Wage Stabilization and the Daily Newspaper Commission in World War II
When the National War Labor Board, an arm of the National Labor Relations
Board, was created in 1942, its mission was to be an impartial arbiter of
disputes between management and labor during World War II. This mission was
altered soon after its inception when the War Labor Board was given the
additional responsibility of enforcing a nationwide wage freeze. Under what
was called the "Little Steel Formula," a decision that had been ruled on by the
NWLB in July of that year, "wage increases were not to exceed 15 percent of
rates in effect on January 1, 1941." This became known as the "15 percent rule."
Most union workers had received large salary increases in the spring of 1941, so
the intent of this ruling meant that few wage hikes would be given for the
duration of the war.
The decision did not dissuade workers from trying to get raises, however, just
at the United States Government's no-strike policy during the war did not
prevent strikes from occurring. All industries were affected by wage
stabilization rules; those that were considered to be "essential" industries had
specific commissions which ruled on labor disputes.
Newspapers had their share of difficulties over wages during wartime, and the
Daily Newspaper Printing and Publishing Commission was established in February
1943 (operating first as a panel acting upon some cases and referring others to
the Sixth Regional War Labor Board and amended to full Commission status with
broader powers in February 1944) to arbitrate disputes within the industry.
This Newspaper Commission joined several others established to arbitrate wage
allocation in other key industries. These included shipping, meat packing,
lumber, telephone, tool and die, construction and trucking. The formation of a
specific commission to arbitrate newspaper wage disputes recognized the daily
newspaper industry as an "essential" industry in time of war.
The purpose of this paper is to examine the role of the Newspaper Commission
and its activities during this time of national emergency and to place them in
context following the formation of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 and
preceding the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. It is important to note here that the
NLRB Act was an attempt to equalize bargaining positions between labor and
management by encouraging collective bargaining and protecting the right of
workers to organize.
Need for a separate commission
In justifying the establishment of a separate commission for newspapers,
Commission Chairman Frederick S. Deibler wrote:
The industry was not engaged in war production in the sense of an ammunition
plant, yet it was declared to be an essential industry. It was specifically
exempt from the 48 hour provisions that were applied to war industries
generally. In addition,the industry was free from any form of price control,
either of the price of papers or of the advertising rates, the two sources of
revenue in the industry. Aside from the general manpower shortage, the chief
war-time problem of the industry was the shortage and rationing of
Newspapers were identified as differing from the general manufacturing
industries in two important ways: 1) producing a highly perishable product in
which everyone involved in its production had to meet strict deadlines and 2) a
lack of competition within the industry except on the local level in the
instances where there were two or more papers produced in the same city.
Noting that the "competitive factors normally found among manufacturing plants
whose products are sold on a competitive market behave differently in this
industry," the Commission concluded that "Many of the wage problems were
peculiar to the industry." Because of this different nature of the newspaper
industry, it was deemed more suitable to have one central commission to deal
with newspaper labor problems, rather than adhering to the regional format of
the commissions that dealt with other essential industries. In forming the
Commission, attention was paid to the long years of collective bargaining
between the various mechanical units and the publishers, the record of published
wage scales, the procedures already negotiated for resolving differences and the
feeling that sensitivity to historical precedents would be better observed by
one central body rather than the twelve regional wage boards in place across the
country. The Commission was set up in response to a joint request by the
American Newspaper Publishers Association along with several newspaper unions,
including the International Typographical Union, the International Printing
Pressmen, the International Photo-Engravers Union and the International
Stereotypers and Electrotypers' Union of North America. Following an initial
90-day experimental Panel, the Commission was established and was comprised of a
pool of 37 labor representatives, 39 industry representatives and 4 public
members. Of these, approximately two-thirds actually served on a hearing board
for one or more cases.
Concerns about division of labor
Perhaps the most unusual factor concerning wages at daily newspapers had to do
with the division of labor. The Commission saw it divided into two distinct
areas. On one side were the mechanical craftsmen involving the trades of
typography, stereotyping, photoengraving, press operation, mailers, and paper
handlers. On the other side were the editorial and business workers, consisting
of editors, reporters, accountants, salespeople, secretaries, circulation
workers, and maintenance staff.
