JFK’s Executive Order Changed Our Union Forever

Categories: The Insider

Many remember John F. Kennedy as the president who set our nation on a path to reaching to the moon, or as the first Catholic to occupy the Oval Office. But did you know he was also the first to give federal employees a meaningful voice at work?

This week marks the 57th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s executive order 
granting federal employees stronger workplace rights and recognizing the value that an empowered workforce brings to public service.

This executive order, issued Jan. 17, 1962, was considered the most significant victory in that era for our union and federal employees, allowing us to come together as one to secure a better future for our families. As pay and working conditions improved, more employees felt empowered and joined AFGE. As a result, our union’s membership grew by 159% in the ensuing decade, enabling us to make even greater gains for workers.   

President Kennedy understood the importance of unions and public service. In his inaugural speech the year before, he told the nation, “And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country."

This call to action inspired a new generation of public servants and volunteers who wanted to serve and make a difference. 

The day following his inauguration, President Kennedy sent a telegram to our union that read: "The American Federation of Government Employees has played a notable part in broadening and deepening the standards of career and merit service in our government. I look forward to working with your members as I take on my new responsibilities." 

As some elected officials and corporate CEOs are finding ways to destroy our union, our voice, and our rights, it’s important to remember why we fight – to make a difference, and to protect the dignity, justice, and equality that come with collective bargaining.


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