President Eisenhower’s Secretary of Labor James Mitchell (1953–1961) had extensive experience in collective bargaining and labor relations. Early in WW II, Mitchell headed the labor relations division of the Army Construction Program, later he served as director of industrial personnel for the War Department, in charge of one million men. After World War II, he returned to the private sector as director for labor relations at Bloomingdale Brothers Stores. With that level of experience prior to becoming Labor Secretary, he had strong interest in labor-management disputes even though that was the responsibility of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS). But Mitchell apparently viewed FMCS as one of the divisions under his control.
FMCS Director Whitney McCoy (1953-54) viewed FMCS as an independent agency, and himself as a Presidential appointee assigned to lead FMCS. But appearances seemed to run counter to that independence. In the Department of Labor Building, McCoy’s office on Mahogany Row was next to Mitchell’s office and among offices of several Assistant Secretaries of Labor. The location of McCoy’s office resulted from the 1947 take-over of the United States Conciliation Service (USCS) offices when the USCS was replaced by the creation of FMCS.
Secretary Mitchell insisted on getting regular updates on collective bargaining disputes, particularly major negotiations. McCoy was comfortable with providing weekly written negotiations reports, much like what he might provide to news papers. But Mitchell wanted an oral report at any moment he had an interest. To that end, the Secretary ordered workmen to make a doorway between his office and the Director’s office. (Another version of this story about ‘the door between’ can be found on my post “Return Mediation Role FMCS TO DoL.”)
The Secretary also insisted that McCoy attend the Secretary’s staff meeting with his Assistant Secretaries. At which, McCoy was expected to brief everyone on FMCS and current labor negotiations.
McCoy, a law school professor, an arbitrator and author of a 1946 text on arbitration, (see above) did not hide his displeasure. When the disagreement reached the White House, Mitchell’s stronger connection there resulted in a request for McCoy’s resignation after one year and four months on the job.
Joseph Finnegan became the next FMCS Director. Since Finnegan had been Mitchell’s labor lawyer when they both were in the private sector, their relationship matched what Mitchell expected. Finnegan served five years and nine months, ending with the inauguration of John F. Kennedy.