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“Public Responsibilities . . . Public Wrongs”: Union Officials Blame the Taft-Hartley Act for Mob Antiunion Violence

In the late 1940s, large labor unions and major corporations worked out an accord that would guide labor-management relations for the next quarter century. During this period, unions benefited from high wages and relative stability, while relegating company decision-making to management. Many workers in certain geographic areas and sectors of employment, however, were not affected by the accord. In “union-free” Gainesville, Georgia, union representatives had started to organize a predominately female workforce in a large poultry plant. In the following statement to a House subcommittee on labor-management relations, Roy F. Scheurich, vice-president of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America related a violent mob attack led by company officials. Joseph M. Jacobs, the union’s general counsel, then argued that language in the Taft-Hartley Act, which regulated labor-management relations, allowed employers “apparent immunity” from legal responsibility for mob violence against labor representatives unless direct involvement could be proven. The Taft-Hartley Act, passed in 1947 by a Republican-led Congress over President Harry S. Truman’s veto, amended provisions of the 1935 Wagner Act. Jacobs argued for restoration of the Wagner Act’s language. In September 1951, one month after this hearing, a trial examiner for the National Labor Relations Board held the Jewell Company liable for instigating the riot described in the statement.

. . . Mr. SCHEURICH. During the election count when the union reached approximately 200 votes, it looked like we were sure to win the election, the company having only approximately 104, Mr. Van Giesen left the room. I happened to be standing there near the door going down the steps, as the room was filled with seven of our committeemen, the Board agents, and many of the company representatives. In a few minutes I noticed Mr. Jewell coming out going down the stairs. This group from the personnel office downstairs came out at the bottom of the steps. Mr. Jewell stated, “Everything will be all right. Don’t worry.” He went on out the front door. Mr. Van Giesen—

Mr. MURDOCK. What did you understand him to mean by that statement?

Mr. SCHEURICH. I didn’t know. I only knew what he said.

Mr. SHROYER. Was it in reply to anything that anybody asked him?

Mr. SCHEURICH. The only thing, I saw him raise up his hands and he said, “Don’t worry, boys, everything will be all right.”

Mr. MURDOCK. To whom did he address that remark?

Mr. SCHEURICH. To the group of truck drivers who had these uniforms on and others who had suits on, regular dress clothes.

Then I noticed Mr. Van Giesen motion for two of those to come up to the top of the stairs. He walked down the hall with them.

Senator DOUGLAS. Who is Mr. Van Giesen?

Mr. SCHEURICH. He is vice president of the Jewell Co. He proceeded down the hallway a short distance and talked to these two men, and then they went downstairs, went into the personnel office and closed the door. Mr. Van Giesen then came back into the room where we were counting the ballots. At the conclusion of the election I was the first going down the stairs. I noticed this group that was in the personnel office was outside the front door.

Mr. MURDOCK. Do you have any way of identifying the people?

Mr. SCHEURICH. I had seen them all afternoon.

Mr. MURDOCK. Were they employees of the company?

Mr. SCHEURICH. Yes; they were.

Mr. MURDOCK. Were they the truck drivers?

Mr. SCHEURICH. Yes; plus some other supervisors as was later brought out during the hearing.

Mr. MURDOCK. Did they wear the same type of uniform that you have previously referred to?

Mr. SCHEURICH. Yes. Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs the rest of my committee as well as the company officials, Mr. Thurmond and Mr. Van Giesen, were at the top of the stairs, at the top landing. I proceeded out the door as they started down the steps. I noticed this group, but I thought they were going to snicker, or something. I didn’t expect anything to happen. I turned sharply to the left, proceeded to the corner where the car was parked, Mr. Katz' car. As I made about six or eight steps I was hit behind the head a severe blow that threw me approximately 10 or 12 feet on my belly on the narrow sidewalk against the building.

Mr. MURDOCK. Do you know whether you struck that wall?

Mr. SCHEURICH. I do not. I was hit from the back. I do not even know what I was hit with. It was something they must have had in their hands because I sensed that they were very close to me.

Mr. SHROYER. Do I understand you to mean they didn’t hit you with their fists, but with some object?

