Chicago. Mayor's Commission on Unemployment.

Report of the Mayor's Commission on Unemployment online

. (page 18 of 27)
Online LibraryChicago. Mayor's Commission on UnemploymentReport of the Mayor's Commission on Unemployment → online text (page 18 of 27)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

union members in preference to non-members.

Stewart, loc. cit., pp. 867, 943.

and very many of the unions have constitutional provisions that the officials
and members must give this same preference to the members of the union,
though in actual practice many unions furnish non-members to the employ-
ers when members are not available.

Sargent, loc. cit., p. 61.

Some of the weaker unions, however, permit non-union persons to use the
trade union employment agencies on an equal basis with members; out of
thirty-four unions investigated in New York City, four of the weakest thus
permitted the use of their employment agencies by persons not members of
the union.

Devine, op. cit., pp. 162, 172-73, 177.

Consequently each union maintains an agency for a very restricted group
of workers, and between these agencies there is practically no co-operation;
instead of one central agency for the entire labor market, the trade unions
have built up a series of distinct and segregated agencies. Not only do these
agencies ordinarily restrict their services to their own members, but they
are effective only in placing their members in their own trade. They do not
attempt, and it seems to be contrary to their general policy to increase occu-
pational mobility.

So long as the trade unions are confined almost entirely to the skilled
trades, it is evident that they do not succeed in organizing the generai labor
market. Certain efforts have been made, however, toward extending unionism
to the unskilled laborers. President Gompers, in his report to the Convention
of 1912, urged the formation under the American Federation of Labor of a
Department of Migratory Labor, and the organization, under its control, of
a system of employment agencies.

American Federationist, 19:43-44, Jan., '12.


But it is evident that at the present time the trade unions have had very
little success and, in fact, have made very few efforts to extend their move-
ment to the unskilled laborers. Consequently whatever success they have
had in organizing the labor market has been confined to a part of the labor
market, and has not included the unskilled and migratory workers.

Even for the portion of the labor market in which the trade unions have
been established, however, the organization has not ^eea developed far, for
the employment agency does not appear to be, afr'essential part of the trade
union program, in the sense that it is a factor which receives emphasis. The
trade unions place much more emphasis on policies which are intended,
among other things, to increase the amount of work to be done, or to decrease
the supply of labor, and thus to decrease unemployment. Consequently the
methods of the employment agency have not been developed, but are gen-
erally exceedingly, haphazard,

Devine, op. cit., pp. 21, 159; Chicago City Club, Report of Sub-
Committee of Committee on Labor.

and some of the secretaries have admitted the entire inadequacy of their

. Devine, op. cit., p. 180.

Only in those unions which have such a monopoly on the trade that
the employers must send to them for help is there an organized method of
securing information in regard to positions. In other unions dependence is
placed on the information secured by business agents, by requests of em-
ployers, by informal statements of members in the weekly meetings or out-
side of such meetings and by formal reports in the weekly meetings. There
is seldom any adequate registration of the unemployed members; some unions
keep an out-of-work book, in which the members may register, and the mem-
bers are then chosen from this list in order of seniority, priority of appli-
cation, length of time out of work or fitness for work; a few unions go so far
as to send telegrams to the unemployed members, announcing positions which
are accessible.

Devine, op. cit., p. 175.

Other unions keep no such lists, but announcements of positions are
placed on the bulletin boards and any member who sees them may go for
the positions, thus causing duplication of efforts. Thus there is no well or-
ganized method of learning of positions, selection of applicants or of keep-
ing records. In addition the business agent has a great deal of power, which
may be used arbitrarily in his selection of applicants for positions; the mem-
bers are in the dark, while he knows both the members who are unemployed
and the positions that are available.
Chicago City Club, op. cit.

