Virgil B. Day papers1904-2000 Majority of material found within 1947-1973
- Majority of material found within 1947-1973
- Day, Virgil B. (Person)
8.5 Linear Feet
Born in Montgomery, Alabama in 1915, Day graduated with honors from Northwestern University in 1936, and from Northwestern University Law School in 1939. He was admitted to the New York State bar in 1940 and practiced law in New York City until 1947 except for four years of military service during World War II. In 1947, he was hired at General Electric as legal counsel to the Employee Relations Division in New York. That same year, Day married Eugenia Claire Brunson (1924-2007) and the couple would have two sons: John Baldwin Day and Peter Fairfield Day.
At General Electric, Day initially reported to the Head of Employee and Plant Community Relations, Lemuel Boulware (1895-1990). Boulware had recently established at the company a new employee and community relations program centered on communication and education. Industry and labor leaders named the program “Boulwarism” since the philosophy underpinning the approach was viewed as Boulware’s own invention. Boulware believed that labor unions had grown too powerful and monopolized the flow of information to workers. He believed that company leadership needed to engage year-round in more direct communication with their workforces rather than funneling information through labor unions during contract negotiations. Boulware was certain that through direct and consistent communication with the workforce, the company would better understand what employees wanted most from their jobs, and the company could better educate employees on what was financially feasible given the economic conditions of the marketplace. Ideally, this exchange of information would inform the creation of a worker compensation package that incorporated what employees wanted most while also considering the “balanced best interests” of the company, its customers, its shareholders, and the general community. Boulware believed that if the balanced best interests of all parties were understood, employees would better appreciate the compensation that the company offered. In addition, employees would understand why the company could not meet some compensation requests. The ultimate goal was labor peace based on mutual understanding, a fair offer from the company, and an end to acrimonious haggling in which both sides emerged feeling hurt and unappreciated.
Day was critical to the success of Boulwarism. He was heavily involved in the strategies used to communicate the company’s “balanced best interests” message. Day also at times was the company’s lead negotiator in contract discussions with labor unions. As a negotiator, Day had to uphold one of Boulwarism’s most controversial tactics: the “fair but firm” offer. According to the company, their direct communication with employees enabled the company to make an initial offer that fairly incorporated the employees’ most desired needs while also considering the needs of all other stakeholders. Therefore, the company’s first offer was a “fair but firm offer” only to be reconsidered if union leaders presented information that the company had not already considered. Union leaders bristled against this approach to contract negotiations, and they charged that Boulwarism amounted to a “take-it-or-leave-it” offer that was an affront to the collective bargaining process. Many union officials challenged “Boulwarism” on both legal and ethical grounds.
Boulwarism was successful when the company’s communication efforts were able to secure its workforce’s goodwill. The International Union of Electrical Workers’ brief strike in 1960 was an example of Boulwarism at its best. After only two weeks of picketing, the workers accepted the company’s “fair but firm” offer and returned to work. However, as the 1960’s wore on, Boulwarism was labeled paternalistic and faced legal challenges that threatened to limit the employer-employee communication that was so important to Boulwarism’s success. Day was often at the forefront of General Electric’s attempts to counter the attacks on the company's negotiating practices. During the 1960’s, Day spoke out against National Labor Relations Board decisions and other federal legislation that weakened General Electric’s position at the bargaining table.
By 1961, Day had held several positions within the General Electric Company, each with increasing responsibility. In 1949, Day was appointed Assistant Manager of the Employee Relations Division in New York City. In May of 1952 he was promoted to Manager of Employee and Plant Community Relations for the Television Receiver Department in Syracuse. After a year in Syracuse, Day returned to New York City headquarters to become Manager of Union Relations Service. In 1959, his title changed to Manager of Public Affairs Service, and in 1961 the board elected him Vice President of Management Development and Employee Relations Services.
General Electric was one of the most powerful companies in the United States during this time, and as Day’s prominence within the company increased, he received appointments outside of the company to various boards and committees focused on labor relations. For example, he was a member of the Construction Users Anti-Inflation Roundtable (CUAIR) that formed to address rising building and labor costs in the construction industry. He also was a member of the Labor Law Study Committee (LLSC), a group largely composed of labor relations executives who lobbied Congress for labor law reform. When CUAIR and LLSC merged with the March Group, an organization of chief executive officers intent on improving industry’s public image and political pull, the Business Roundtable was formed. The Business Roundtable unified the efforts of the three groups, and Day served as chairperson of the Construction Committee in 1972.
