By a vote of 118 to 100, the House substituted for an adverse committee report a bill to reduce from 70 to 65 the age of male beneficiaries under the old-age pension fund, the Springfield Republican reported (March 5, 1931, p. 1, 12).
Rep. Birmingham led the fight for passage of the bill, which was based on a recommendation made by Gov. Joseph B. Ely in his inaugural address. Birmingham argued that it would wipe out the poorhouse in the state and reduce the cost of old-age assistance.
Birmingham said that when a man loses job at the age of 65, he can’t get another job.
“I do not want it said that this prosperous state refused to listen to the appeal of these workers who have given their lives to building up prosperity and have passed the age of working,” Birmingham said.
Rep. Cahill of Braintree led the opposition to the bill. He argued that lowering the age would have an uncertain cost impact, particularly when the legislature was still trying to figure out how to raise the revenue for old-age pension with the age set at 70.
Rep. Daniel J. Coakley of Chicopee urged the House not to amend the bill but to give the law a year’s trial at 70 years. If it was successful, he pledged to vote to lower the age to 65.
The previous year, Birmingham had offered an amendment to an old-age pension bill that lowered the age to 65 years for men and 60 years for women. The House approved Birmingham’s amendment and passed the amended old-age pension bill by a vote of 202 to 27. Apparently, that bill failed in the Senate.
Rep. Birmingham, along with Rep. C. F. Nelson Pratt of Saugus and Rep. Stephen D. Manning of Marlboro, petitioned Gov. Ely to restore pay cuts for state, county, and city of Boston employees during a 1933 special session called by the governor to enact liquor control legislation (Boston Globe, Nov. 10, 1933, p. 6).
The petitioners’ bill would restore the employees to their previous pay scale by Dec. 1. The bill was expected to be referred to the House Rules Committee. If the committee fails to act on the bill, it would require a four-fifths vote to bring the bill before the special session, the newspaper related.
Other bills were presented to restore the pay cuts, but only this will was marked for consideration at the special session.
Gov. Joseph Ely signed his first bill as chief executive, his own emergency unemployment bill that providers for $330,700 for immediate expenditures by state agencies (Boston Globe, Jan. 16, 1931, pp. 1, 6).
During the Jan. 15 signing ceremony, Ely was flanked by Senate President Gaspar G. Bacon, House Speaker Leverett Saltonstall, House Democratic Floor Leader Leo Birmingham, and Rep. Dexter A. Snow of Westfield.
The bill was passed expeditiously by both houses of the state legislature Jan. 15 without division or debate, record time for action on legislation proposed by a new governor, the newspaper reported.
The governor had proposed the legislation in his inaugural address the preceding week. He held a Jan. 13 breakfast meeting at the Copley-Plaza hotel to discuss the legislation. In attendance were Bacon, Saltonstall, Birmingham, and Sen. Democratic Floor Leader John Buckley of Charlestown (Boston Globe, Jan. 13, 1931, p. 15).
The previous day, Ely met with James J. Phelan, chairman of the Massachusetts Emergency Committee on Unemployment, who presented the governor’s with a report on the committee’s activities
The governor had proposed the legislation in his inaugural address the preceding week. The bill was introduced into the legislature accompanied by a message from the governor. It made it through the committees, passed by both branches of the legislature, and signed by Ely in the span of 26 hours, the newspaper related.
The money for the works program will come from current revenue. The jobs will involve repairs and minor improvements that could be started immediately under suspension of the civil service rules.
Additional public works planned to be undertaken as part of the governor’s annual appropriates bill considered by the legislature in the course of normal legislative business.
During a hearing at the State House presided over by Gov. Joseph Ely, Rep. Birmingham conducted the case for the confirmation of Mary F. Meehan as assistant commissioner of labor and industries, reported the Boston Globe (Jan. 20, 1932, p. 1, 23).
At one point in the hearing, the governor ordered Henry J. Sullivan out of the hearing room. Sullivan had accused the “nominal member of the Democratic party on the Executive Council” of blocking the confirmation of Meehan.
Ely told Sullivan to confine his remarks to the point at issue or be asked to leave if he did not do so. Sullivan began speaking and again made reference to the Democratic member of the council, the newspaper reported.
Birmingham objected and the governor requested Sullivan sit down. Sullivan turned to leave as Birmingham began laying out his reasons for his objection, but turned to reply to Birmingham as he was almost out the door. Gov. Ely then ordered Sullivan to be escorted from the room.
The hearing room, one of the largest in the State House, was filled to overflowing for the hearing about confirmation of Meehan by the Governor’s Council. In attendance were Councilors Campbell, Cote, Chamberlain, Frazer, and Brennan.
Ely gave the opening remarks, in which he outlined the purpose of the hearing and the procedures. The governor asked if the proponents had a definite program for presenting their case.
Birmingham said that hurried arrangements had been made and would be followed as closely as possible. During the early part of the hearing, Meehan remained outside with a group of friends who were not able to find room inside the hearing room.
Birmingham recounted Meehan’s 20-year connection with various labor organizations and state Democratic councils. Meehan had been an executive dealing with the issue of women and children workers for the past 17 years.
The Brighton representative argued that Meehan’s work on behalf of organized labor should not be seen as an impediment to her confirmation. He said that there is a place on the Labor and Industries Board for a person who has had labor affiliations and is familiar with the difficulties encourned by women and children in the work place.
Birmingham then read letters of support for Meehan, including letters of support from Rev Jones I. Corrigan, S.J., of Boston College; George R. Glendining, president of the Banker and Tradesman; and Courtenay Guild of Boston.