There is considerable diversity in the success of these agencies in secur-
ing work for their own members. Their strength with reference to the labor
market as a whole may be indicated by the fact that of 759 employers in
New York City only 10 (1.3 per cent) used such agencies exclusively in se-
curing help, and only 18 (2.4 per cent) used such agencies in connection with
personal applications at their plants.

New York, Report of Commission on Unemployment, 1911, p. 161.

Most of the local unions in the garment trade in New York City ad-
mitted that they could do very little for their members in this way,

Devine, op. cit., p. 160.

and the painters' and decorators' union, though in a trade in which engage-
ments are characteristically short, secures work for only about 10 per cent
of its members.

Devine, op. cit., pp. 166-67.

The firemen's union, on the other hand, secured work for from 93 to 97
per cent of its members in the year 1907.
Devine, op. cit., pp. 160, 177.


Some of the strong unions do not permit their members to make individual
applications for work.

United States, Report of Industrial Commission, 1901, XVII:lxi-lxii.
Thus the efficiency of the employment agency seems to depend primarily
on the strength of the union, and to be very nearly in direct correlation with
the extent to which the craft is controlled. The cordiality of relations with
employers is a second factor in their efficiency; unless employers will co-
operate, there is no possibility of the success of such agencies; such co-opera-
tion might conceivably result when the relationship between employers and
the union is friendly, even though the union was weak. If the relationship
is not cordial, membership in a weak union is a positive detriment to the
securing of employment. The energy and ability of the business agent is a
third factor in the efficiency of the employment agencies; in Chicago some
unions keep their members steadily employed on this account, while other
unions in the same craft have unemployed members.

Chicago City Club, op. cit. I am indebted to this report, also, for
the general interpretation of the efficiency of trade union employment

Thus even for the workers who are members of unions there is no great
and general success in the organization of the labor market. The trade
union employment agency comes very far from organizing the market in
the way the students of unemployment demand that it should be organized
in order to prevent unemployment.

The trade union employment agencies have confined their efforts almost
entirely to the locality in which they are organized,

Devine, op. cit., p. 164; Chicago City Club, op. cit.

and some unions have reported that they would welcome an agency which
could do the inter-communal work.

Devine, op. cit., pp. 163, 171.

Information in regard to demands for labor in this wider territory is
secured in some unions through weekly or monthly publications, but the
information is seldom specific or concrete; information is secured, also, by
reports from traveling members, correspondence of the secretaries, and from
the requests of other unions and of employers; but this information, also,
is generally haphazard and vague. Membership in the union is frequently
taken as sufficient guarantee to justify the advancement from the union
treasury of traveling expenses to unemployed members; some unions report
that there is no difficulty in securing the payment of these loans, while
in other unions not more than half of the loans are paid.

Statistics on this point in the American Flint Glass Workers Union
have been published for the period from 1903 to 1913; only about half
of the amount advanced by the union in that time for car fare of
members has been paid. American Flint, 4:8-9, Oct., '13.

Thus it may be concluded that the trade union employment agencies
have failed to organize the labor market in the communities in which they
are located and have done almost nothing in securing an inter-communal
organization. The general solution of the problem of unemployment is
not their objective; consequently they have restricted their efforts in such
ways as to build up distinct centers, between which there is no co-operation,
and which are in competition with the other kinds of agencies in so far as
these other agencies attempt to deal in the same kind of labor. Moreover,
these centers, segregated as they are, are not available for large classes of
the workers because of non-membership in the unions; thus the unskilled
workers, for whom institutional assistance is most necessary, are injured by
these agencies and their unemployment is increased.

The employers, also, have established and maintained agencies, but the
object of such agencies is not the solution of the problem of unemployment;
it is rather to assist the employers in securing and controlling employes.


There are various types of agencies under the control of employers.
Many employers maintain employment agencies in which they hire workers
for their own establishments; but evidently such agencies mean merely that
the work of hiring workers for the establishment is systematized, and on
that account they hardly come within the scope of employment agencies as
ordinarily understood. Some of the railroads have assisted farmers in secur-
ing workers for the harvests, using their local representatives as employ-
ment agents.