The two highest costs for a newspaper were for newsprint and wages. Yet two
papers with the same number of staff members and the same number of pages each
day might have dramatically different circulations, which would affect newsprint
Each of the craftspeople was represented by a specific union. For example, the
composition department workers were represented by the International
Typographer's Union. Union representation was new, less well defined, and less
consistent for the editorial and business side of the industry. The American
Newspaper Guild, begun in 1933, covered approximately 18,000 to 20,000 daily
newspaper employees. On some newspapers, the ANG would bargain only for the
editorial department, while on other papers the Guild would also include
advertising, circulation, and maintenance employees. Because of the
complexity of the daily newspaper operation, there could be as many as
seven to ten labor groups involved in any dispute.
These two broad divisions of labor had their own wage structures as well. Union
wage scales were fairly uniform for mechanical workers at the estimated 1,800
daily newspapers in the country at the time. Within a given city, workers at
various papers received roughly the same amount of pay for their position. For
the editorial and business departments, there was a contract minimum hiring rate
and an actual rate for those with seniority. Individual bargaining was
permissible within the editorial ranks, and depending on the size of the paper,
pay rates for reporters, even in the same city, ranged from $25 a week to above
$300 per week. The Commission determined that for this group it "could not
stabilize actual rates. These differences had been of long standing and
represented an estimate of the relative worth of different reporters." In
short, now only did a variance in scales exist between the two main
classifications of newspapers workers, but there was a major pay disparity on
the editorial side.
Further complicating matters, some craft workers were being paid on a piece
rate system as late as January 1941, the reference point for the 15 percent
rule. Whenever the craftspeople who had been paid on a piece rate system in 1941
requested a wage adjustment from the Newspaper Commission after 1943, the
formula became problematic. When adjustments were made, some workers within the
same plants could have been paid at radically different rates. The Commission
chose to exclude the earnings of piece workers in calculating the 1941 basic
wage. With a few exceptions, maladjustments among craft workers were dealt with
using the scale rate in effect on January 1, 1941. As mentioned above,
editorial and business workers were not paid a uniform scale rate. For wage
adjustments in this group, "the straight time hourly average as of January 1,
1941, would be used as the basis for calculating the maladjustment allowance in
any particular case."
And although the formation of the Commission was agreed
upon by both the publishers organization (ANPA) and the key union organizations
present in daily newspapers, the relationship between management and unions was
complicated by the inherent belief of management that unions should not
interfere with the business function of the newspapers. According to management,
the role of keeping the individual newspaper businesses viable belonged entirely
to the management side.
An important pre-War Supreme Court decision
A key consideration was a decision made by the National Labor Relations Board
in 1936 and upheld in 1937 by the U.S. Supreme Court. This case involved the
formation of the Associated Press unit of the New York Newspaper Guild and the
subsequent discharge of Morris Watson, organizer and first chairman of the unit.
The Associated Press claimed that the interstate nature of its work in foreign
and domestic news flow meant that the cessation of work would "seriously impede
if not prevent the issuance of newspapers in all parts of the country." At issue
were the appropriateness of the Associated Press Unit as a local collective
bargaining unit and the claim of Morris Watson that he had been discharged
because of his organizing conduct. The NLRB found that the New York Associated
Press Unit met the conditions for becoming a collective bargaining unit and
issued a cease and desist order regarding discouraging membership in any labor
organization by its employees. It also ordered the reinstatement of Watson,
judging that he had, indeed, been dismissed because of union activity and not
because of failure to discharge his duties in a satisfactory manner. The
Associated Press appeal of this ruling ultimately reached the Supreme Court
which upheld the NLRB ruling. However, the Court also specifically upheld the
right of the AP to discharge any employee who failed to comply with its
policies, but not for discharge because of union activities. The Supreme Court
ruling in this case further stated: "The business of the Associated Press is not
immune from regulation because it is an agency of the press. The publisher of a
newspaper has no special immunity from the application of general laws. He has
no special privilege to invade the rights and liberties of others."
It was within this balance of the industry as an essential business, the often
conflicting convictions of both management and unions of their respective roles
in the industry, the wage and labor complexities inherent in the daily newspaper
industry, the history of collective bargaining by the mechanical unions and the
climate of the Associated Press decision that the NWLB Daily Newspaper
Commission began its wartime work.
