Authority and Efficiency
TWO VIEWS OF THE RAILROAD QUESTION
BY JAMES O. FAGAN
MR. DANIEL WILLARD, Second VicePresident of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Company, is one of the foremost railroad managers in America. He has direct charge of a railroad over 9000 miles in length, which goes through eleven different states. In busy times the names of 50,000 men appear on its payrolls. It has large terminals in Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, and other large cities. It owns 1600 locomotives, 1500 passenger cars, and 52,000 freight cars.
Mr. Willard is a warm advocate of the railroad man’s schedule. This schedule is a signed agreement between the management of a railroad and the employees Its stipulations refer to and define rates of pay, methods of adjusting difficulties or disputes, and other matters relating to privileges and duties in the every-day life of the employee. Considered in this way, its face-value is all in its favor. Manifestly all that is necessary is lo make the stipulations contained in this agreement reasonably fair to employee, manager, and the public. From such an agreement the best possible results should be anticipated.
My reference to the manager of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad has no significance, apart from the fact that Mr. Willard probably voices the opinion of a great majority of railroad managers. This consensus of opinion is that this schedule represents the best working arrangement under the circumstances. Indeed, giving illustration from his own experience, Mr. Willard asserted, in an interview with the writer of this article, that to attempt to run a railroad nowadays without a schedule would be something in the nature of an invitation to chaos.
But the shield has two sides. On the other hand, the Pennsylvania Railroad firmly declines to have anything to do with a schedule. Its superintendents propose to superintend, and its managers to manage, as heretofore they have always superintended and managed, without attaching their signatures to trade agreements or schedules of any description.
The Pennsylvania Railroad is also an immense establishment. It controls 23,977 miles of track. The states through which the Pennsylvania Lines run contain 44,936,522 people; that is to say, the road touches directly the social and industrial life of half the population of the United States. The Pennsylvania was the first road to use Bessemer steel rails. It was also the first to use the air-brake and the block-signal system. It has over 134,000 employees on the lines east of Pittsburg. Its monthly pay-roll on the eastern lines is over seven million dollars. It has an unrivaled pension system. There are 316 veterans who have served the Pennsylvania Railroad fifty years and over; the United States government has but 41. More than 2000 employees of the road were receiving pensions on January 1, 1909, and the payments authorized to be made to them during the year 1908 amounted to $544,245.08.
The Pennsylvania owns 6000 locomotives, 248,000 freight cars, 5400 passenger cars, and the company’s trains stop at 6000 stations. In regard to efficiency and safety of operation, reports just compiled of all accidents on the 23,000 miles of track show that during 1908 the various lines carried 141,659,543 passengers, and that not a single passenger was killed as a result of an accident to a train.
But my concern with the Pennsylvania Railroad has comparatively little to do with its size and equipment. My interest and story are centred in the fact that it is a personally managed railroad, and that organized labor, or rather, certain of its leaders, have now started a campaign, the avowed object of which is to put an end to this system or method of management. The point to be considered by the public is whether or not their interest will suffer if this movement is successful.
Some time ago a concerted move was made by the four railroad brotherhoods on all lines west of Chicago, and a blanket agreement was executed covering all roads west of that point. That is to say, so far as possible, uniform wages and similar treatment and privileges were desired for the brotherhood men. A similar movement is now on foot east of Chicago; and the great, and practically the only, stumbling-block in its way is the Pennsylvania Railroad. Nearly all the big roads have already given up the fight, and have signed agreements which recognize and accept the principle of dual management with all that follows in its train. It is now, of course, very important for the brotherhoods to get the Pennsylvania system into line.
My attention was first directed to the dissatisfaction of organized labor with the personal policy and management of the Pennsylvania Railroad in December, 1908, by certain head-lines and articles that appeared from time to time in the public prints. The following are some of these head-lines: —
“ Pennsylvania firm to Engineers.”
“ General Manager refuses to recognize the Brotherhood and quits Washington.”
“ Strike averted on Pennsylvania Railroad.”
“ Mediation is effective.”
The inside history of this campaign and of other campaigns of a similar nature that were under way about the same time, with similar objects in view, is very interesting. Of course it was not a very easy matter to collect information and statistics in regard to this inside history. But while the negotiations were being carried on, certain documents in regard to the matter were circulated, the substance of which was communicated to the press. For the rest, my facts and the story that is attached to them were secured by means of personal interviews with some of the principals in the controversy. The nature of the issue, and its relation to the public safety, must be my excuse for making use in the freest manner of every item of information I was able to obtain, regardless of its source. The investigation was thus a personally conducted one in every way, and only the writer is to be considered responsible for the narrative and the opinion attached to it.
