Executive Order 10988

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Executive Order 10988 is a United States presidential executive order issued by President John F. Kennedy on January 17, 1962 that granted federal employees the right to collective bargaining. This executive order was a breakthrough for public sector workers, who were not protected under the 1935 Wagner Act.

Passage of the executive order forestalled the legislative Rhodes-Johnson Union Recognition bill, which would have given more power to federal employee unions, possibly creating a union shop arrangement.[1][2]

Executive Order 10988 was effectively replaced by President Richard Nixon's Executive Order 11491 in 1969.


Workers gained the right to join unions and other organizations of workers; however they were not permitted to strike—federal strikes had been explicitly prohibited in 1947 by the Taft-Hartley Act[3]—or to join the leadership of these groups. Until 1978, federal workers had to take unpaid time off to participate in collective bargaining themselves.[4]

The order in some ways went further than the Wagner Act, instructing agencies to develop informal relationships with employee organizations (so long as they are not corrupt or undemocratic) and not to campaign against them. In fact, the order asks agencies to seek their input with "affirmative willingness".[3]

However, the order does not require "good faith negotiations", as the Wagner Act does. And because federal workers are not allowed to strike, labor disputes can only legally reach the point of an "impasse". An impasse can be resolved by appeals to mediators, fact-finders, or a higher authority[3]—or it can be ignored by management, and the status quo allowed to continue.[5]

The order explicitly does not apply to intelligence agencies. It also gives agency heads the right to suspend its rules for operations outside of the United States.


Union membership among federal employees increased several times over in the next decade. This effect boosted even longstanding federal unions, such as the National Federation of Federal Employees.

This expansion led President Lyndon B. Johnson to form the Presidential Review Committee on Employee-Management Relations in the Federal Service.[2]


There had been some history of unionizing in the military before 1961, and when the order was passed around 10% of service members were part of outside organizations. By 1968 these figures had risen: 39% of the Army, 44% of the Air Force, and 53% of the Navy belonged to employee organizations.[2]

The order yielded many collective bargaining agreements, which have generally provided for arbitration in labor grievances.[2]

Public sector[edit]

Labor historians believe that Executive Order 10988 served as a model for public sector unionism, even for local, municipal and state employees. Membership in AFSCME increased substantially during the 1960s and 1970s, and 22 states legalized collective bargaining for public sector workers.[6][7] Public sector strikes also increased many times over.[7]

In June 2018, the Supreme Court decision in the case of Janus v. AFSCME found that application of public sector union fees to government employees who are not union members represents compelled speech, and as such is a violation of First Amendment rights. This decision by the Supreme Court potentially reduces funding for Unions that represent Federal Government employees. Some have proposed repeal of Executive Order 10988, which could potentially occur if the President were to issue an executive order vacating Executive Order 10988.[8]


  1. ^ Hart, Wilson R. (January 1964). "The U. S. Civil Service Learns to Live with Executive Order 10,988: An Interim Appraisal". Industrial and Labor Relations Review. 17 (2): 203–220. doi:10.1177/001979396401700202. JSTOR 2521259. S2CID 154069229. The Rhodes bill gave officers of national unions the right to present grievances in behalf of their members. when they exercised that right, the bill further provided that unresolved grievances and disputes between employee organizations and government departments must be referred to an impartial board of arbitration. Finally, it provided that any administrative official who, in the judgment of the arbitrator, had violated the substantive provisions of the bill must be suspended, demoted, or removed from the service! [...] As a result of the Executive Order, the pressure for the Rhodes bill—near the bursting point in 1961—had been completely dissipated.
  2. ^ a b c d Davies, David C. (October 1969). "GRIEVANCE ARBITRATION WITHIN DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY UNDER EXECUTIVE ORDER 10988". Military Law Review. 46 (1).
  3. ^ a b c Fleischli, George R. (May–June 1968). "DUTY TO BARGAIN UNDER EXECUTIVE ORDER 10988". Air Force Law Review.
  4. ^ Abramson, Elliott M.; Carlton J. Snow (1983). "RIGHTS TO OFFICIAL TIME FOR UNIONS REPRESENTING FEDERAL EMPLOYEES". Case Western Reserve Law Review. 34 (17).
  5. ^ Hart, Wilson R. (January 1966). "The Impasse in Labor Relations in the Federal Civil Service". Industrial and Labor Relations Review. 19 (2): 175–189. doi:10.1177/001979396601900201. JSTOR 2521004. S2CID 154770833. Because all federal employee unions have renounced the right to strike-nudged in some instances, perhaps, by a statute which makes it a criminal offense to assert the right to strike against the government-management representatives at the bargaining table are subject to no compulsion to make concessions or compromises leading to meaningful agreements, comparable to the threat of a crippling strike, which hangs over the heads of their counterparts in industry in comparable circumstances.
  6. ^ Goulden, Joseph C. (1982). Jerry Wurf: Labor's Last Angry Man (1 ed.). New York: Atheneum. p. 110. ISBN 0-689-11291-2. Another important gain for public employees was an executive order issued by President Kennedy in 1961 giving federal workers the right to organize and bargain with their employer agencies. Although the executive order did not extend to state, county, and municipal employees, it served as a model that AFSCME lobbyists could cite in their dealings with legislators and councilmen.
  7. ^ a b McCartin, Joseph A. (2008). ""A Wagner Act for Public Employees": Labor's Deferred Dream and the Rise of Conservatism, 1970–1976". Journal of American History. 95 (1): 123–148. doi:10.2307/25095467. JSTOR 25095467. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy imparted enormous momentum to this movement when he issued Executive Order 10988, giving bargaining rights to more than two million federal workers. Over the course of the decade, twenty-two states enacted collective bargaining laws for government workers. These reforms prompted a wave of organizing by unions such as AFSCME and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
  8. ^ "Time to Repeal JFK's Executive Order 10988". Wall Street Journal. 7 June 2018.