MAY 9, 1962
BOSTON—On Tuesday morning President Kennedy addressed the United Automobile Workers convention in Atlantic City, N.J., and I am sure it was a satisfying experience, for this is a very unusual gathering. The nearly 6,000 delegates do not seem to be interested only in wages and hours and working conditions for themselves. Over the years in this union they have developed a social conscience and they are thinking of many things besides the needs and concerns of their own particular members.
This union's leaders and members dare to think as statesmen and consider the future economic development of our own country and of the world.
The President had a sympathetic and understanding audience that may have known even more about the Presidential problems in economics than some of the business groups to whom he is frequently obliged to explain the purposes for government action in this field.
Of one thing I am sure, however: the President could not have had as unique and friendly an audience as was accorded on last Sunday to Mary Heaton Vorse, Upton Sinclair and myself. We were given beautiful plaques for having helped the labor movement over the hard years.
Had we been any younger we perhaps could not have been the recipients of such words of praise, for today the labor movement is a strong movement that often has to be reminded of its responsibilities. When we first became interested in finding out about labor conditions, though, the labor movement had not reached the strength which came after the Wagner Labor Act was enacted and the great increase in organization developed throughout our country.
I don't believe any awards were ever received with more pleasure and gratitude than those that were given to us. It just so happened that we were active at a particular time. For I can still remember vividly when I first read Upton Sinclair's book, "The Jungle," and when Walter Reuther said that this book had awakened the conscience of America and that he thought it had also turned their stomachs I was very conscious of just this result where I was concerned.
I can also remember reading some of Mary Heaton Vorse's reports on what occurred on certain strike fronts in those days.
And my early education in labor unions goes back to visiting families in New York City tenement houses where sweatshop labor was going on and little children, five and six years old, were working at tables with their parents making artificial flowers until they dropped with fatigue and slid off the bench to the floor. In many cases the parents were too busy to spare the time, for fear of the loss of a few cents, to stop and pick up the little ones.
We have moved forward, certainly. And perhaps the labor unions need to be reminded occasionally that they must grow in statesmanlike ways, but I also wish that organized labor could grow in membership to far greater proportions, too. The standards for working conditions are really established by what in America is still only a handful of the total number of workers. Other workers are profiting by the dues paid by organized labor and their bargaining power.
The current week—May 6 to 12—has been designated JOB Week, and an intensive campaign has been launched to encourage the employment of many thousands of disabled men and women in the metropolitan area of New York. I certainly hope this movement also will affect other areas of the country.
This is a campaign of vital importance to people who suffer from a great variety of disabilities. Yet, if properly trained, these people can become some of the most valuable employees that any business can have. Disabled workers take pride in any job they can master and will perform it as well, if not better, than those without any handicap at all because they put into it their complete and concentrated interest.
JOB—which stands for Just One Break, Inc.—is a placement agency of which Orin Lehman is chairman and Charles A. Dana Jr. is president. One of the members of the board of directors is Henry Viscardi Jr., head of Abilities, Inc. Mr. Viscardi's organization is a shining example of a successful business run with handicapped people.
JOB's vital role is to find jobs for disabled people who need such assistance. There is prejudice against handicapped people and they need a skilled staff, first to help them obtain retraining and then to help employers find such a trainee for a particular job.
Every man who is working and not dependent on public funds means a little less burden on the taxpayer. And in line with this JOB needs to add to its trained staff to meet the growing need for selective placement, to establish additional branch offices in other communities, to expand its research program to help guide business administrators and safety engineers, and to further public understanding that disabled personnel can perform countless jobs and frequently may become a company's most valuable employees.
An injured person in a family, particularly the breadwinner, may change the whole aspect of family life. If, however, he returns to a job in a very short time, the family is rehabilitated and the object of all the work that goes into returning a disabled person to a normal contact with life has been accomplished.