On October 26, 1908, Mr. Burgess, the Assistant Grand Chief of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, addressed a communication to Mr. G. L. Peck, General Manager of the Pennsylvania Lines west of Pittsburg, in which he requested an interview for the purpose of considering a bill of requests which the general committee of adjustment had drawn up. Mr. Peck replied, —
“ I beg to advise that it is the fixed policy of this company that all matters relating to wages or working conditions must be first taken up with the Division Superintendents for adjustment, before appeal can be taken to any higher officer. . . . The rights of employees are amply safeguarded by the present rule, which provides that employees, upon failing to adjust their matters with the superintendent, may appeal to the General Superintendent, and finally to the General Manager. We cannot, therefore, consider any such change in our policy as is contemplated in your letter.”
On October 27, Mr. Burgess appealed to the President of the Pennsylvania system, by telegraph, substantially as follows : —
“ Mr. Peck’s attitude forces me to appeal to you, as it is very essential to the interests of your company, as well as the men, that this matter be ad justed at the earliest possible moment. The seriousness of the situation demands your prompt attention.”
The reply from the President of the road was as follows: —
“ Answering your telegram of yesterday, I beg to say that the General Manager is the officer designated by this company for dealing finally with all questions arising between the management and the employees.”
Thereupon negotiations were resumed between Mr. Burgess and the General Manager, and communications were exchanged at intervals until November 19, when matters were brought to a head, and Mr. Peck was informed: “ As you have refused to grant any concession that would lead to the adjudication of the whole matter, the only course open to us was to submit the questions to your engineers in the form of the attached ballot. After polling the system, all ballots have been returned and counted, and we are now in a position to officially inform you that 82 per cent of your engineers have expressed themselves in favor of an issue.”
On November 21, no reply having been received to this notification, Mr. Burgess finally wrote to Mr. Peck: “ It now becomes my imperative duty to inform you that I can wait no longer than twelve o’clock to-day. Failing to hear from you by that time, we will invoke the aid of the Erdman Act.”
On November 24, Messrs. Martin A. Knapp, Chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission, and Charles P. Neill, Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor, were called upon to use their friendly offices in the controversy, under the act of June 1, 1898, commonly known as the Erdman Act; and on December 4, a “ Proposal for Settlement ” was drawn up and finally agreed to and signed by all the interested parties. The temporary nature of this settlement, so far as the desires of the men were concerned, was significantly emphasized when, a few days later, on December 7, 1908, a meeting between the managers and committees was held in Pittsburg at which only such requests as had been presented to the superintendents, and properly appealed, were considered.
But while these negotiations were being carried on between the engineers and the manager, the same issues were being advocated and insisted upon from another quarter.
In the month of October, 1908, the Joint Protective Board of the Firemen convened in the city of Pittsburg. At this meeting a set of ten articles was adopted. A sub-committee was immediately appointed which took up the whole business with Mr. Peck. Eight of the articles which had been prepared related to the equipment of engines, and to the services and duties of the firemen. Articles 9 and 10 were as follows: —
No. 9. “ Any engineman, fireman, or hostler, who considers that an injustice has been done him, shall have the right to present his grievance for adjustment to the proper officer or officers of the company by a committee of his own selection, without said employee first having personally to appeal his case. The right to appeal to the highest official of the company is conceded.”
No. 10. “ The proper officer of the lines west of Pittsburg will enter into a written agreement with the committee of Firemen and Enginemen representing the employees in engine service on those lines, agreeing to adopt and maintain these rules. Printed copies will be placed in the hands of all employees concerned.”
On October 24, Mr. Peck replied to this bill of requests substantially as follows : —
“ We cannot consider any such change in our policy as is contemplated in Articles 9 and 10 of your petition, as these proposed changes are only a step in the direction of eliminating the superintendent completely from the control of his men, and breaking down that discipline upon which the safety of railroad operation depends.
“ The other matters in your petition, while not in the shape of direct requests for increased compensation, nevertheless involve additional expenditures on the part of the company in almost every instance, and under present conditions they cannot be considered.”
Efforts to arrange for consultation and conference between the sub-committees and the management were persisted in through the month of November, and taken up again in January, when the assistance of Mr. W. S. Carter, the President of the Brotherhood, was requested by the committee in convention in Pittsburg.