Mr. SCHEURICH. I said if they had an object it must have been in their hands because I could sense that they were real close to me. They may have hit me with their fist.

Mr. MURDOCK. Are you able to say whether or not it was an object thrown at you?

Mr. SCHEURICH. No; I would say that I could sense feeling them very close to me, and as I flew in the air and landed, as I was getting up my glasses were hanging on one ear. I tried to get them off and couldn’t get them off. So I held them down away from my eyes so they couldn’t break my glasses. As I started to get up I came to a crouch position. I saw through my legs three running up behind me. I made a quick pivot and dodged them and ran back into the building. As I got back to the door the entire group was down near the door. Mr. Katz was standing inside the door at that time. I ran along the side of the wall and up the steps. At that time I noticed as I got back up the steps that the policeman came up. There were three of these men who ran up to the door, three truck drivers, and they were reaching in the door holding on to the double door. It was a double door, one was open and the other fastened. They held onto the one with their left hand and were reaching in punching Harold Reed, one of our committeemen. The policeman came up and told them to back out of the door. At that same time there was other commotion at the door which I did not observe. Following this the policeman told them to get back and then he stood out in front and extended his arms and stated for us to come on out, that we had police protection.

At this time Mr. Van Giesen, Mr. Porter and Mr. Thurmond also stated that we had police protection, to go ahead, and a general push for the door started.

Mr. MURDOCK. How many policemen were there present?

Mr. SCHEURICH. There was one there at the present time. There were two altogether. There was one in the cruising car that pulled up a little later. . . .

Mr. Harold Reed was hit and knocked forward, on the back of the head, with the fist. At that time they were very close together. Mr. Roper came out and they were swinging at Mr. Roper and Mr. Ackerman. Mr. Katz was right in the group, and the crowd circled the four when I came out the door with Mr. Van Giesen. I was on the right of Mr. Van Giesen, as I came out the door. We started to proceed to the corner a few steps, and I decided that I would be safer getting on the inside, so I switched to the inside, and then while Mr. Van Giesen looked over at the crowd I ran along the side of the building to the corner, where the parked cars were, and I circled behind two of the cars and came around the other side, standing there watching the fight from in back of the crowd that then had the four encircled.

Mr. MURDOCK. Did you have any conversation with Mr. Van Giesen at that time?

Mr. SCHEURICH. Yes. Coming out the door Mr. Van Giesen said to me that “This union will be the ruination of Gainesville.” I merely stated that I didn’t think it would. . . .

Mr. MURDOCK. In your presence did Mr. Van Giesen make no effort to quell the disturbance?

Mr. SCHEURICH. Yes, sir.

Mr. MURDOCK. Did he or didn’t he?

Mr. SCHEURICH. I would say he didn’t.

As I came around the other side to see what I could do, I didn’t know what to do at the time. I was watching the beating. At that time I saw objects that looked like blackjacks and rubber hoses with which they were hitting at the four who were encircled in the crowd. The next thing, they got over by the car, by Mr. Katz' car, and there they were able to get Mr. Roper into the car, the front seat. I believe it was Mr. Reed they got in the front seat. When Mr. Katz and Mr. Roper went around the other side of the car to get in on the left-hand side, they told Mr. Reed to lock the door. As they got in the other side of the car, Mr. Katz was getting in and pulling Mr. Roper into the car. There was a group fighting them on the other side of the car. I was chiefly concerned with the group on this side which had Mr. Ackerman.

Senator HUMPHREY. In other words, the crowd followed the committeemen, the members of your union, is that correct, to the car?

Mr. SCHEURICH. That is right.

Senator HUMPHREY. There was a sort of running fight? Is that what I am to interpret?

Mr. SCHEURICH. A very slow moving fight as they were trying to move toward the car. They had them encircled.

Senator HUMPHREY. Were any blows being struck at this time?

Mr. SCHEURICH. Yes. They were swinging at them with their fists and with objects that looked like blackjacks and rubber hoses. As a result, Mr. Ackerman got—

Senator HUMPHREY. Where was the policeman?