The work of the Commission
Much of the work of the Daily Newspaper Commission was relatively routine,
involving voluntary wage adjustments that fell under the "Little Steel Formula"
and so were easily decided. However the Commission (and before full status, the
Panel) also settled disputes between publishers and unions and between unions
themselves. The Commission functioned as a board of arbitration; its rulings
could be appealed to the NWLB itself. Three cases are of particular interest as
are a resolution pertaining to the International Typographers Union (ITU) and a
procedure for dealing with an entire group of cases brought by the Newspaper
Guild on behalf of 21 individual newspapers.
The first case is that of the New York Herald Tribune and the Newspaper Guild
of New York. Heard in March, 1943, the issue concerned a wage increase
arbitrated by the Commission. The case was one in which classifications of job
descriptions and wage minimums were set. In this case, the New York Herald
Tribune protested the wage awards given and brought the matter forward again
claiming that the wage adjustments were "incompatible with the national economic
The full National War Labor Board agreed to hear the complaint only on the
issue of a possible unstabilizing effect in terms of a general wage increase. In
re-examining the case, the NWLB found a situation where the majority of the
employees in question had been working for the company as of January 1, 1941 and
that 118 of 248 employees had received an average pay increase of 21 1/2 percent
while the remainder had received no increases at all. In making a wage
adjustment, the arbitrators had mandated an increase to the remaining 130
employees which averaged more than 18 percent. The maladjustment figure in
excess of the Little Steel Formula of an allowable 15 percent was the crux of
the management complaint. The NWLB found that the arbitrators had taken the
company practice of individual rather than general wage increases into account
and further, had put the excess wage adjustment into the category of merit
raises. The NWLB took into consideration that a shortage of manpower might have
led to additional responsibilities and found this to be acceptable. Thus it
upheld the wage award by the Commission and found against the New York Herald
A second case of particular interest is that of the Printers League Section of
the New York Employing Printers Association and the New York Typographical
Union. The issue in this case was a contested minimum wage rate for compositors
which had been granted in response to a wage contract request of the 15 percent
allowable under "Little Steel." The Board referee had recommended an eight
percent raise, a number the unions contested. In reviewing this case, the Board
considered the relatively high amount of the wages, but stated that that alone
would not be enough to disallow the full 15 percent requested. However, it noted
that there were precedents for granting less than the 15 percent and that these
were based upon the unstabilizing effect that increasing already high wages
considering the wage standard within the geographical area. The Review Board
recognized the compositors as a collective bargaining unit. It noted, however,
that to give the full 15 percent would place the New York compositors well above
the national average. The majority of the Review Board aligned with the initial
Board of Arbitration in giving less than the full 15 percent wage increase.
There was, however, a dissenting opinion by the labor members of the Review
Board which stated that the level of wages should not matter and that,
considering costs of living and obligations of the member, the full award should
have been given.
A third case, that of the Harrisburg Patriot and the Harrisburg Newspaper
Guild, raised the matter of maintenance of membership in a collective bargaining
unit. The company's claim that doing so would abridge freedom of the press is
the issue that came before the Review Board for consideration. The maintenance
of membership clause had been developed by the War Labor Board. Simply stated,
it allowed any employee a 15-day period after employment in which to decide
whether or not to join in a collective bargaining unit. If the employee joined,
membership had to be maintained during the contract period. Before each
contract, the employee was once again given an option. Should the employee
resign from the union during the contract period, resignation from the job
itself was mandatory. The Patriot claimed that it could lose valuable people and
that press coverage could be impeded by the continuance of this clause. Citing
the Associated Press case of 1937, the majority decision was that the
maintenance of membership clause did not interfere with freedom of speech. The
case was remanded to the Newspaper Commmission which wrote a concurring opinion
by the labor and public members and a dissenting opinion by industry members who
claimed that the editorial employees in question "cannot not help but feel
certain restraint in his writing, if he must maintain good relations with the
union or lose his job."
