The Featherbedding Files, Entry 13

From American Speech, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Dec., 1947), 303-04.

Thomas Kirby, “FEATHERBEDDING”

A rather striking semantic development is the recent occurrence of the term featherbedding to describe the slow-down tactics of our contemporary labor unions. A good example of its use as both gerund and participle is to be found in the statement of C. E. Wilson, president of General Motors, presented to the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, February 5, 1947 (Section 8, ‘Featherbedding.’)

Wilson’s comments were also circulated as a pamphlet entitled Legislation for Labor Peace and distributed by the General Motors Corporation. In the following quotation, italics are mine:

If technological improvements are to produce the greatest good for the greatest number, the benefits of such improve-ments must be broadly distributed to all of us as customers. The advantages of technological improvements can be dissipated by artificial restnction of output below normal working capacity. Featherbedding must be discouraged and must not be protected by law. Recent demands for portal-to-portal pay throughout industry really put featherbedding on a mass production basis. In this particular case, the usual demands for ‘more money for less work’ reached an all-time high of ‘more money for no work at all.’ Featherbedding partly comes from the false philosophy of ‘made work’ during the depression years and is more prevalent in the activities of craft unions than it is in the activities of vertical shop unions…. All of our labor laws should be carefully drawn so that they do not protect unions which foster this unsound featherbedding practice.

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