W. J. Usery Jr. (b. 1923)
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W. J. "Bill" Usery Jr. became the first Georgian to serve as secretary of labor when U.S. president Gerald Ford appointed him to that position in 1976. During his illustrious career, Usery received five appointments, by both Democratic and Republican presidents, to serve the national interest in resolving labor-management disputes.
Willie Julian Usery Jr. was born on December 21, 1923, in Hardwick (Baldwin County). He attended Georgia Military College and Mercer University. From 1943 to 1946, he served aboard the Tutuila in the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet.
In 1948 Usery began working for the Armstrong Cork Company in Macon as a maintenance machinist and remained there until 1956. He joined the International Association of Machinists (IAM; later the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers), AFL-CIO Local 918; he then became a founding member of Local 8 and held a series of local union posts, including the presidency.
In 1969 U.S. president Richard Nixon appointed Usery as the assistant secretary of labor for labor-management relations. In 1970 Usery helped to resolve a postal strike by persuading Nixon to name a blue ribbon commission that was acceptable to both parties. From this commission grew the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970, which officially created the U.S. Postal Service and gave its workers the right of collective bargaining.
From 1993 to 1995 Usery served on the Commission on the Future of Worker-Management Relations and was appointed by U.S. president Bill Clinton as special mediator for the major league baseball dispute. In 1997 Georgia State University established the W. J. Usery Jr. Center for the Workplace in his honor, with the mission of helping organizations "find innovative solutions to workplace problems and issues." The center closed in early 2010.
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