A special resolution was adopted to deal with the 1945 refusal of the
International Typographical Union to bargain and its claim that members its
assertion that its laws allowed it to walk out of arbitration proceedings with
three Birmingham, AL newspapers. Further, the ITU claimed that it would not work
except under terms and conditions it found satisfactory in terms of both pay and
In its special resolution, the National War Labor Review Board found that the
ITU had "challenged the authority of the United States in time of war.... It
persists in this policy despite the fact that newspapers are a vital and
indispensable part of our wartime economy." The Board ordered immediate
resumption of publication. More than 20 ITU cases were given to the Commission
in the first half of 1945; however, in July the Board ordered the Commission to
stop processing ITU cases (as a means of putting pressure on the unions). The
ITU, however, won many demands due in part to its continued strike calls and in
part to the end of the War itself.
Finally, in 1945, the Commission considered a request by the Guild to
consolidate all pending wage disputes at 17 newspapers into one case and the
three wire services cases into another and to request the National Labor
Relations Board to hear both consolidated cases. The Board, however, requested
that the Newspaper Commission look at them and refer these cases for further
collective bargaining and, at its discretion, decide whether to consolidate any
or all of the cases or to refuse to do so.
The Commission operated for a period of 32 months and handled nearly 7000
voluntary and 243 disputed cases. Sixty-two strikes occurred during this
period; forty-eight of them brought by the ITU. Between ten and fifteen of these
were brought to the Commission. The dictates of the National War Labor Board
stated that no hearings could take place during actual strikes; cases where
there was no strike resolution following arbitration were brought before the
Disputes Division. Given limited authority and lacking a compliance division,
much of what was accomplished was through cooperation of the publishers and
The Commission was dissolved at the end of 1945. Although the work of the
National War Labor Board and the Commission was "singled out as a positive
factor in American wage structure" and although the efforts were cited for
bringing inefficiencies to light, much of the compliance and agreement by labor
was, in retrospect, an artifact of war conditions. Problems, old and new,
emerged in the post-war period. A wave of strikes hit the country in the
immediate post-war years. The scope of union power was largely untested and
unresolved. This, then, was the background and climate awaiting management and
labor in the period of time just prior to the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 and the
subsequent rise of membership in unions associated with the newspaper industry
that peaked in the 1950s. Further research should focus on the relationship
between unions and newspapers in this immediate post-war period.
 Foster Rhea Dulles, Labor In America: A History, 2d revised ed., (New York:
Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1960), 108; Public Law 729, 2 October 1942.
 Frederick S. Deibler, "The Daily Newspaper Printing and Publishing
Commission," The Termination Report of the National War Labor Board: Industrial
Disputes and Wage Stabilization in Wartime, vol. I, (Washington: U.S.G.P.O.,
 "The Labor-Management Relations Act of 1947," Illinois Law Review 42
(September-October 1947): 445.
 Ibid., 1194.
 Ibid., 1180.
 Ibid., 1196.
 Ibid., 1194.
 Ibid., 1182-3.
 Ibid., 1183-4.
 Ibid., 1187
 Ibid., 1185.
 Ibid., 1186.
 Constance Williams, "Note on Management Prerogatives," The Termination
Report of the National War Labor Board: Industrial Disputes and Wage
Stabilization in Wartime, vol. II, (Washington: U.S.G.P.O., 1945), 623.
 301 U.S. 103, 81 L. Ed. 953, 57 S. Ct. 650.
 "In the Matter of New York Herald Tribune, New York, New York and
Newspaper Guild of New York," 10 March 1943, Case no. 591, Termination Report,
vol. III., (Washington: U.S.G.P.O., 1945), 789.
 "In the Matter of the Patriot Company and Harrisburg Newspaper Guild,
Local No. 16, CIO," 9 March 1945, Case no. 111-927-D, Termination Report, vol.
III, (Washington: U.S.G.P.O., 1945), 806-7.
 Ibid., 809.
 Deibler, 1192.
 Sar A. Levitan, Ingrade Wage-Rate Progression in War and Peace: A Problem
in Wage Administration Techniques (Plattsburg, N.Y.: Clinton Press, 1950), 99.
 Elizabeth A. Fones-Wolf, Selling Free Enterprise: The Business Assault on
Labor and Liberalism 1945-60 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 2.