After considerable ineffectual correspondence, the issue with the firemen was placed before President McCrea, on February 9, in a long communication.
A few days later the firemen on the lines east and west of Pittsburg joined forces, and appealed to President McCrea in similar terms. The answer to both communications referred the committees back to the General Manager for adjustment of all questions arising between the company and its employees. There was one more course open to the committee to take, and that was to appeal to the Board of Mediation at Washington, under the Erdman Act.
Accordingly, an appeal was made to the Board of Mediation, and the result of the correspondence that followed to secure this mediation can best be given in the concluding paragraph of a letter to the board, in which General Manager Atterbury put an end to the negotiations.
“ Responsibility for the maintenance of discipline rests solely upon the railroad company. This responsibility can be neither delegated nor arbitrated. As the issue is so clear and the principle at stake so vital, our management is therefore regretfully constrained to decline arbitration of the only point in question, which I reiterate is that in the interests of good discipline the employees shall not ignore the Division Superintendent by direct appeal to the General Manager.”
Having thus brought the negotiations between the management of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the committees of engineers and firemen to a focus, on March 27, with both sides resting on their oars, with arbitration declined and no settlement in sight, let us again state the issue and go over the ground from the viewpoint of the managers, and from that of organized labor and of the men.
The position and contention of the railroad can best be given in the words of Mr. W. W. Atterbury, who was at the time General Manager of the lines east of Pittsburg.
“ There is no question of wages, hours of employment, or conditions of service, at issue between the company and its men. The men are demanding, however, that when grievances, or demands of a general nature, are to be presented to the management, they shall have the right to go to the General Manager, ignoring the Division Superintendent and the General Superintendent. To agree to such a procedure would be subversive of that discipline upon which the company relies to protect the safety of the lives and property of its patrons. It has been the policy of the Pennsylvania system, in the interest of good discipline, to require that all questions that arise between the company and its employees should first be taken up locally with Division Superintendents. In case employees then desire to appeal from the decision of the superintendent, they have the right to do so. The amicable relations which have always existed between the company and its employees would indicate that under this policy the men have been liberally dealt with.
“ The general relations between the company and its men are most satisfactory. The management prescribes for its employees only such reasonable regulations and procedures as are consistent with its duties to the public, the stockholders, and the employees themselves. While it concedes to employees the right by every proper means to better their condition, the company is morally bound to resist any movement which tends to break down the discipline upon which depends the safety of the traveling public, and the proper performance of its duties as transporters.”
From the side of the representatives of the employees the issue is equally plain and emphatic. Under date of March 17, 1909, it was submitted as a final statement of the employees’ position to the railroad managers, and to the Board of Mediation under the Erdman Act, in the following language, and signed by the President and Vice-President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Engineers, as well as by the Chairman of the Committee of Employees for the Pennsylvania Lines east and west of Pittsburg.
First. “ That all subjects of a general nature governing employees, represented by the regularly constituted committee representing the firemen, that affect the entire system under the jurisdiction of the General Manager, shall be passed upon by the General Manager, without discussing the same with division officials.1
Second. “ All rules and regulations affecting that class of employees represented by the regularly constituted committee of Locomotive Firemen, shall, upon adoption, be signed by the General Manager.”
Third. “ The General Manager, upon request from the general chairman of the Firemen’s Committee, shall render an official interpretation of any of said rules and regulations, which official interpretation, signed by himself, shall be posted on all bulletin boards.”
Fourth. “ That all matters that may be presented to any official shall be answered in writing within fifteen days by the officers with whom the committee discussed such matters.”
Contained in these reports and statements we have a final and peremptory demand for the institution and recognition of a schedule on the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Of course, as everybody is aware, the schedule, and the power at the back of it to-day and when it was first instituted, are widely different concerns. Consequently, and reasonably then, in any investigation or discussion of this controversy, the public should be fully informed as to how the schedule has served its interests on other railroads, for, as we know, the Pennsylvania Railroad and its employees are engaged in a business that vitally concerns half the population of the United States. Naturally the people would like to know what the schedule actually means to them, their safety in travel, and their social and industrial interests. And this question as to the adoption of a schedule on the Pennsylvania, which is now hanging in the balance, brings up a matter which is closely related to it, and which will throw a good deal of light on the subject.
