Taken from CQ Fact Sheet on John F. Kennedy, Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 1960.

Kennedy and Labor

Kennedy has been on labor committees during his entire Congressional career and has been a sponsor of major labor legislation.

Kennedy in 1959 introduced the Democratic minimum wage bill (S 1046), backed by the AFL-CIO, which would raise the wage from $1 to $1.25 an hour and extend coverage. The bill was at odds with a more restricted Administration bill. Kennedy said he expected to get the bill reported to the Senate before the end of the 1960 session. (Weekly Report p. 349)

In 1958 Kennedy introduced a bill (S 3974) which became the first major labor relations bill to pass either house since the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. The bill dealt largely with the control of union abuses exposed by the McClellan committee but did not incorporate tough Taft-Hartley amendments requested by the President. It survived Senate floor attempts to include Taft-Hartley amendments and gained passage but was rejected by the House. (1958 Almanac p. 191)

The bill Kennedy introduced in 1959 was substantially the same bill which had passed the Senate in 1958. It was considered a "moderate" bill, concerned primarily with financial and electoral misconduct of union officials. Reported by the Senate Labor and Public Welfare committee as a clean bill, although with only minor amendments, S 1555 was "beefed-up" in Senate floor action sufficiently so that the AFL-CIO dubbed the version that went to the House "anti-labor".

Kennedy protested strongly against some of the changes, particularly the "bill of rights" amendment introduced by McClellan. He said April 24, "The difference between (McClellan) and me is that every time he sees a union, he sees racketeering." Of McClellan's amendment to, limit organizational picketing he said it "would prevent any further union organization in this country," and if it were put into the bill, it would and should "end any chance for this bill to pass.... I myself would be forced to vote against the bill and ask that my name be stricken from it." (1959 Weekly Report p. 587)

Strong Taft-Hartley provisions added by the House, in its substituting of the Landrum-Griffin bill for the Senate version, were fought by Kennedy as chairman of a 12-day conference committee. The final bill was largely the House bill, but Kennedy and others succeeded in getting House conferees to soften their Taft-Hartley provisions by including several exemptions for unions. (1959 Almanac p. 156)

Kennedy Sept. 3 said of the final version, "The bill is a compromise, I must frankly state that it goes a good deal further in some areas than I think is either desirable or necessary -- this is especially true of the Taft-Hartley amendments.... The bill is not the bill I should have preferred to see passed by Congress... (but) I think substantial progress was made (in conference).... I have no apologies at all for the bill we are now bringing before the Senate.... I do not claim it is a perfect bill or that it is a model of fairness. But taking it as a whole, it is the best bill we can pass."

The bill has been a key to organized labor's stand in the 1960 elections. Reactions from various labor leaders:

  • The AFL-CIO Sept. 2 paid tribute to Kennedy and "the liberal majority of Senate conferees" for doing "a good job of eliminating some of the more obvious injustices." On Sept. 22 Kennedy was denounced before the AFL-CIO convention by Michael Quill, president of the Transport Workers Union, and Joseph Curran, president of the National Maritime Union.
  • At a Nov. 10 convention of the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO Walter P. Reuther, President of the United Auto Workers, led a group proposing a resolution praising Kennedy and five others for their work in modifying the bill in conference. The convention's resolutions committee killed the resolution after officials of the International Assn. of Machinists registered protests.
  • AFL-CIO President George Meany Jan. 11 said Kennedy should be given credit, not blame, for his work on the bill. Meany said Kennedy "worked tirelessly to get rid of the more obvious injustices ... and did make a number of improvements."
  • International Brotherhood of Teamsters president James R. Hoffa Nov. 3, 1959 announced a broad political campaign for 1960 and attacked Kennedy saying, "We don't support spoiled millionaires." Kennedy replied Nov. 6, "Fortunately I do not think Mr. Hoffa's endorsement will be useful to any candidate in 1960." Hoffa's campaign against Kennedy continued: Jan. 10, 1960 the Teamster boss called the Senator, "a fraud on the American people."

In addition Sen. Wayne Morse (D Ore.), an announced candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination and one of the two Senators (the other: the late Sen. William Langer (1941-1959 R N.D.), who voted against final passage of the bill, has frequently attacked Kennedy before union groups. A film Morse made to explain his own vote on the bill, in which he calls Kennedy the man "most responsible" for "one of the most anti-labor bills" in history, has been used widely by Teamsters and other union groups. The AFL-CIO said it had not and would not use the film.

Kennedy's Voting Record

Following is a compilation of Kennedy's voting record in the House and Senate. For a more detailed record of Kennedy's votes on farm issues, a record which has been attacked because of an alleged switch in attitude on Kennedy's part, see Weekly Report p. 472.

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