The President Who Institutionalized Labor-Management Relations

This week marks one of the most important weeks in the civil service’s history. Fifty-six years ago on Jan. 17, 1962, President John F. Kennedy issued an executive order recognizing federal employee unions and institutionalizing labor-management relations. Kennedy explicitly acknowledged that “participation of employees in the formulation and implementation of personnel policies affecting them contributes to effective conduct of public business.” 

This executive order was considered AFGE members’ most significant victory in that era, allowing employees to come together as one to secure a better future for their families and better serve the public. Kennedy’s order opened the doors to AFGE organizing around the nation. As a result, AFGE 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 AFGE 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." 

AFGE members took this commitment seriously. They went on to help build and move this country forward.  

They were also energized by the recognition of their input and participation in the formulation and implementation of personnel policies. Our workplaces, for example, are a lot safer today because AFGE members keep an eye on and report any hazards that could endanger employees and the public they serve.  

Here are a few examples of the important things we have gained because we come together as a union: 

  • A 40-hour work week, specific paid holidays, paid leave, overtime pay or compensatory time off  
  • Negotiating collectively with our employer for better working conditions such as shift bids, parking, uniforms, telework, etc.  
  • A fair due process to make sure we are not unfairly disciplined, terminated, evaluated
  • Protecting ourselves against retaliation, mistreatment, or discrimination by management  
  • Ability to be a good steward of taxpayer dollars by speaking out against waste, fraud, and abuse  

AFGE is proud to represent the workforce that keeps America moving forward.  

If you are a federal employee and haven’t joined AFGE, join us now and be a part of the movement that builds a government that works for all Americans and not just the rich and powerful


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