A majority of the United Mine Workers have now rejected the negotiated coal contract. I am disappointed that this agreement was not approved. But I recognize that the United Mine Workers' system of collective bargaining requires approval by union members before a contract can take effect.
My policy has been to do everything possible to help the collective bargaining process produce a settlement. But this rejection by the United Mine Workers' collective bargaining is now at an impasse.
The coal strike is three months old. The country cannot afford to wait any longer.
Coal supplies have been reduced to a critical level throughout the Midwest. Tens of thousands of people are already out of work because factories have laid off workers to conserve fuel. Power curtailments have reached 50 per cent in Indiana, 30 percent in West Virginia, and critical levels in other parts of the Midwest.
One month from now, at least a million more Americans would be unemployed if the coal strike continues.
My responsibility is to protect the health and safety of the American public, and I intend to do so.
I have ordered the attorney general, under the Taft-Hartley Act, to prepare for an injunction to require the miners to return to work and the mine owners to place the mines back into production.
I have appointed a board of inquiry and asked it to report back to me as soon as possible, to begin the emergency dispute-settling procedure under the Taft-Hartley Act.
In addition, I have asked the attorney general and the governors of the affected states to make certain that the law is obeyed, that violence is prevented, and that lives and property are fully protected.
The Department of Energy will use, as necessary, its allocation powers to minimize the effects of fuel shortage on regions which are most dependent on coal, by moving energy, resources to places where they are most urgently needed.
We will depend on the free and voluntary distribution of energy whenever possible. I have not taken this action lightly. These steps are absolutely necessary if our nation is not to be the innocent victim of a total breakdown of the collective bargaining process.
I expect that all parties affected by these actions will cooperate fully and abide completely by the law.
Under a Taft-Hartley injunction, miners ordinarily are required by law to return to work under the existing contract, unless more acceptable terms can be negotiated nationwide between management and labor.
During recent negotiations both mine workers and operators agreed on new wages to begin in 1978. When the Taft-Hartley injunction takes effect, we will seek to permit any company to offer this new wage settlement to those who return to work under the injunction.
The new 1978 wage package is a generous one which reflects the special conditions of coal mining. And I must say quite frankly that I do not support and would personally oppose any more liberal and inflationary wage settlement.
The best permanent solution is this dispute is a settlement reached through collective bargaining. While the Taft-Hartley injunction is in effect, I will take steps to see that all parties resume negotiations as rapidly as possible. Whenever negotiated coal contracts are ratified by the UMW membership, the Taft-Hartley injunction will be lifted.
The difficult and dangerous work of coal miners has helped America prosper and grow strong. For too many years in the past, miners, their parents and their grandparents paid an unfair and bitter price for working in the mines. They often did not have the safety protection they needed. And they did not receive compensation for black lung disease and other hazards that they encounter daily.
More improvements are still needed in these working conditions for miners. But we have made important progress. I recently signed legislation passed by Congress that will significantly improve both black lung benefits and the enforcement of federal health and safety standards in the coal mines.
As Americans, we all share the responsibility for preserving the health and safety of our country which is now in danger. The labor laws of our country, of the United States, have been written to protect our nation and at the same time to protect the rights of workers.
In times of crisis, the law binds us together. It allows us to make decisions openly and peacefully and it gives us, through the courts and legal procedures, means to resolve disputes fairly.
Respect for the rule of law ensures the strength of our nation.
The law will be enforced. As president, I call on the mine workers, the coal mine operators, and all Americans to join in a common effort under the law to protect our country, to preserve the health and safety of our people, and to resolve fairly the differences which have already caused so much suffering and division in our land.
Thank you very much.