Franklin Roosevelt on Collective Bargaining for Public Employees

Franklin D. Roosevelt, New York Governor, with Al Smith, 1930

FDR was a radically progressive president.  Yet, he bore a sense not thoroughly distorted, for what has afforded the American blessing of government of, by, and for the People.  His convictions stand with Scott Walker, against collective bargaining in public employment, for its undue influence in our republic.

In an August 16th, 1937 letter, to Luther Steward, president of the National Federation of Public Employees, Roosevelt wrote this on the very matter (emphasis ours).

The desire of Government employees for fair and adequate pay, reasonable hours of work, safe and suitable working conditions, development of opportunities for advancement, facilities for fair and impartial consideration and review of grievances, and other objectives of a proper employee relations policy, is basically no different from that of employees in private industry. Organization on their part to present their views on such matters is both natural and logical, but meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government.

All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.

Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable. It is, therefore, with a feeling of gratification that I have noted in the constitution of the National Federation of Federal Employees the provision that “under no circumstances shall this Federation engage in or support strikes against the United States Government.”

The politics of power, patronage and their various methods of extortion should not be mixed with public employment, despite what the likes of Saul Alinsky and his disciples, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, say.

The entire letter:

h/t: Quinn Hillyer in The Wasthington Times and Publius in Big Government.


  1. Roosevelt NEVER signed the letter from Roosevelt to Steward.

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