Mr. SCHEURICH. The policeman was standing there.

Senator HUMPHREY. In other words, the policeman did not follow along with this?

Mr. SCHEURICH. Yes, he did. He followed but he was standing back. He didn’t get into the center of the fight.

Senator HUMPHREY. Did the second policeman in the cruising car get out and try to preserve order?

Mr. SCHEURICH. I didn’t see the second policeman.

Mr. MURDOCK. Did the policeman in your presence make any effort to quell the disorder or to apprehend the disorderly persons?

Mr. SCHEURICH. The only thing I saw him do was to swing at Mr. Ackerman. The policeman got in the car and attempted to put him into another car that was parked in the middle of the street right at the front wheel of Mr. Katz‘ car. This car looked to be a Buick or some General Motors make car, because the light there was not too bright. Mr. Ackerman sensed that they were trying to get him in the car, and he had both hands extended, one against the back door—they had the right back door open. He had one hand on the right back door and one on the sill part where the door closes. They were trying to knock his arms down and push him in the car. As the policeman was standing on his right, Mr. Ackerman, hollering at the top of his voice, said, “Save me. Please leave me alone.” He did this several times. He went back trying to save himself. When they would knock one arm down, his other arm would shove him against the door, and he would get the other one up in time while they knocked the other one up. He went against the back fender of the car. He was able finally to work loose and work around and proceeded, moving again toward Katz’ car while the mob was still trying to hem him.

Mr. Van Giesen grabbed Mr. Ackerman’s arm several times and turned him around toward the crowd on the outside where the majority of the blows were coming, and he said, “Come on, and I will save you.” But each time he would throw him around and Mr. Ackerman would try to duck around to get on the other side. He finally got to the back of Mr. Katz' car while I was still watching.

Mr. MURDOCK. What is the implication of your statement that Mr. Van Giesen turned him around? What that in an effort to save him from attack?

Mr. SCHEURICH. I don’t think it was.

Mr. MURDOCK. What was the effect of it?

Mr. SCHEURICH. The effect was that he got closer to the blows that were being swung by the group on the other side. There were more of them there swinging.

Mr. MURDOCK. Did he just get closer to them or did he get stuck?

Mr. SCHEURICH. He was getting hit each time he turned around.

Mr. MURDOCK. So the effect of it was to make him more available to blows, is that correct?

Mr. SCHEURICH. That is correct.

Then at the back door, when he got to the back door, Mr. Roper inside attempted to open the back door, but the car was completely locked. It was a Hudson car, and if you push the plunger in you can’t raise the catch up. So Mr. Ackerman was hollering open the door, but he had the catch pushed in. He was trying to work that door and they couldn’t get it open. Then the crowd got much closer to him and there they really got him good. They got him and finally he went down on his knees. Then he was kicked. At this time I seen two other committeemen who were able to get back on the outside, other than the four, Mr. Knight and Mr. Bennett. Mr. Knight had his car parked on the other corner, so I immediately informed him to go over and start the car and we made a run for the car and got in his car and ran to the police station.

I went in to the police station and asked the sergeant on the desk to send police over to J. D. Jewell. He informed me that they were already at J. D. Jewell’s. I then could tell that he took the attitude that he wasn’t going to do anything about it. I pleaded with him again, saying “There is a massacre going on. You have got to send more police. There are only two there and they cannot quiet the mob.”

He then informed me in a very crude way that they had already been called. So I knew then it was useless. We then ran out and got in the car and proceeded back to the scene. . . .

Mr. SCHEURICH. As we proceeded back we ran into Mr. Thurmond and Mr. Van Giesen. Mr. Thurmond was unlocking the door to his car. Mr. Van Giesen was standing in back waiting for him to back it out. I asked Mr. Van Giesen if Mr. Katz and Mr. Ackerman got away. He informed me that they did, but they would be lucky if they didn’t wind up in the river before they got back to Atlanta.

Upon returning to the Atlanta—

Mr. MURDOCK. Did you construe that to be a warning or a threat?

