John F. Kennedy on Jobs



1962: National security excludes unions at FBI & CIA

The federal government has unionized employees, but in 1962 President John F. Kennedy issued an executive order that excluded the FBI and CIA from collective bargaining for national security reasons, and allowed Cabinet secretaries to exclude other units for the same reason. In 1978, Congress wrote that declaration into legislation, which Pres. Carter signed into law. In 2002, Democrats insisted that every part of the new Department of Homeland Security be subject to collective bargaining.
Source: Courage and Consequence, by Karl Rove, p.311 , Nov 2, 2010

Got union to lower wages; got Big Steel to lower prices

"As goes steel, so goes inflation" was an accurate epigram. On April 10, however, the giant United States Steel Corporation suddenly announced an immediate increase of $6 a ton in the price of steel, four times the cost of the new labor agreement. Five other steel companies quickly fell into step.

Kennedy was furious, believing that there had been an implicit agreement by industry leaders to hold prices steady if the workers made concessions. The administration had convinced union leaders to drop their seventeen-cent-an hour proposal on the understanding that all parties concerned were helping to contain inflation to improve the nation's competitive position abroad. Jack thought he had been double-crossed and knew that if he failed to resist the price increase he would be in deep trouble with labor, a vital backer of the Democratic Party.

Source: A Question of Character, by Thomas Reeves, p.330 , Dec 10, 1997

1946: Power of big labor has to be tamed

Jack Kennedy saw things differently than his party. The man who had run as a "fighting conservative" agreed with the Republicans that the power of big labor had to be tamed. Like most Americans, not just Republicans, Kennedy saw the excesses of a movement that had put 5 million men out on strike, but he could not flout the interests of Boston longshoremen and other working stiffs back home by backing the Republican bill. Instead, he decided to stake out a position apart from both parties.

Kennedy testified before the Rules Committee about his labor-reform alternative.

He said there was a lot of good in the Taft-Hartley bill, especially the provision outwearing "wildcat" strikes. He worried, however, that the bill would lead to a "war" between management and labor. "The way some of those provisions read, the unions can't even protect themselves from the competition of the sweatshop."

Source: Kennedy & Nixon, by Chris Matthews, p. 50-51 , Jun 3, 1996

1961: Added 13-week unemployment benefits in recession

On Feb. 2, 1961, Kennedy proposed legislation to add a temporary 13-week supplement to unemployment benefits, to extend aid to the children of unemployed workers, to redevelop distressed areas, to increase Social Security payments and encourage earlier retirement, to raise the minimum wage and broaden its coverage, to provide emergency relief to feed grain farmers and to finance a comprehensive home-building and slum clearance program. These 7 measures became law by the end of June, 161 days of action.
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 397 , Jan 1, 1965

Tax reduction is first part of assault on unemployment

In 1963, JFK said, "Hard core structural unemployment in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, particularly the coal and steel centers, will not be substantially aided by the tax bill or even by the general rise in the economy. I do think, however, that if we could reduce unemployment to 4%, then those programs which are specifically directed toward these centers of chronic unemployment.may be able to make a further dent."

Tax reduction, in short, was the first part of the assault on unemployment. After the artillery barrage, the structural troops were then expected to move in and mop up remaining pockets of resistance. A basis for structural action had already been laid by legislative enactment: the Area Redevelopment Act, passed in 1961 after having been twice vetoed in the Eisenhower administration, and the Accelerated Public Works Act of 1962.

Source: 1000 Days, by Arthur Schlesinger, p.838 , Jan 1, 1965

1890s Jewish immigrants formed first Garment Workers Unions

At the turn of the century the Jews fleeing persecution in Russia came in such numbers that they could not be so readily absorbed into the mainstream of life as the earlier comers. They clustered in Jewish communities within the large cities, like New York.

Like the Irish and the Italians before them, they had to work at whatever they could find. Most found an outlet for their skills in the needle trades, as garment workers, hatmakers and furriers. Often they worked in sweatshops. In an effort to improve working conditions (which involved child labor and other forms of exploitation), they joined with other immigrant workers to form, in 1890, the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union. In time, they developed the clothing industry as we know it today, centered in New York but reaching into every small town and rural area. The experience and tradition of these pioneers produced many effective leaders in the labor movement.

Source: A Nation of Immigrants, by John F. Kennedy, p. 30 , Jan 8, 1963

Permanent strengthening of our unemployment compensation

    To expand our growth and job opportunities, I urge on the Congress these measures:
  1. The Manpower Training and Development Act, to stop the waste of able-bodied men and women who want to work, but whose only skill has been replaced by a machine, or moved with a mill, or shut down with a mine;
  2. The Youth Employment Opportunities Act, to help train and place not only the one million young Americans who are both out of school and out of work, but the twenty-six million young Americans entering the labor market in this decade;
  3. The 8% tax credit for investment in machinery and equipment, which, combined with planned revisions of depreciation allowances, will spur our modernization, our growth, and our ability to compete abroad.
  4. Presidential standby authority, upon a given rise in the rate of unemployment, to accelerate Federal and federally-aided capital improvement programs; and
  5. A permanent strengthening of our unemployment compensation system.
Source: Pres. Kennedy's 1962 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 11, 1962

Temporary recession increases in unemployment compensation

We cannot afford to waste idle hours & empty plants while awaiting the end of the recession. We must show the world what a free economy can do--to reduce unemployment, to put unused capacity to work, to spur new productivity, & to foster higher economic growth within a range of sound fiscal policies and relative price stability.

I will propose to the Congress measures to improve unemployment compensation through temporary increases in duration on a self-supporting basis--to provide more food for the families of the unemployed, and to aid their needy children--to redevelop our areas of chronic labor surplus--to expand the services of the U.S. Employment Offices--to stimulate housing and construction--to secure more purchasing power for our lowest paid workers by raising and expanding the minimum wage--to offer tax incentives for sound plant investment--to increase the development of our natural resources--to encourage price stability--and to take other steps aimed at insuring a prompt recovery.

Source: Pres. Kennedy's 1961 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 30, 1961

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Barack Obama(D,2009-2017)
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
Bill Clinton(D,1993-2001)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
Lyndon Johnson(D,1963-1969)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
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Page last updated: Feb 22, 2022