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In 1887 efforts to organize an employers' association included the Dealers in Building Materials, the Boss Stone Cutters' Association, the Plumbers' Association, and several others, but the Mason Builders' Association passed a resolution declining to take part in the movement. However, gradually the employers organized, and during the 15 years that followed, or until 1902, spasmodic efforts were made to organize these employers' associations into one central association, but without success.
The original Board of Delegates in the building trades was organized in 1884. This board at its inception was composed of delegates or business agents from only four unions, but by 1890 it had embraced all the unions in the building trades with the exception of the bricklayers.
In 1894, because of internal strife in the board, a dissolution took place, one faction joining the newly organized and recognized authority in the building trades, the Building Trades Council. the other remaining with the Board of Delegates.
The Board of Delegates continued its existence without recognized authority constitutionally, and for six years, or until 1900, these two hostile boards claimed the same field of action; in other words, every known method was employed by each faction to extend its jurisdiction so as to embrace all the different trades represented by the warring boards. In the fall of 1901 efforts were made to bring the factions together, and in March, 1902, the amalgamation took place, the United Board of Building Trades taking the place of the former two boards. This new board included all the strong unions in the building industry except the bricklayers. Delegates to this board were elected by each local union in the building trades and admitted to membership in the board only on credentials signed by the officers of such unions. The aims and objects were "to secure harmony and unity of action." It further provided for arbitration of jurisdictional disputes, and during its life settled 15 important such disputes.
The number of organizations affiliated was 37, of which 22 were skilled craftsmen, while 15 belonged to the unskilled class. The life of the board was short, however, as the strike of the carpenters and teamsters split the skilled and unskilled crafts asunder. The skilled trades seceded and formed a new Board of Skilled Mechanics.1
About this time, June, 1903, the 30 associations of employers formed the Building Trades Employers' Association. Each existing trade association preserved its own autonomy, but it was provided that each employer or contractor should become a member of both his trade association and the general association. This general association was to possess such powers as were delegated to it, but in no
January 13, 1909, the Building Trades Department of the American Federation of Labor issued a charter to the Building Trades Council of Greater New York, and September 20, 1911, on account of noncompliance with the terms of the grant, the charter was revoked.
way to interfere with the autonomy of each individual trade unit. The powers delegated to the Building Trades Employers' Association were broad and included the power "generally to determine, regulate, and control the conduct of the members of this association and the employers' associations represented on the board in all matters pertaining to their relations with their employees."
Immediately upon completing its organization the Board of Governors drafted a plan of arbitration designed to overcome the evils to which the industry had been subjected during the past 20 years or more. The intention of the board was to undertake the consummation of their scheme directly with the unions rather than through the walking delegate, and the secretaries of the unions were therefore addressed in the following communication on June 2, 1903:
For the last few years the conditions in our industry have been steadily growing worse until they culminated in the present cessation of work. As you can see from our platform and plan of arbitration, we have but one object in view, namely, to conduct our business relations in a fair, honest, and American way, and we want you to help us. * No doubt our actions, our motives, and our plans will be attacked by those representatives of labor who are unwilling to be deprived of any powers which have been given to them or have been assumed by them.
refuse to believe that the rank and file of labor is acquainted with many of the acts of these representatives and of the conditions which exist in some of the trades, but how grievous they were is proven by the present standstill and the fact that within three weeks nearly 30 employers' associations of our industry have become a unit, as a living protest against oppression and extortion. We therefore call upon every conservative and thinking mechanic to attend the meeting of his union and register his vote against the un-American methods that have crept into the trade, and to insist upon the plan of arbitration as suggested.1 *
The ultimatum, as it was considered by the unions, caused a deadlock for more than three weeks, but disinterested parties arranged a conference at the end of that time which was attended by representatives of a majority of the trade-unions and 60 members of the Board of Governors. The conference, which began July 3, 1903, continued in session until the morning of July 4. At that time an adjournment was taken until July 9, at which time a plan of arbitration, including three "explanatory clauses," was adopted and submitted to all the unions. Four weeks later two-thirds of the unions had signed the plan and the General Arbitration Board was organized. The following week, or on August 10, 1903, rules of procedure of the General Arbitration Board of the New York Building Trades were adopted, and actual work began.
The method of procedure in handling grievances provided that in the first instance an effort be made by the secretary to adjust the difficulty by conciliation. Indeed, the secretary was expected to exhaust every possible means to effect a settlement by conciliation. If this method failed, then the complaint, which meanwhile had become a
1 From the Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. XVIII, 1904, pp. 409, 410.
formal written complaint, was referred by the secretary to an executive committee of 12 members. In accordance with the plan, the executive committee must meet within 24 hours after notification by the secretary and endeavor to adjust the dispute. But if the question at issue was considered a matter for arbitration, then a special arbitration board of four members was organized. This special board was further empowered to employ an umpire in pursuance of its duties. Whatever may have been the intent of the promoters of this plan of arbitration in the building industry in Greater New York, its establishment caused much more to be done by indirection than it was ever expected to accomplish by direct action. It has wielded a firm authority, and its decisions have been sufficiently respected to involve principles of far-reaching consequences. For example, the 'general strike" has almost been eliminated, wage rates have gradually increased, and jurisdictional disputes settled on a more nearly equitable basis than ever before. Instead of the former heated discussion, open warfare, and unreasonable action, there has appeared a desire on the part of both parties to settle grievances peaceably and according to the facts presented.