Mr. SCHEURICH. I construed it to be a threat. As I proceeded back to Atlanta, I arrived approximately 45 minutes after Mr. Katz and Mr. Ackerman got back. They informed me that this car trailed them all the way back, which they drove 90 and 95 miles an hour all the way from Gainesville, 55 miles to Atlanta. . . .

Mr. JACOBS. May I interject at this time an offer as exhibits the doctor’s reports on Robert Ackerman and Roy Scheurich, both being the doctor’s report of Mr. Aldred Weinstein of Atlanta, Ga., showing the diagnosis in both cases to be concussion, sacroiliac sprains, and various other types of bodily injuries. . . .

Thurmond merely said, for example, “Let’s not have any trouble.” But in spite of the fact that at that particular time you had 2 company vice presidents, you had 2 company superintendents, you had at least 6 supervisory foremen and heads of departments, you had no less than 10 company supervisors and officials present there in the mob on the sidewalk, in front of the building and in the building, nobody ever made any effort throughout the entire evening, throughout this entire mob violence, to exercise any company discipline or to threaten any company discipline or to tell anybody who was recognized as a company employee that their participation in this mob would be followed by discharge or any other type of company discipline. No reprimand was offered at any time, either then or at any time afterward, in spite of the fact that these company supervisors were positively identified as being in the mob and participating in the mob, and in spite of the fact that company truck drivers were known to have congregated on the premises of the company and subsequently to have participated in the mob action which occurred. . . .

It is very significant that Mr. Gowan sought the permission of his foreman, finding out what would happen if they beat up the union men. Mr. Bagwell under cross-examination confessed also to the fact that when Mr. Gowan talked to him about beating up the union men, this was not the first time that he had information concerning this particular proposition, because earlier in the day he was present at a conversation between a group of truck drivers, in which they talked about beating up the union men. He offered no protest and he did not ask any questions of any kind whatsoever. Subsequently, he gave specific permission to Mr. Gowan to proceed. . . .

We have a very important point to make, because this case in our judgment bears directly on the problem of the amendment of the Taft-Hartley law in section 2, subparagraph 2. We think that if there had not been any amendment of section 2 (2) from the old Wagner Act in effectuating the present Taft-Hartley amendments, this mob violence would not have taken place. We think that the broadness of apparent immunity made available to employers in cases of this kind is what encouraged the company to permit this to take place with the mistaken, perhaps illusory notion, but there is no question in our minds but that the company did believe that on the basis of the cooked-up story of contrived neutrality they would be able to escape any responsibility for the mob violence which occurred.

Mr. SHROYER. You are saying now that it isn’t the fact that section 2 (2) gives them immunity, but the fact that they thought it did is responsible for this.

Mr. JACOBS. Under the facts of this case, fortunately, we were able to establish the direct company responsibility by acts of the agents, but supposing we had not been thus fortunate. Suppose we had not been able by means of cross-examination to identify the participation of supervisors of the company, then indeed we would have been in different straits in attempting to establish company responsibility under the very narrow limitations of section 2, subparagraph 2, of the Taft-Hartley Act. . . .

It is our distinct feeling that the change in language brought about a distinct change in concept, in precept, and in approach certainly in the minds of the employers.

Mr. SHROYER. Whether it is psychological or real is what I would like to find out.

Mr. JACOBS. For the moment in this case we have labeled it as psychological. In this case, as I state, fortunately we were able to establish responsibility in our judgment on the basis of common-law agency standards. We feel, however, that if we had not been so fortunate, if we had not been able to locate a witness like Mr. Sosbee, who told about the actions of Mr. Jewell when Mr. Jewell came in the following day after the mob violence and said to a group of supervisors sitting in the personnel room, Mr. Jewell, the president of the company, said to this group, “What did you let them get away for? Whenever I start anything, I finish it.”

Then he admonished his storm troopers by saying “Let them alone for a little while until things quiet down.” Then he also said, “I am not whipped yet.” By the statements of complete approbation of what they had done, with criticism because of the fact that they had not done enough, there was the most flagrant kind of condonation which ever has been established in any of these cases. There is no question in our minds and we don’t believe there could possibly by the wildest stretch of imagination be any question in the mind of any reasonable person who reads this record, including the trial examiner, concerning company responsibility, that this was a planned, cold-blooded, vicious attack in complete callous disregard of the moral and legal rights of employees and residents in the city of Gainesville. . . .