F. Andrews, Railroads and Farming, U. S. Dept. of Agriculture,
Bureau of Statistics, Bulletin 100:32-33, Oct. 29, '12.

Some of the women's leagues and guilds, also co-operate to secure
domestic servants for their own use, and some of them extend these efforts
to assist other householders.

Kellor, op. cit., pp. 154-59.

But the only important employers' agencies are those maintained by
employers' associations.

The purpose of the agencies maintained by employers' associations is
avowedly to secure help without dependence on trade unions, and, in addi-
tion, most of the associations which support agencies are anti-union and open
shop organizations. Consequently when these agencies attempt -to secure
permanent records of large numbers of workers, as in the Detroit Employ-
ers' Association Agency, which has records of over 100,000 workers, the
unions regard them as merely systematized blacklists. The officials of such
associations generally prefer to call them white-lists,

Adams and Sumner, Labor Problems, p. 283.
though some of the officials have referred to them as black-lists.

Quoted from W. E. Walling by H. T. Lewis, Journ. Pol. EC.,
20:934, 1912.

The constitutions of these associations generally state that the agency
is to be an impartial and disinterested institution, and that no discriminations
are to be made against applicants because of membership or non-membership
in unions.

Several such constitutions are given in Massachusetts Labor Bulle-
tin, March, 1904.

But much doubt is thrown on these statements by such facts as that the
Boston Employers' Association, which has as one of its objects the main-
tenance of the open shop, requires applicants at its agency to state whether
they are members of unions;

Sargent, loc. cit., p. 78.

that the members of such associations send to the agency a statement of
the reasons for which employes are discharged, and prominence in the union
or in an agitation for union principles would undoubtedly be deemed sufficient
cause for discharge; that a legislative committee in Illinois appointed to
investigate the garment workers' strike in Chicago in 1911 found that ap-
plicants to the bureaus maintained by the National Wholesale Tailors' Asso-
ciation and the Wholesale Clothiers' Association in Chicago could not secure
positions if they had been discharged by other members of the Association,
and that these agencies had more to do, in the judgment of this committee,
with causing the discontent of the garment workers than all other causes
combined, and that it would, therefore, be advisable to use legal power to dis-
solve such agencies;

Illinois, Report of Committee Appointed by Senate Resolution
No. 15, Jan. 15, 1911, to Investigate the Garment Workers' Strike in
Chicago, pp. 5-7.

and that the Lake Carriers' Association, according to the statements of union
officials, after establishing a system of agencies under their own control, in
which they assured the public that there would be no discrimination against
union members, began to demand that union members hand over their union


cards; when this was met by the issuance of duplicate cards by the union so
that the members could surrender their cards without inconvenience, the
.Association compelled their employes to sign one of the two following state-
ments: "I am a union man" or "I am a non-union man"; the union in-
structed its members to sign the latter statement; then the Carriers required
their employes to swear that they would renounce their allegiance to the
union and would never join a union as long as they worked on the vessels
of the Great Lakes for a living.

Victor Olander, in 7th Biennial Report of Indiana Labor Com-
mission, 1909-10, pp. 9-37.

Such facts would indicate that the agencies of this type are necessarily con-
fined to non-union workers, or those workers who, if union members, are
willing to conceal the fact. The primary object of such agencies appears to
be to sift the applicants for employment, not to decrease the amount of

Moreover, the agencies maintained by employers' associations generally
restrict their efforts to the assistance of the members of the association,
though in some cases they assist other employers. But these agencies do not
form the only channel through which employes are secured by the mem-
bers of an association, for of the employes hired by members of the asso-
ciation, only 52.9 per cent were secured by the agency of the Detroit Em-
ployers' Association in 1911, 41.1 per cent by the Providence Metal Trades
Association, and 39.8 per cent by the agency maintained jointly by the In-
dianapolis Employers' Association and the Indianapolis Metal Trades Asso-

Sargent, op. cit., pp. 44, 87, 120.