When The Confessions of a Railroad Signalman were published in this magazine, the statements of the author aroused much comment and criticism among the officials of the Pennsylvania system. A comprehensive examination and analysis of some of the charges was undertaken, and 495 replies and explanations were returned by 45 operating officers. With a few qualifications, these replies amounted to a sweeping denial of the allegations, so far as the Pennsylvania system was concerned. At the same time the management of the Pennsylvania system insists that the introduction of the schedule into its policy, as now proposed by some of its employees, would constitute a most emphatic interference with discipline and imperil the safety of the traveling public. This is exactly the condition and state of affairs which has been fully described in The Confessions of a Railroad Signalman. The missing link, then, is to connect the schedule with the evils anticipated by the Pennsylvania management, and thus justify them in their refusal to have anything to do with it, or even to accept arbitration or mediation of any kind in relation to it. I have no authority from the Pennsylvania Railroad to make any attempt to justify their action in any way, and this personal explanation is intended to cover this article from beginning to end.
In taking issue with organized labor in these matters of authority and the schedule, and in advocating the soundness of the Pennsylvania system of management, it will be necessary to start with the rudiments of the topic, and to follow the issue in its development into one of the most important industrial problems which the present generation is called upon to study.
This dilemma of the railroads, which so closely concerns the convenience and safety of the public, is simply a question between personal management and management by trade agreement or schedule. It is not to be supposed, however, that personal management is altogether right and sufficient, or that the schedule in every particular is wrong and should be abolished. The point for the people to understand is that the present combination of these methods, which is now in force on most railroads, is a pact between man and manager, from which the principles of justice and safety are slowly yet surely being eliminated. This is the nature of the pact which the Pennsylvania Railroad is now being called upon to adopt, after generations of successful personal management.
In my demonstration of the actual work and influence of the schedule on American railroads to-day, let me begin with a commonplace illustration of authority in every-day life.
The policeman stands at a crossing on a crowded thoroughfare. He is a striking example of personal management and authority. He must deal firmly and justly with situations as they arise. His uplifted hand represents the law. Practically speaking, there is no appeal from his personal judgment. He is intrusted by the people with this autocratic authority for extraordinary reasons, and on account of dangerous conditions. At all costs, traffic must proceed with regularity and safety. If the public are dissatisfied with his behavior or his decisions, the authority and responsibility of his office are not interfered with; another officer is simply put in his place.
Here we have certain principles in regard to authority followed by satisfactory results. On the railroads there are no such recognized principles, and consequently no such results. For a number of years public opinion has been trying to improve the management of our railroads by placing limitations on its authority, and holding it up to public scrutiny as more or less untrustworthy. In this way authority has been parceled out among national and state commissions and the labor organizations. Improvement is sought in every direction at the expense of authority. As a matter of fact, with even greater complications and dangers to contend with than the policeman on the street-crossing, the superintendent of the railroad should be equally powerful, and he should receive the support of law and public opinion. To-day the superintendent will tell you that you cannot treat railroad men as the policeman handles teamsters and the public. He is unable to do so because his superiors have made bargains and agreements with the labor organizations in which the managers are playing a losing game from start to finish. Superintendents and managers are losing ground in this way.
Whenever a condition or situation arises that is manifestly unjust to employees, or even when an apparently harmless concession is desired, the attention of the manager is called to it. Nowadays managers are obliged to deal fairly with employees. No other policy is now tolerated. Public opinion and armies of men insist upon it. Sooner or later, then, a clause is inserted in the schedule and the wrong is righted. Before long, however, the working of these rules and concessions brings to light unforeseen situations, in which injustice is inflicted on the management or the safety of the public endangered. The manager may protest, but the committee holds him to his signature. If it is in the schedule, he lets it remain there. He thinks his honor is at stake. Sooner than have a row, indignity and injustice are swallowed.
But, in examining the authority of the railroad manager, one naturally looks round for its scope and influence. How, for example, does authority protect the pocket-book of the railroad ? It should, at least, be strong enough to protect the exchequer from injustice, and a sort of extortion, at the hands of the schedule. As a matter of fact, no business establishment on earth but a railroad could or would put up with such a watering of the pay-roll, that is to say, the payment of wages without its equivalent return in work, as the schedule forces upon the American railroad manager. Illustrations are neither few nor far between. They form part of the daily experience and expenditure on nearly all railroads. When business is rushing the pay-rolls are stuffed with curiosities of the following description: —
An engineman completes his run in seven hours. He receives $5.25 for the service. Here we have a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work. The man is then requested to take his locomotive a distance of two miles to a certain point; he does so, and receives another day’s pay and mileage for service performed inside the regular time-limit for one day’s labor. In this way, with the assistance of his schedule, he receives about eleven dollars for eight hours’ work.