Day’s most public service came in 1971 when president Richard Nixon appointed Day to serve as a representative of industry on Nixon’s federal Pay Board, a group created as part of the Economic Stabilization Act of 1970. The U.S. economy was struggling with uncontrolled inflation, and a vicious cycle of price hikes and wage increases was believed to be a contributing factor. The Pay Board was tasked with reviewing all newly approved labor agreements and had the authority to nullify contracts containing wage increases that the board deemed inflationary. The board’s initial composition included five members representing industry, five representing labor, and five representing the public interest. However, when the five labor members resigned following disagreements over several key issues, Nixon asked for the five industry members – including Day – to resign, so he could reconfigure the board exclusively with public members.
Day retired from General Electric in 1973 and returned to private law practice. In 1974, he opened the New York office of Vedder, Price, Kaufman, Kammholz, and Day. He also was elected to the board of the Apache Corporation, an oil drilling company, and served as a director until 1998. Throughout his career, Day was an in-demand lecturer. Day spoke to civic groups, trade organizations, and business leaders across the nation on labor issues such as collective bargaining, equal opportunity employment, personnel management, and wage stabilization. Day often provided a counter point-of-view to the leading labor union spokespeople particularly when discussing problems in collective bargaining, worker strikes, and federal legislation aimed at mediating labor strife. Day also spoke extensively about the problems facing the U.S. economy. In his lectures, he predicted changes in the American economy due to increased foreign competition in manufacturing. He believed that American wages in the production sectors were making American companies less competitive in the emerging global marketplace of the 1950’s and 1960’s. He saw automation as key to the survival of American manufacturing, and he believed that the American workforce would require retraining as automation became more prominent in U.S. factories. He also expected that personnel leaders would be forced to re-evaluate how they managed their workforces. Day regularly cited changes in the social values of Americans, and he believed that management would need to adapt to a society that increasingly emphasized the individual. Day also recognized that businesses had long neglected women and racial minorities, and he supported equal opportunity employment efforts to diversify the workforce. Day believed that industry had a responsibility to help assuage the social unrest of the 1960’s and 1970’s, and he encouraged industry leaders to be better citizens in their host communities.
Day’s work in labor relations garnered him several awards. For example, in 1972 the Edward Corsi Labor-Management Relations Institute awarded Day with its Labor-Management Relations Award. Day also received the Gold Key Award in 1984 from the Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC), an organization that helped underemployed, unemployed, and other disadvantaged people learn new skills for future employment and self-sufficiency. Day was particularly fond of the OIC and its founder Reverend Leon Sullivan. Day served on OIC’s National Industrial Advisory Council and supported numerous OIC efforts.
By the 1990’s, Day was well into his retirement years. He made attempts to secure the legacy of Lemuel Boulware and “Boulwarism” by commissioning a book on his late mentor, but Day’s efforts were never fully realized. However, Day did find a permanent home for Boulware’s papers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center.
Virgil Day passed away on July 11th, 2003 in Chappaqua, New York.
Scope and Content
The collection’s main focus is labor relations, especially during the era of “Boulwarism” at the General Electric Company. Many of Day’s General Electric papers such as his summary reports and meeting notes document Day’s negotiations with the various labor unions at General Electric. In addition, Day gave numerous speeches that discussed industry’s problems with collective bargaining and General Electric’s progress in labor negotiations during most of the “Boulwarism” era. A small collection of Lemuel Boulware’s papers further explore “Boulwarism” at General Electric.
Day’s General Electric papers and numerous speeches are also deeply concerned with labor law reform and the theory of wage-push inflation. Coupled with the papers Day accumulated during his work on the Pay Board, CUAIR, and the Business Roundtable, the documents offer insight into how industry leaders approached challenges such as runaway inflation and the growing political power of organized labor unions during the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Day’s speeches on equal opportunity employment – particularly the employment of African-American people – highlight the employment disparities in the United States during the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s. Researchers investigating discrimination in employment and industry’s attempts to remedy racial disparities in employment may find informative Day’s speeches on the demand for equal opportunity employment programs and General Electric’s efforts to implement such programs.
Finally, materials in Day’s General Electric papers such as the course materials he accumulated at Crotonville—General Electric’s management training site—provide insight into the philosophy and training of General Electric’s managers in the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s. Day’s speeches also explore business management topics. Day frequently discusses a growing trend toward a more socially responsible management style that respects the individual needs of employees as well as the surrounding community. Day’s championing of a more socially responsible business enterprise represents the beginnings of a corporate social responsibility movement that would continue into the twentyfirst century.
Language of Materials
- Day, Virgil B. (Person)
Finding Aid & Administrative Information
- Virgil B. Day papers
- Michael DiCamillo
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