During the period October 1, 1903, to December 31, 1909, a total of 2,751 grievances were submitted to the secretary of the General Arbitration Board, 2,433 of them by labor unions and 318 by employers' associations. The general secretary adjusted. 1,070 of these disputes by conciliatory methods; 1,681 went to arbitration and of these 24 were compromised, 251 abandoned, and 52 referred to the trade boards for adjudication.
While there were 214 complaints of employers against unions and 24 complaints of unions against other unions for engaging in strikes, the influence of the strike has been minimized, for in most cases the strikers were ordered back to work within a few days and the dispute was settled according to the arbitration plan.
The formal agreement under which the above-described plan came into operation expired July 1, 1910. The present method of handling disputes is to have the aggrieved union present its complaint to the chairman of the emergency committee of the Building Trades Employers' Association, who immediately convenes the emergency committee. The matter is then formally presented and a decision rendered or a settlement reached in accordance with the standards established or in strict compliance with the jurisdictional code formulated by the General Arbitration Board. It is to be understood, however, that the arrangement of individual employers' associations and the unions of each craft signing conciliation and arbitration agreements still continues.
While the arbitration plan per se can be said to be in abeyance, the suspension is considered only temporary by both employers' associations and unions.
The actual suspension of the plan occurred July 1, 1910, but almost immediately thereafter formal overtures were made by the employers' associations to the unions, through the United Board of Business Agents, to reestablish the plan, but inasmuch as the employers failed to include each and every union in the building trades in their proposal the United Board of Business Agents refused to accept the proposition. Twice since similar efforts have met with the same result and for the same reasons.
The present attitude of employers in associations and of tradeunionists toward a rehabilitation of the plan in a modified form or to some similar scheme of arbitration is expressed in all recent renewals of contracts between them. During the year 1912 a majority of the employers' associations signed contracts with a like majority of the unions, in which the following clause appears:
It is further mutually agreed that both parties to this agreement shall send representatives to a convention for the formation of a general arbitration plan, said convention to be composed of the representatives of the several employers' associations and a majority of the unions of the building trades of New York City.
The numerical strength of the unions having such contracts represents 75,000 members out of an approximate membership of 90,000 in the industry. As to further evidence that the dissolution of the plan of arbitration is considered only temporary, the following is quoted from the minutes of a meeting of the Building Trades Employers' Association held July 13, 1910:
Resolved, That it is the sense of this board of governors that all decisions heretofore made affecting jurisdiction of trade shall be maintained until reviewed by a duly authorized arbitration board of employers and employees.
Resolved, That this Building Trades Employers' Association stand for the principle of arbitration.
The attitude of trade-unions in the building trades is expressed in section 2 of the preamble to the constitution of the United Board of Business Agents of Greater New York, adopted September 21, 1912, which is as follows:
It declares in favor of arbitration in the settlement of trade disputes and of the resorting to any and all honorable means to prevent strikes and lockouts.
As to the recognition of decisions affecting trade jurisdiction, it declared that
all decisions rendered under the plan of arbitration as adopted by the conference held on July 3, 1903, between the Building Trades Employers' Association and the representatives of labor unions, and as further since amended up until 1910, shall be recognized as the law of procedure which shall govern the actions and findings of the executive council.
THE PLAN OF ARBITRATION.
The original plan of arbitration adopted July 9, 1903, recognized the closed-shop principle between members of employers' associations and organized labor in the building industry of Greater New York. A revision of the plan, adopted April 22, 1905, provided for the employment, directly or indirectly through subcontractors, of union men only. At the same time new sections were added,' permitting sympathetic strikes under certain circumstances against employers engaged in the building industry not members of the plan of arbitration, in order that the unions might better maintain their schedules of wages, hours, and working conditions.
The General Arbitration Board consisted of two representatives from each employers' organization affiliated with the Building Trades Employers' Association, of which there were 31, and two representatives from each union recognized as a party to the plan, of which there were a like number. Regular sessions of the board were held monthly, but special sessions were subject to the call of the chairman of the executive committee upon the filing with the secretary of a written request from five organizations represented in the plan.
The executive committee was composed of 12 members, elected from the General Arbitration Board, six of whom were elected by the representatives of the unions and six by the employers, to serve for a period of six months. All decisions of the executive committee become final and binding unless disapproved by the General Arbitration Board. Complaints are presented directly to the general secretary of the General Arbitration Board, whose duty it is to endeavor to adjust them through such conciliatory methods as he may deem expedient. Failing to adjust a dispute by this means, the secretary brings it to the attention of the executive committee.
While the plan recognizes the unions and employers' associations or the Building Trades Employers' Association, as such, it does not recognize any council of trade-unions, and for that reason the central body of trades-unions has no right to sue before the General Arbitration Board. However, the Building Trades Employers' Association or an individual employer has that right. For this reason the equity of the general arbitration plan has often been questioned.
While the General Arbitration Board has no power to levy a fine upon either unions or employers for noncompliance with or refusal to obey the decisions of the arbitrators, the executive committee usually reported the attitude of delinquent employers to the Building Trades Employers' Association, the parent body of the various organizations of builders, suggesting that summary action be taken against the offenders. Fines ranging from $500 to $5,000, and sometimes expulsion from membership, have followed charges for disobeying the
1 Sections 31 and 32.