Again, a crew reports for duty at six A. M. An emergency arises and the men are despatched with the wreck train to a certain point. The wrecking service is finished in about five hours. For this they receive one day’s pay. Then they return to their regular work and earn another day’s pay, both jobs being completed inside the regular working-day of eleven hours.
Another crew starts from a terminal on a regular freight trip. At a certain point they are ordered back a couple of miles to pick up a car of delayed stock. All hands get an extra half-day for the service. They arrive at their destination in nine hours, with a day and a half to their credit. The following day they cover the same trip, and as business is brisk they consume eleven hours on the road, and receive only one day’s pay for the service.
Once more,— a crew doing a regular day’s work is despatched on some extra service. The engineman gets extra pay, the train-men do not.
From beginning to end, these inconsistencies are the work of the schedule. They are real, not imaginary, incidents. The manager sends a man to the right and pays him four dollars for it. If while en route he turns to the left, it means more money without any reference to time or work. The other day a crew were instructed to pick up a car of stock. They telegraphed for an understanding regarding the extra pay. They were ordered to hurry along with the stock, the consignees were anxiously waiting for it; the pay would be adjusted later. The men refused, went along without the car, and were promptly discharged by the superintendent. But the men knew what they were about. They were acting within their schedule rights, and were reinstated. The interest of shippers and the people in the schedule must be apparent to any one. To whom do this kind of a pay-roll, and the agreement between man and manager, appeal ? Do they contain any indication or vestige of authority, economy of operation, or justice to the people or the employer ? And yet, railroad managers tamely submit to this domination. Public opinion has never shown any inclination to support them in any other course. They uphold the schedule as the only possible working arrangement, and they are powerless to correct its abuses.
But the illustrations relating to the lack of economy of railroad management are of little public interest compared with the effect and influence of the schedule on the efficiency and accident situations. To begin with, the tendency of the method, as we find it in actual operation to-day, is to narrow the sphere of individual responsibility. Under a positive system of personal management the judgment of the superintendent is always hanging over the employee, and his duty then covers every nook and corner of his surroundings. The employee is then just as mindful of the behavior of his companions as he is of his own. He never can tell how the superintendent will interpret his conduct. This element of uncertainty has its uses. It is vitally connected with attention and efficiency. But now, with greater insistence every day, the organization is saying to the manager, through signed rules, regulations, and agreements, “ I must know just how I stand. Interpret this and explain that, and sign everything. I want a safety device at one point, and a responsible switchman at another. In this way, when trouble arises, we will know definitely who is to blame, and the area of responsibility will be contracted as much as possible.”
Of course, these identical words are not to be found in any schedule, but nearly everywhere on railroads you will find the mental attitude which is the product of the theory and teaching of specific responsibility. This idea, I say, is fostered by the schedule. I have now before me a Towerman’s Schedule, which is being prepared for presentation to a manager of a railroad. Article XVI is as follows:
“ Towermen will not be responsible for switches and signals not connected with interlocking plant.”
I will also call attention to what is called a “ standard rule,” in force on nearly all railroads: —
“ Switches must be left in proper position after having been used. Conductors are responsible for the position of the switches used by them and their trainmen, except where switch-tenders are stationed.”
These stipulations on the surface appear to be fair and reasonable, but the mental attitude that is at once induced by these rules is apparent. Practically speaking, my interest in those switches has received a decided setback. General responsibility under unexpected conditions, and in cases of emergency, has been weakened. On the railroad, that no employee should be held responsible for another employee’s behavior is all very well as a general statement, with the superintendent as judge of the circumstances; but at the same time, no rule should be sanctioned that is liable to hold him blameless if he is present and fails to correct another man’s mistake. The public cannot afford to travel under any other understanding or condition. Of course, the degree of responsibility is for the superintendent to decide, and this is just the veto power he is deprived of to a great extent by the schedule.
Let us take these rules and ideas with us out on the road, and see what happens. The other day a switch engine and crew crossed over from the west to an eastbound main line, and failed to throw up the switch after them. They then waited on the east-bound main line nearly half an hour for a west-bound passenger train to go by. This passenger train came along running forty miles an hour, took the open switch, and crashed into the switcher, killing or injuring four or five people. It was a regular switchman’s duty to attend to that switch, but he was at dinner at the time, and not a man connected with the switcher gave the matter a thought. The blame for the accident was placed on the switchman who was not there. It is useless for other managers to exclaim, “ I would have discharged every man on the switcher! ” It would depend altogether on the strength of the organization that called attention to the wording of the rule, and the significance of, “ except where switch-tenders are stationed.”
