Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

W. J. Usery, Jr. (1976–1977): Secretary of Labor

Willie Julian Usery, Jr., was born on December 21, 1923, in Hardwick, Georgia, and attended Georgia Military College and Mercer University (1938-1941) before serving in the United States Navy (1943-1946).

Following World War II, he joined Armstrong Cork Company as a maintenance mechanic from 1949 to 1955, and became grand lodge representative of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) to the AFL-CIO in 1956. Usery acted as the union representative on the President's Missile Sites Labor Committee at the Kennedy Space Center and Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, from 1961 to 1967.

He also served as coordinator for all union activities at the Manned Spacecraft Center, Houston, Texas, and formed the Cape Kennedy Labor-Management Relations Council in 1967, serving as its chairman in 1968. During the Richard Nixon administration, Usery was assistant secretary at the Department of Labor for labor-management relations (1969-1973). He also served as director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (1973-1974) and became special assistant to the President (1974).

On January 22, 1976, Usery was confirmed as Secretary of Labor in the administration of Gerald Ford, succeeding John T. Dunlop in that position. Usery's tenure was marked by the successful settling of a strike between the Teamsters and the American and General Motors.

Following his service in the Ford administration, Usery became a labor consultant. He also served on President Bill Clinton's Commission on the Future of Worker-Management Relations from 1993 to 1995, and was instrumental in the settling of the 1994-1995 major league baseball strike.