Effecting Change...300,000 Strong!

Categories: Labor, Civil Rights

With the Allied victory in Europe and Japan complete and the greatest war the world had ever seen coming to a close, AFGE continued to secure major victories of its own.

By taking our message to the streets, airwaves, and halls of Congress, AFGE achieved groundbreaking advances for federal workers as it embarked on a decades-long march toward a membership 300,000 strong. Starting in 1946, AFGE won uniformity in salary increases and extended benefits to an additional half-million federal workers. In doing so we secured a 14 percent wage increase for federal workers.

Into the 1950’s AFGE continued to break new ground for federal employees around the country. AFGE increased travel allowances, improved the Retirement Act, secured a 7.5 percent pay raise for all employees and a 10 percent raise for white-collar employees. In 1955 AFGE put into effect its first comprehensive health program for members that rivaled private health care programs and was a benchmark for federal workers throughout government.

As AFGE’s voice grew stronger, there was still one fundamental piece missing from our ability to represent federal employees: collective bargaining. In fact, it would not be until 1961 that AFGE was able to enjoy the same rights as our private sector union counterparts. All of that changed when President Kennedy signed Executive Order 10988, which granted AFGE national recognition for its employees and the right to bargain collectively. This, along with President Kennedy’s provision for automatic dues deduction from paychecks, unleashed a large outburst of demand for union representation. In the ensuing years, AFGE membership skyrocketed from 71,000 in 1961 to 301,000 in 1970.

As AFGE’s membership rocketed to new heights, the union continued to pave the way for stronger employee representation and workplace rights. In 1962, AFGE leaders spearheaded the creation of the AFGE Council of Veterans Administration Locals.  The 1966 collective bargaining agreement between AFGE and the Dept. of Labor would become a model for AFGE federal government contracts for decades to come. In 1969 AFGE members lobbied for and won improved retirement benefits that included a formula based on the three highest consecutive years of service, including sick leave. But our success only snowballed from there.

In 1978 AFGE won one of our greatest victories ever, the passage of the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA), which expanded and solidified collective bargaining rights and opened the courts for contract enforcement. It was this act, in fact, protected members three years later when Ronald Reagan tried to break the federal labor movement.

With hard-won, newfound rights, AFGE would go on to create its national bargaining councils, growing the number of national agreements from 5 to 34 by the end of the 1980’s. It was the these forty years – 1945 through 1985 – that molded AFGE into a loose association of concerned federal employees into the largest and most influential federal union in the nation.

Tune in next week for Part III of our four part series AFGE: A History of Progress.

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