However this may be, the mental attitude in regard to specific responsibility remains, and the issue and its influence permeate railroad life from one end to the other. In my illustration it is very difficult to account for the seeming apathy of five or six men, under conditions when their own lives were in such obvious peril, unless they were under the spell of a principle or a habit. Untrammeled personal management stands for the widest possible system of general responsibility, with the judgment and opinion of the superintendent hanging over every issue and every situation; and the system is at all times in the best interest of the people who ride or work on the trains. Specific responsibility and its encouragement is to a great extent the work of organized labor, assisted by legislation and public opinion in their efforts to compel the manager to define his position, and, practically speaking, give bonds for his good behavior. Organized labor now proposes to substitute specific for general responsibility on the Pennsylvania Railroad.
But, in its own interest, it is most important that the public should be thoroughly posted on the situation, and therefore illustrations must not be spared. The following is an extract from an article in the May, 1909, issue of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen andEnginemen’s Magazine, under the caption, “Another Judicial Outrage. Brother sentenced to Jail.”
“ On January 27 last, Brother Kennedy, Engineer, and Brother Frank T. Lane, Fireman, as the crew of Engine 584, left Stratford out at 5.30 A. M. hauling a way freight bound for Owen Sound, in charge of Conductor M. Fleming. All went well until leaving Harriston, instead of taking the curve for Owen Sound, for which four blasts of the whistle should be given, they took the straight track for Southampton. They gave four blasts of the whistle to go to the pork factory, the factory being situated on the branch leading to Owen Sound. On coming back for their train, intending to pull right out, they took it for granted2 that the switchman had left the switch open for them, but he had closed it after they had backed over it, so of course they did not notice3 they were taking the wrong track. They pulled up and left immediately, and, as a very severe snow-storm was raging at the time, they failed to notice that they were taking the wrong track and proceeded three miles, meeting Engine 311 pulling the Southampton way freight. The fireman of No. 311, Brother Mortimer Root of Wellington Lodge 181, and a brakeman of the Southampton way freight, were killed, and the engineer injured. At the time of the collision the entire train crew was in the caboose eating dinner.”
They all depended upon the specific behavior and responsibility of the switchman, but under the Canadian law the entire train and engine crew were found guilty by the jury of criminal negligence. Disregarding the fact that the men were found guilty by the jury, the article attacks the judge for his decision and calls the principle of general responsibility in the case an outrage.
But the more we look into it, the more universal and dangerous do these evils of specific responsibility, and the undermining of authority which follow in the train of the schedule, appear.
Some time ago on a western railroad, a freight train started on a trip, with a train of cars thoroughly equipped with safety appliances in good working order. Arriving at a certain point, they picked up six additional cars and then proceeded on their way down a steep mountain grade. Before long, the engineman lost control of his train and finally dashed into a work-train ahead, and ten people were killed in the wreck that ensued. Investigation into the cause of the accident brought to light the facts that the equipment had been complete and in good working order, but that only six cars with air had been in service. Every employee on the train was more or less responsible for failure to hitch up the full equipment which was provided for the purpose, and which the law calls for. It is unnecessary to look into the matter of the discipline imposed in this case, for the principal offender or offenders were killed. I wish, however, to take note of the effect which an accident of such a serious nature has on the public mind, and on the responsible conscience of the community.
In brief, it at once became evident to the people that extraordinary legislation was necessary to compel the railroad to put a stop to accidents of this nature. For one thing, it was plain to those who jumped into the breach that the percentage of cars in any train required by law to be equipped and operated, should at once be increased; that an additional number of railroad inspectors should be hired and located at way stations, and under certain conditions extra brakemen to man the trains should also be insisted upon. This actually represented the answer and influence of public opinion, which was exerted in various ways after its investigation of the accident to which I refer. It signified hundreds of thousands of dollars of added expenditure, without even a glance at the cause of these accidents, or a word of support or encouragement to superintendents and managers in their efforts to secure efficiency and safety of operation by emphasizing the necessity for a strict observance of rules and the proper use of the ample equipment which was already provided.
The following is another illustration of the kind of support the managements of railroads receive when they detect danger, and take measures to protect the public interests as well as their own.
