This month the nation observes the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. But Kennedy deserves to be remembered not just for the tragedy and mystery surrounding his death, but for what he achieved during his brief time as president.
His accomplishments continue to have a direct impact on many IBEW 1245 members today.
In 1962, Kennedy signed Executive Order 10988, opening the door for 2 million federal employees to join unions. Among the continuing beneficiaries of Kennedy’s action are the federal workers at the United States Bureau of Reclamation and the Western Area Power Administration who are represented by IBEW 1245 today.
Kennedy’s action set the stage for expanding the rights of government employees. His Executive Order contributed to a wave of public-sector unionization that grew tenfold between 1955 and 1975, topping 4 million by the early 1970s. Many IBEW 1245 members today work for local governments that were organized during this period.
Today public sector employees at all levels of government are under attack by politicians who do not share Kennedy’s respect for the right of government workers to organize and collectively bargain to improve their standard of living and have a voice on the job.
Fair Labor Standards
In August of 1960, hot on the campaign trail during the election that would make him president, Senator John Kennedy spoke up in the Senate for the Fair Labor Standards Amendments of 1960.
“The bill has two major purposes,” Kennedy said. “First, it will raise the minimum wage now received by 2-1/2 million workers from $1.10 to $1.25 an hour. Second, it will extend the protection of the Fair Labor Standards Act to 5 million additional employees, chiefly in large-scale interstate retail and service industries, thereby guaranteeing these employees a fair minimum wage and a just premium for overtime.”
A presidential candidate making an issue of overtime premium pay during his campaign—that’s something worth remembering and honoring.
“Conscience and good business sense join in demanding the enactment of this measure,” Kennedy said. “The bill will extend to the lowest paid workers—to 3-1/2 million men and women and their families—a fairer opportunity to share our high standard of living. To pass them by—to water down the help they need, or merely assume that prosperity at the top will someday reach them—shocks the conscience of those who care.”
Kennedy argued that the increases in purchasing power resulting from a higher minimum wage would help to restore consumer demand, thus putting “idle industrial capacity back to work.” The elimination of unfair competition based upon substandard wages, he said, “will protect fair-minded employers anxious to maintain fair labor standards.”
Free Collective Bargaining
Candidate Kennedy, in September 1960, defended the concept of free collective bargaining in very clear terms, calling it “the bedrock of the American labor movement” and “good for the entire nation.”
“Those who would destroy or further limit the rights of organized labor—those who would cripple collective bargaining or prevent organization of the unorganized—do a disservice to the cause of democracy.”
IBEW 1245’s women members have a special reason for honoring Kennedy’s legacy. He was the president who signed into law the Equal Pay Act of 1963. This law amending the Fair Labor Standards Act aimed to abolish wage disparity based on gender. While a gender pay gap remains, it has narrowed in the decades since Kennedy took that important first step in addressing the problem.
The presidency of John F. Kennedy is ancient history. Except that it’s not. His legacy is with us today in ways that are real and important to members of IBEW 1245.