Thus these agencies fail to prevent the individual applications at the plants
of the members.

Some of these agencies operate with little variation in the amount of
business, others, though open continuously, are practically inoperative ex-
cept during strikes, while others are open only during strikes. Moreover,
these agencies sometimes hire workers to take the places of strikers with-
out revealing to them the nature of the positions that are offered. Conse-
quently the workers may be sent to distant communities, and, when they
learn the nature of the positions, be left stranded if they refuse to accept
them, or even be confined to the plants by peonage.

United States, Peonage in Western Pennsylvania, Hearings before
the Committee on Labor of the House of Representatives, 62d Con-
gress, 1st Session; Minnesota, 12th Biennial Report of Bureau of
Labor, 1909-10, pp. 29-50.

Most of these agencies confine their work to the local community, but
some of the national associations have agencies which are of assistance, so
far as possible, to any local association; for instance, the National Found-
ers' Association in Chicago reports that it sends about 95 per cent of the
applicants who are accepted out of the city of Chicago. But there seems to
be little extensive work in inter-local placement except during strikes. Such
agencies are certainly not organized with a view to the continuous employ-
ment of the workers, except in so far as the member of the association is

Consequently it may be concluded that the agencies under the control
of the employers' association have no purpose that would involve a general
solution of the problem of unemployment; they have, rather, the purpose
of assisting the members of the association in securing workers. The work-
ers for whom they are of value are restricted not only to those trades in
which the association is formed, but also by certain principles of the em-
ployers with reference to trade unionism. The agency does not attempt to
become a center for an entire trade, but only for the members of the asso-
ciation; and even in becoming such a center, it is not the only method used
by the members to secure their employes; thus the agency does not control
the distribution of labor even to the members of the association. These


agencies do not operate continuously in some cases, and in many cases are
merely a means of securing strike-breakers. As a class these agencies are
limited in their activities to one community. Consequently they have failed
to set up a central agency in which the entire labor market can find ex-
pression, but they have added to the series of distinct and non-co-operating
agencies; they do not secure complete and continuous information in regard
either to the demand for labor or the supply of labor in general or in any
particular occupation or trade, or in any one community, to say nothing of
wider territory.

These various kinds of non-public employment agencies, therefore, have
failed to organize the labor market in accordance with the ideal posited by
the students of unemployment. They have set up distinct centers, for par-
ticular classes of employers or employes, with local, occupational, racial and
other limitations, operating on a small scale, not at all commensurate with
modern large-scale production. Between these centers there is little co-op-
eration, and there seems to be no possibility of securing such co-operation, be-
cause of the various and conflicting purposes and ideals of those in control;
consequently no one of these types of agencies can serve as a center into
which the others can pour their surplus demands or supplies. None of these
agencies is attempting to deal with the unemployment situation as a whole;
all are interested in the unemployed individual. But instead of setting up
a central agency, they are often in fierce competition which would make
combined action impossible. The union agencies increase the unemployment
of the persons not members; the agencies of employers' associations increase
the unemployment of those deemed undesirable; both of these agencies are
for the purpose of sifting the employes rather than of preventing unem-
ployment. In other agencies, also, there is a tendency to increase unemploy-
ment, by reason of the fact that they specialize in casual occupations and
short-time positions; thus it becomes easy to get into such occupations but ex-
tremely difficult to get out, and this difficulty is increased by the break-down
of habits of industry while engaged in casual occupations. The records
of these agencies in general are inaccurate and, even if they could be thrown
together, would not be adequate to furnish comprehensive and definite in-
formation that would guide the workers in their search for employment.
The methods of operation are generally unsystematic, and involve much
waste of time and energy of the unemployed, and frequently are such as
to subject the unemployed to many kinds of abuses. Some writers have
stated that the existing agencies are adequate within any one city for the
purposes of that city,

Devine, op. cit., pp. 7-9.

but there seems to be a very general consensus of opinion that the existing
agencies fail utterly in adjusting demand and supply over a large area.