Railroad managers, very naturally, pay particular attention to the handling of trains on heavy grades, and so does the Interstate Commerce Commission. Some time ago several of the railroads protested that the use of these air-brakes alone on heavy grades was a hazardous matter, for, in case of an accident to the air-brakes, with the hand-brakes unmanned, the danger arose of a runaway train, with consequent heavy loss of life and destruction of property. No consideration of expense entered into the question, for the railroads carry as large a complement of men whether both brakes are in service or only one. It was solely a question of safety to the public and the employees. The Commission sent out a great many inspectors to make an investigation, and, in its official report to Congress, had this to say on the subject:
“ The question of the safe handling of trains on heavy grades has been brought to the attention of the Commission, it being contended that a literal interpretation of the law requires that trains shall be handled exclusively by means of airbrakes under all circumstances and conditions of train operations. The object and intent of the law is to save life. If trains cannot be handled on these heavy grades without the use of hand-brakes, it is certainly not the intent of the law that they be controlled by air alone. The Commission has made a very extensive examination of the practice in handling trains on heavy grades in all parts of the country.”
To Washington, immediately following this report, went representatives of trainmen’s unions and protested against the Commission’s construction of the statute. The Railroad Trainman, the official organ of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, commented on the matter as follows: —
“ The Commission has, on previous occasions, taken it upon itself to interpret the safety-appliance law, without regard to all its provisions; and its latest attempt to read into the law something that was never intended to be a part of it, is one of the most outrageous assumptions of authority that have ever been attempted by a Government department in recent years.”
Whereupon the Commission took it all back, and altered the report which was already in the hands of Congress, and substituted an amended clause, which promised to furnish to the public the inspectors’ reports and a reconsideration of the points at issue. The reports, by the way, are not yet forthcoming.
The power behind the scenes in this illustration is the same firm hand curbing and limiting the properly constituted authority which we found at work on the pay-roll, on the schedule, and in various other avenues through which the service and public opinion are influenced.
A word still remains in review and conclusion. From the view-point of the public, perhaps the most important phase of the situation on railroads relates to the settlement of disputes between the management and men. I am sure the people have an idea that their representatives have or should have in the first place, and above all, the interests of the people in mind when they are called upon to arbitrate or to mediate in such controversies. That is to say, the official mediator, in order to be fair to all concerned, should be guided in his deliberations and findings by the merits of the case. It should be understood that the mediator stands for something besides peace at any price.
It must be evident to fair-minded people that, in the midst of disturbances and strikes, the manager or the employees are liable to be unfairly dealt with in the hurry to patch up some kind of a truce. At such times, authority, its function and future status, should not be lost sight of.
For example, the people look to the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Board of Mediators under the Erdman Act to represent their interests in labor disputes. It may be claimed that the law looks upon this mediation merely as the offering of friendly offices. But in fact, after a settlement has been made by means of said “ mediation,” it is reasonable to suppose that the public have the impression that their interests have been zealously taken care of by the chairmen of the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Labor Commission, If not, in whose charge are these interests ?
With the view of finding out just how the board, under the Erdman Act, approached and considered these disputes, the writer asked Chairman Knapp for a statement of his views on the subject. He replied, “ We have little or nothing to do with the merits of a case; our business and function is to keep the traffic moving.”
Bearing in mind the fact that disputes, even on railroads, are never settled until they are settled on their merits, and looking into the future, the interest of the people in these so-called settlements will surely bear watching. Disputes temporarily arranged in this way are simply transferred to legislative bodies throughout the different states; and in their assemblies, just at present, the manager and his authority can hardly be said to be in the hands of their friends.
In the next place, and face to face with these very conditions, it is to be noted that the Pennsylvania Railroad is now confronted with a problem which is certain, when business permits, to agitate the railroad and industrial world to its centre. In this, as in all other controversies, public opinion must always be the court of final resort. The reader of the correspondence and evidence in this article wall not need to be informed that the Pennsylvania Railroad has put down its foot with unmistakable emphasis, and proposes to stick to its own idea of the function of authority, and the meaning of its responsibility to the public.
In opposition to this stand of the manager, the advocates of the schedule call attention to their rights and their wrongs, and propose to encroach on the domain of the management for the purpose of adjusting their grievances. My endeavor in this article has been to demonstrate, not that a schedule in all industries is a mistake, but that on the railroads, as it works to-day, and as it is calculated to fulfill its mission in the future, it is a dangerous encroachment on the prerogative of the manager. I have tried to make evident how, and along what lines, the public is called upon to suffer for all encroachments of this nature.