Mr. SHROYER. My point is that you would have been in exactly the same situation under the Wagner Act as you were under the Taft-Hartley Act. That is the point where we differ.

Mr. JACOBS. You hit a very, very important point, Mr. Shroyer. If I may say so, sir, those who espouse your point of view are missing the boat entirely so far as the basic objective of American labor law is concerned. The purpose of the National Labor Relations Act, the purpose of the concept of unfair labor practices, of administering the concept of unfair labor practices, is to do away with what has been described as public wrongs. The National Labor Relations Board is not protecting private rights. The right to reinstatement and the right to back pay and the right to be protected in the right to organize and the right to self-organization, the right to collective bargaining, are not private rights which belong to any individual which he many protect in a court of law. They are public rights.

Mr. SHROYER. I am not arguing with you on any of that. . . .

Mr. JACOBS. On this direct agency theory, we say that if the law had not been changed, if the law had read that a company shall be responsible for any action taken in its interest, this is the kind of action which would have been characterized as being in the interest of the company because Mr. Jewell testified on cross-examination on the stand that it would be a good thing if the union could be induced to leave Gainesville. Mr. Jewell said on the stand: “I don’t want the union in my plant. I don’t like the union.” Mr. Sealey, the plant superintendent of 250 employees, said “I can do my work a lot better without the union. I don’t like the union. I am sorry that the union won the election.”

So it certainly was to the interest of the company to have the union people chased out of Gainesville, and under the concept of the Wagner Act this mob violence would have been ascribed to the company because it was in the interest of the company. If the people were gathering together on company premises, if the violence took place right in front of the company premises, if the company felt that it would be saddled with responsibility, it is our considered judgment that this company would have exercised the executive authority and supervisory authority which it had to dispel the mob, to disperse the people, and to prevent this violence from taking place. The only reason that deterred the company from making up this mob was the smug satisfaction on the part of the employer and his subordinate supervisors, their feeling that they would be able to escape responsibility and liability because we would then in their judgment not be able to prove that this was done by agents of the company. . . .

Mr. MURDOCK. Do you advocate repeal of that subsection?

Mr. JACOBS. Yes; we definitely do. We say that the legitimate aspirations for a better life on the part of the American workers are a mandatory prerequisite for the democracy which has otherwise no right to claim the allegiance of American citizens. We have got to prevent violence which interferes with the right to self-organization and the right to collective bargaining.

By imposing a rigid code of agency responsibility under common law restrictions we put a premium on employer violence, because it enables the employers to say, “So long as we can hide behind the cloak of contrived neutrality, so long as we can make a clandestine agreement with outside agencies to have them do our dirty work, then we will be able to escape responsibility and liability.”

Mr. MURDOCK. Are you in favor of return to the language of the Wagner Act?

Mr. JACOBS. We say there cannot be any justice in the administration of the labor policy of America in cases of this kind unless there is a restoration of the language of the Wagner Act, administered in accordance with the true intent, such as was discussed by the United States Supreme Court, by Justice Douglas, in the Serrick case when he pointed out with true understanding that what is being undermined under the labor law of America is not private rights and private wrongs and not private prosecution of criminal laws, but we are administering public responsibilities and we are preventing public wrongs. If violence has been committed, by whoever it has been committed, in the interest of an employer, the purpose of which is to destroy collective bargaining and interfere with the self-organization of employees in a given community, then certainly the public interest requires that that be stopped, and if it is in the interest of an employer and the employer stands by silently reaping the benefit of this nefarious conduct, secure in his own mind that so long as he does not condone it or ratify it or authorize it, he is going to escape scott-free, so long as that kind of situation prevails, we are going to put a premium on violence in labor disputes.

Source: Congress, Senate, Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, J. D. Jewell Co., 82d Congress, 1st Sess. on J. D. Jewell Co. and Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America, A.F.L., August 9, 1951 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1951).