FDR’s secretary of labor, social reformer Frances Perkins, argued that the steel industry’s low wages and ban against unions were undemocratic and threatened the nation’s stability. All of the major steel companies had company unions, such as Bethlehem’s Employee Representation Plan, whose representatives could not negotiate on wages or strike. There had to be a balance of power between employers and workers, she said, and to reach it, workers must have the right to organize their own unions and bargain collectively with management.
But SWOC won a surprise victory in 1937 when U.S. Steel, the world’s largest corporation, signed a contract. The pact met a union demand for 621/2 cents an hour, or $5 a day, and a 40-hour work week with time-and-a-half for overtime. Bethlehem balked at following suit and formed a bloc called ”Little Steel” with four other holdouts Republic, National, Youngstown Sheet & Tube, and Inland Steel.
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