Former President Ronald Reagan will be inducted into the Labor Department's Hall of Fame, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta announced Thursday.
Acosta noted that the late Republican president had the unique distinction of being the only president of a labor organization to also sit in the Oval Office.
"Well before he led this nation, Ronald Reagan led the Screen Actors Guild during its first three strikes, As president of the Screen Actors Guild, President Reagan negotiated never-before-seen concessions for SAG members, which included residual payments and health and pension benefits. As president of this nation, Ronald Reagan continued to recognize the contributions of unions to a free society. His support for Solidarity in Poland prompted a flourishing of freedom that ultimately led to the collapse of Communism," Acosta said Thursday at an event at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif.
The department's statement quoted from a March 30, 1981, speech to the National Conference of the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, in which Reagan said: "I hope you'll forgive me if I point with some pride to the fact that I'm the first president of the United States to hold a lifetime membership in an AFL-CIO union."
Reagan was nonetheless not a favorite of organized labor. One of the defining acts of his presidency was firing 11,000 members of Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization after they went on strike in 1981 for higher wages and shorter work weeks. As a public-sector union whose members were involved in public safety, they were not allowed to strike. Reagan branded the walk-off illegal and dismissed the controllers who did not return to work. The firings crushed the union, though the controllers eventually reorganized as the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.