction of the more sweeping Black-Connery Thirty-Hour Bill in 1933.

The Chairman of the Movement Holds That the Burden Is Carried Not Only by Men With Jobs but by Employers Also

In the share-the-work plan of dealing with unemployment, who bears the burden—the employer, the employee, or both? This is a question frequently raised in labor circles. In the article that follows it is answered by the chairman of the Share-the-Work Movement, who is also president of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, one of the large employers of labor.


A POPULAR commentator on current affairs in one of our metropolitan journals writes that “there has been altogether too much bunk about share-the-work.” And a telegrapher In Oklahoma writes: “I have worked seven days per week for the last ten years. I would be very agreeable to the five-day week, for I realize It is the only way we will ever put the unemployed to work. Practically every one in my profession would be strongly in favor of this, and I do not see how the railroads could object, for it would not increase their costs. If this could be put in operation at once I know of ten or fifteen men with families that have been cut off the extra board who would be called back to work. It might cut my pay 40 per cent, but I would be glad to give that for the duration of the depression.”

In these two quotations we have the destructive and. constructive views of the move to extend work-sharing throughout the nation.

Most of the criticism has turned upon the allegation that it shoulders the total cost of unemployment on those who are least able to bear it, the wage earners. Sometimes it is characterized as a device for using public philanthropy as a cloak to cover the nakedness of a scheme to lighten tax burdens. The most radical go even further in saying that the movement is a deep-laid plot to get wages down to a subsistence level now so that when business revives and workmen are in demand corporations can make large profits.

The Origin of the Plan.

Sometimes the best way to understand an organism is to investigate its forebears. Let us look at the origin of the plan to help the unemployed.

Work-sharing is not somebody’s pet idea born in the past few months and developed under the careful nursing of theorists. It became established as a product of the times at least two years ago and was in successful operation in many industrial plants before any one gave thought to the matter of attempting to propagate it for wider usefulness. It grew naturally on sheer merit as a logical means of protecting the best interests of employers and workers in a period of poor business.

In 1930 a number of manufacturers began to spread a diminishing quantity of work as an alternative to laying off employees. There was no theory enunciated and no common plan of action agreed upon by those who reduced hours and wages to keep the largest possible number at work. Such a policy was in force at some refineries of Standard Oil Company of New Jersey subsidiaries from the time that the management first faced the necessity of laying off permanently a large number of workers, due to the installation of more efficient refining units; by United States Steel, Bethlehem Steel and International Harvester, among others.

No one thought to criticize this action, to credit its motivation to 'bunk' perhaps because it was essentially so fair and natural. It was not until two years later, when an organization got behind the plan, that any one discovered sinister aspects connected with it. And then the criticism did not emanate from those affected.

Limitations Pointed Out.

As a matter of record, initiation of the movement followed the most careful consideration of its possibilities, bad as well as good. A warning was incorporated in the first piece of literature and has been repeated in every subsequent presentation of the plan, to this effect:

A remedy used unwisely may aggravate the disease for which it is prescribed. Job-sharing has its limitations. While it holds obvious and far-reaching possibilities for improving the business situation, it is an emergency measure to help those without work and should not go beyond a certain point. This limitation is for the community and employer to decide with the cooperation of the employee. Many men and women now at work have incomes barely covering the necessities of life and they cannot in fairness be asked to divide with others.

In view of the emphasis placed on the limitations by proponents, it is strange that adverse criticism should rest on the assumption that the plan will not work after this emergency is over, or on its alleged unfairness to the employee receiving too little to permit him to get along comfortably if his wages are reduced by the amount of time shared.

Again and again the committee has asked support for work-sharing only as a proved remedy immediately available for a severe unemployment crisis. We have said that as business picks up and jobs again begin to seek the man, this movement will evaporate like gasoline in the open air. In every instance where it developed that workers were getting only enough for their needs we have urged that the employer try to see his way clear to the employment of more help without putting the cost on his existing force. In a number of instances, where the labor element is not too large an item in the cost of doing business, employers have shortened the week without reducing wages.

The New Hampshire plan, one of the earliest forms of work-sharing, exacts a financial contribution on a sliding scale from those in the higher wage or salary classifications, and the money thus released is used to pay added workers in lower brackets. In another variation, work-sharing has been accomplished by reducing pay uniformly by a small percentage down to a minimum wage agreed upon. In no case that has come to our notice has the employer taken advantage of the plan to reduce his operating overhead. On the other band, frequently he has assumed part of the cost in order to do his utmost for the relief of unemployment.

Parenthetically, it might be remarked here that the fellow who stands on a sidewalk finding fault with men who are trying to rescue persons involved in a street accident is not contributing anything helpful to the situation. If he knows a better way of effecting rescue he should take his coat off and go to it. To date, none of the critics who have sought to discredit the share-the-work movement has proceeded beyond efforts at belittling. If they have ideas for bettering a distressing situation, they are strangely reticent after finding fault with what others are doing.

Whatever its faults, no one can say the Share-the-Work Movement exists only as a theory. It got to work immediately and has produced far-reaching results exactly in keeping with its objectives. A single participant has 50,000 people In his plants and offices who would not be on his payroll but for his conviction that the times required a division of jobs and payrolls in the common interest; another, 35.000.

While the accomplishments in taking the idle from the street and putting them into jobs have not been so striking, the total thus employed, made up of a few here and a few there in various lines of activity, nevertheless is substantial. It will be much larger if employers of what is euphemistically referred to as the white-collar class will participate as generally as have the manufacturing industries.

Sponsors of the movement have never claimed that they are doing something of permanent value. They advocate it in spite of the feeling that, if carried too far, it has definite points of weakness. The driving thought is that we can meet an emergency situation through use of an emergency measure.

Less frequently the plan has been criticized because it contains no provision for increasing wages. No doubt this would be highly desirable in many lines and would greatly stimulate purchasing by those receiving the higher rewards. How a workman is to persuade his employer that he deserves more pay, with two or three of the idle waiting for his job at lower wages, the critics do not say. It is the man out of work who answers those who ask why the wage scale is not raised in cases where employees receive too little to participate in work sharing.

Some of the opposition to dividing work would disappear if a few fundamental facts about unemployment were thought through. No amount of shuffling him about will put the unemployed man where he is not a burden upon his fellows. We have in the United States a very large number of idle—exactly how many nobody knows because it is impossible to complete a census. Perhaps 10,000,000 is the best estimate. This is about one-fourth of the number gainfully employed outside of agriculture at the height of business activity.

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