The inadequacy of the private employment agencies emphasizes the need
of organization of the labor market, and thus increases the responsibility
of the public employment agencies. But what probability is there that this
assigned function can be adequately performed by the public agencies? The
first step in answering this question is to learn what degree of success the
public agencies have had and to analyze the causes of success or failure.

On public employment agencies in general, see, in addition to
the reports of the various agencies, the excellent summaries by J. E.
Conner, Free Employment Offices in the United States, Bulletin of
United States Bureau of Labor, No. 68, pp. 1-115, Jan., '07; Frank B.


Sargent, Statistics of Unemployment and the Work of Employment
Offices, Bulletin of United States Bureau of Labor, No. 109, pp. 34-140,
Oct. 9, '12.

Aside from places fixed in the markets where employers and employees
might meet to make contracts of employment,

Such an informal provision for assisting the unemployed was
made in New York City by an ordinance of 1834. United States, Re-
port on Condition of Woman and Child Wage-Earners in the United
States, Vol. IX, p. 25, foot note.

there were no public employment agencies in the United States previous to
1890, and not even an agitation for such provision before 1887. In this earlier
period studies were made of unemployment and of industrial depressions,
to be sre,

Hewitt, Report on the Causes of the General Depression in Labor
and Business, 45th Congress, 3rd Session, H. R. Doc. No. 29, 1879;
Blair, Committee Report of 1883 on Labor and Capital; United States,
1st Annual Report of Commissioner of Labor, on Industrial Depres-
sions, 1886; State Censuses of New York and Massachusetts, 1885;
Report of Special Committee on Labor in Illinois House of Repre-
sentatives, 1879.

but the proposals for remedies centered on such things as currency, tariff,
land laws, hours of labor and abolition of machinery. The general tendency
of these remedies was to increase the total amount of work to be done in
the country, or to decrease the output of the individual workman. The
first definite recorded agitation for public employment agencies was made in
Colorado in 1887, and a bill for that purpose was introduced into the House
of Representatives of Colorado in 1889, but failed to become a law.

Colorado, House Journal, 1889, p. 388; Colorado, 1st Biennial Re-
port of Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1887-88, pp. 368-69; Colorado, 3rd
Biennial Report of Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1891-92, pp. 162-63.
The first public agencies actually established were those in Ohio in 1890,
in the control of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since 1890 seventy-nine
public employment agencies have been started, under municipal, state or
federal control;

This does not include a number of agencies in Kansas and Wis-
consin which, without formal organization, have assisted in securing

of these, sixty-seven are in operation at the present time, located in twenty-
three different states. The state agencies are generally in control of the
bureaus of labor statistics, departments of labor or similar bodies, though
Wisconsin has had and New York still has public employment agencies con-
trolled by the state department of agriculture. The municipal offices are
managed and controlled directly by municipal councils, or indirectly by
boards. The federal offices are maintained by the Bureau of Immigration
of the Department of Commerce and Labor.

The following tables show the development and present distribution
of the state free employment agencies:



State Employment Agencies: Date of Passage of First Acts.


Date of Passage of First Acts.


Montana (a) .
New York (b)
Nebraska ....



Connecticut . .
Kansas (c) . . ,
West Virginia
Wisconsin ....



New York (d).


Rhode Island .,

(a) Law repealed and agency discontinued in 1897.

(b) Law repealed and agency discontiuued in 1906.

(c) The Kansas system is a combination of state and municipal control.

(d) Under control of state department of agriculture.

These acts, as first passed, have been enlarged and modified by amend-

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27

Online LibraryChicago. Mayor's Commission on UnemploymentReport of the Mayor's Commission on Unemployment → online text (page 18 of 27)