Rep. Birmingham proposed an amendment to the state and municipal enabling bills to prevent the use of machines on public works projects so that more day labor could be employed, the Springfield Republican reported (July 18, 1933, p. 1-2).
The bills were designed to permit the state to take advantage of the national recovery act passed by Congress, the newspaper explained.
Birmingham called for the departmental heads to come before the House to tell how many men would be put to work. He said that last year, the public works department spent $14 million and employed 5,608 men at the peak of work. He said he wanted to double that figure and then asked how much relief state expenditures furnished to the unemployed.
Rep. Christian A. Herter said that the federal and state acts contain provisions for use of day labor as much as possible. He asked for defeat of all amendments printed in the calendar.
The Birmingham amendment was adopted by the House.
Rep. Birmingham faced opposition from his own party Feb. 20 in his attempt to stop three bills related to working hours and workmen’s compensation from passing the House, reported the Boston Herald (Feb. 21, 1931, p. 24, via Genealogy Bank).
One bill would make workmen’s compensation retroactive to the date of injury. The two other bills would provide watchmen and employees who maintain fires with a mandatory one-day off in seven days worked, respectively.
Birmingham worked with Speaker of the House Saltonstall in defeating the bills. In fact, Saltonstall ordered the doors of the House locked, and the members were placed under technical arrest, in order to defeat the bills, the newspaper reported.
Many of the Democratic representatives protested against Birmingham’s effort to join forces with the Republican leadership. They complained that they had not been informed in advance of the votes. They assumed that Birmingham was working at the direction of Gov. Ely, who opposed the legislation.
A number of independent Republicans joined with the Democrats in trying to get the bills passed. Ultimately, two of the three bills were defeated. The bill that would make workmen’s compensation retroactive was defeated by a vote of 77 to 68. The watchman’s bill was defeated by a vote of 82 to 63, while the bill on employees maintaining fires was given its first reading by a vote of 79 to 77.
An amendment offered by Rep. Birmingham to an old age pension bill lowered the age to qualify for pension benefits from 70 years to 65 years for men and 60 years for women. The House approved Birmingham’s amendment by a vote of 117 to 109 and then passed the amended bill by a vote of 202 to 27 on May 12, the Boston Herald reported (May 13, 1930, p. 4, via Genealogy Bank).
In pushing for amendment’s adoption, Birmingham argued that a 65-year-old man would be unable to get a job and would have to go to the poor house as a result. He also predicted that if the Republicans failed to pass the measure, they would be voted out of office in the next election and the Democrats would pass an old age pension bill in the next legislative session.
The bill as passed by the committees on pensions and ways and means provided old age pension benefits for people of 70 years of age and older.
Rep. Henry L. Shattuck of Boston opposed the Birmingham amendment, arguing that people under 70 could get assistance under present law. The cost of lowering the age would cost $3 million, one-third coming from the state. He argued that no other state provides old age pensions to people as young as 65 years of age.
Rep. Clarence S. Luitweiler of Newton also came out against the Birmingham amendment. He expressed his opposition to any noncontributory pension.
Another amendment, offered by Rep. John Halliwell of New Bedford, deleted a provision from the committees-passed version that would have directed the boards of public welfare to give consideration to the ability of “kindred” to support old age pensions beneficiaries before awarding payments. That amendment was adopted by voice vote.
The bill was expected to go to the Senate for concurrent action, the Herald reported.
Rep. Birmingham accused the Republican majority in the House of “hypocrisy” for taking credit for workmen’s compensation legislation that passed the House on May 23, 1935, the North Adams Transcript reported (May 24, 1935, p 5, via Newspaper Archives).
Birmingham argued that it was the Democrats in the House who had pushed for legislation protecting workers, not the Republicans. He focused his ire on Rep. Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., of Beverly, a Republican member of the House who was praised by members of both parties for his work on the legislation.
The legislation package was made up of three bills. The first provided a minimum weekly wage of $7 during the period when the employee was unable to work because of a work-related accident. The second provided a minimum weekly wage of $10 for an employee who lost a limb. The third denied any compensation for an employee injured because of misconduct, but granted compensation to the family in the case of the employee’s death.
The three bills were passed on a vote of 206 to 2 for the first bill, 198 to 5 for the second, and 168 to 28 for the third.
Defending his party from Birmingham’s charge, John E. Hallwell of New Bedford, a labor union member, asked if the Democrats wanted to take credit for all of the progressive legislation passed by the Republican-controlled House since 1915. “If they would, I would defend my party against the opposition at any time,” he said.
Lodge took a more conciliatory tone. He noted that Birmingham was absent when he had publicly complimented the efforts of Sen. James P. Meehan, a Democratic from Lawrence, for the work he had done on behalf of labor.
On March 21, 1927, Rep. Birmingham joined his colleagues Rep. John F. Buckley and Rep. James J. Twohig in attacking Martin T. Joyce, lobbyist for the Massachusetts State Branch of the American Federation of Labor, who charged that House Democrats “kill off legislation relating to labor,” reported the Boston Globe (March 22, 1927, p. 28).
Joyce and other labor lobbyists have shown little interest in pushing labor issues in the Massachusetts legislature, the three Democratic legislators responded. “The only written communication we have received on legislation so far this session from labor is the one urging that we vote for Sunday professional baseball,” they quipped.
By contrast, Democratic House members have been fighting hard to advance labor interests in the legislature, appearing before committees to testify in favor of labor friendly bills and fighting for their passage, they asserted.
“All the rollcalls put through on labor bills were put through on the request of Democratic members, and the request for these rollcalls was 100 percent,” the statement said.
Republican members of the House from heavily union labor districts do not take the initiative in secure rollcalls on these bills, so that union members in those districts have had to depend on the Democrats to look after their interests, the statement added.