The point for all to understand is that, while fair and reasonable methods of management should be insisted upon, the reform of the department should not be attempted at the expense of its authority. The United States Supreme Court has recently said, “ In no proper sense is the public a general manager.” This surely applies with equal force to any combination or union of employees. In combatting the entrance of the schedule into the constitution of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and in refusing to permit the grand chiefs of the Brotherhoods to define the policy of the railroad and to share in its administration by making changes in the duties and functions of the superintendents, the management is doing the public a great service. As it appears to me, the management proposes to head off the first appearance of a hydra-headed movement, the manifest purpose of which is to divide the headquarters of attention and authority between the committee rooms of the brotherhoods and the superintendent’s office.
Nevertheless, it is also true that the Pennsylvania Railroad has always granted to its men every freedom to organize into unions and to utilize every legitimate opportunity to better their condition. Labor leaders, who are employees, are given leave of absence whenever requested, to attend to organization duties. The men are granted passes freely; and even when it is known that a strike ballot is being taken, the privileges of the men and the labor leaders are not curtailed in the slightest degree. I have been assured by those in authority on the Pennsylvania Railroad, not only that the organization of the employees into unions is looked upon as right and necessary, but that the men are also perfectly justified in electing the fittest and strongest men as leaders. But a different question is presented when a professional leader, who is not an employee, enters the situation to gather glory for an organization as such, without regard to loyalty to, or sympathy with, the ideas and policy of the management.
No treatise on Labor and Authority on the Railroad would be complete without a glance at this professional troublemaker. He is now a recognized quantity on nearly all systems. I do not care to say that trouble-makers of this description are at the bottom of the present controversy between the firemen and enginemen and the Pennsylvania management, because I have no information on the subject; but it is to be noticed that the management in many circulars and public notices has been continually emphasizing the well-known and long-established loyalty of all classes of its employees, and the entirely satisfactory results that have been obtained by means of their neverfailing coöperation and faithful services.
But this kind of voluntary and coöperative relationship is an abomination to the salaried trouble-maker. When all is well there is nothing doing in his department, and his clients are liable to ask him, “ What are you there for ? ” Under his soulless supervision, the best intentions of both employees and managers are turned awry. No management is safe from this disturbing influence.
Some six or seven years ago, the Burlington officials gave careful consideration to the problem of increasing the company’s business. Increase of business on a railroad doesn’t just happen; it has to be thought out and worked out by the managers. So the Burlington road finally decided that the most promising opening was to try and develop a coal movement from Southern Illinois to the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and the northwest generally, where the winters are severe and fuel-supply limited. It was found that if it was to be sold by the dealer at asufficient profit, in competition with eastern coal, the railroad would have to carry it 648 miles for not more than $2.10 per ton. It was impossible to do this at a profit to the railroad on a road full of heavy grades. So $5,000,000 was expended in putting the road in shape. New engines and high capacity cars for the coal trade were purchased, and a business was created which, in full trains, paid a fair profit. Of course a small army of employees was put to work in handling this traffic.
But no sooner was the business on some kind of a paying basis than some one discovered that if you could compel the railroad to haul shorter trains, it would mean the employment of more help. So legislation was immediately introduced to secure this result. The men who are supposed to have the interest of the employee at heart are at the bottom of this suicidal legislation. In describing his efforts in building up the coal business, to a meeting of the Burlington employees some time ago, Vice-President Willard summed up the situation in these words: “ With the mere possibility of such legislation looming up in the future, can you expect improvements like this to continue ? Would you recommend them if in my place ? ”
Such antagonistic legislation will continue to paralyze management just as long as employees allow certain of their leaders to raise false issues and misrepresent the real interests of the worker and the community.
Brought to a standstill over and over again, and his calculations upset by legislation of this nature, the manager has no alternative, He proceeds to make the public pay for it. Hitherto these unforeseen and only too often unnecessary expenditures have been met by economies secured by continually working on the principle that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points. But on most railroads this mainstay has been worked to the limit. When your hill has been leveled, economy is at an end in that direction; and so with your curves, you cannot keep after them after they are straight. So the manager falls back on contemplated improvements. New stations, betterments, conveniences, facilities of various kinds go by the board. Any manager can give a host of particulars of this description. It is now for the public to do a little thinking on the subject.
Of course, it is not to be supposed that the Pennsylvania Railroad is entirely free from the spirit, and perhaps from some of the conditions, which I have described; but the energy with which the management is now opposing any change in their long-established policy will at least have the effect of calling public attention to the principles at stake, and will certainly tend to modify and discourage some of the extravagances of misguided labor movements on all railroads.