Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Signing of the Fair Labor Standards Amendments of 1966

September 23, 1966

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, Secretary Wirtz, Senator Yarborough, Chairman Powell, Congressman Dent, my good friend Mr. George Meany and other leaders of labor, all Members of Congress who worked with us in this endeavor, ladies and gentlemen:

Thomas Jefferson called his days in the Presidency "a splendid misery"--and sometimes I agree. But today is one of those splendid days.

One of the first contributions I made in the legislative field when I came to Washington was when we passed the first minimum wage bill through the Congress of the United States. That was one of my first real battles as a Congressman--to help force consideration of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Three revolutionists, of which I was one, signed a petition to call a caucus, and two of the three were defeated--from my State-at the next election because of that signature. I was such a nonentity that I guess they couldn't remember me and I got by. So here I am.

That bill guaranteed a minimum hourly wage--the munificent, magnificent sum of 25 cents an hour--25 cents an hour! That was 28 years ago.

In many ways, it seems like an eternity. Today we have met here in the Cabinet Room to see the President sign into law a new minimum wage.

--One dollar and sixty cents an hour.

--Bringing under minimum wage law 8 million additional workers.

--Covering for the first time: farm workers.

You know, back in the thirties, when that first minimum wage law was signed, we were in a depression--poverty was all around us. While poverty is really never comfortable, back in those days it sure was common. Being poor was sort of like being one of the fellows. It wasn't at all that different.

Today, as we meet here in this room, poverty is much sadder.

We are a rich country with many people. We enjoy the highest standard of living of any men in history. We are a country of fine cars, nice homes, and color television sets.

Today, in this country, when you are poor, you are poor alone.

The new minimum wage--$64 a week-will not support a very big family. But it will bring workers and their families a little bit above the poverty line, $3,000 a year.

--It will help them carry on.

--It will help them to not worry about three meals a day.

--It will enable them to help themselves develop skills so that they can someday earn more.

My ambition is that no man should have to work for a minimum wage, but that every man should have skills that he can sell for more. This new minimum wage is a step in that direction.

David Dubinsky started that movement back in 1938 with me and he has improved with age, like other products.

But we are going to do more to try to help these people to a better standard of living.

Until today, minimum wage laws benefited some 30 million workers. Now, as a result of the leadership of this Congress, members of both parties, we raise that number by almost 30 percent--to 38 million workers. This new law benefits 8 million more workers--workers that are not here this morning--workers that you rarely see-workers that you seldom acknowledge: the charwomen, the people who make your beds, the mother who leaves her children at 5 o'clock in the morning to catch the streetcar to come in to have the coffee for the bus driver as he is on his way to work, that works in the cafes, the hotel and motel employees, the laundry workers that clean our shirts and take the spots out of our ties, the workers in the apparel trades.

And I am very pleased to say it includes farm workers for the first time, several hundred thousand of them--and that is just a starter.

It will help under-income areas--Appalachia, and some areas in my own South. It will help minority groups who are helpless in the face of prejudice that exists.

It will not force employers to cut down and fire employees--as critics of minimum wage laws will tell you. Whoever makes such charges is uninformed.

The straight fact is that when minimum wages were first introduced--and in each year that minimum wages were increased-Mr. Potofsky will tell you that the employment actually rose instead of going down.

They always predict it is going to close the businesses, that it is going to close down employment, that employment is going to drop--but the record doesn't show that.

Our first bill in 1938, when the minimum wage was passed, employment rose. Again, in 1949, again in '50, again in '55, '56, '61, '63, '64, and '65 employment rose, rose, rose.

The straight fact is that a fair minimum wage doesn't hurt business in any way.

Decent employers want to treat their employees decently. Unfortunately, there are always a few exceptions, a few who see opportunities in exploiting the poor and the defenseless and who force well-meaning employers to compete with them in their unholy dealings.

This new minimum wage law, with its increased minimum, with its expanded coverage, will prevent much of this exploitation of the defenseless--the workers who are in serious need.

If a businessman can't do well with this minimum wage in our booming economy that we have today, well, maybe--perhaps he might not be just a good businessman.

So, I would like, at this time, to thank the Senate--Senator Yarborough and all members of the Senate Education and Labor Committee--and all the Members of the Senate who supported this legislation--the House of Representatives, Chairman Powell, Chairman Dent, and all the Members of the House of both parties, who supported this legislation, for their active leadership in fighting for this new law, and for their aid in speeding up its timetable.

I want to particularly thank Mr. Meany and the allied members of his organization for their counsel, for their encouragement, and for their help.

Our new minimum wage law, in my judgment, will bring a larger piece of this country's prosperity, and a greater share of personal dignity, to millions of our workers, their wives, and their children. And for me, frankly, that is what being President is all about.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:07 a.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House. In his opening words he referred to Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz, Senator Ralph Yarborough of Texas, Representative Adam C. Powell, Jr., of New York, Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, Representative John H. Dent of Pennsylvania, and George Meany, president, AFL-CIO. Later he referred to David Dubinsky, president, International Ladies Garment Workers Union, and Jacob S. Potofsky, president, Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.

As enacted, the Fair Labor Standards Amendments of 1966 (H.R. 13712) is Public Law 89-601 (80 Stat. 830).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Signing of the Fair Labor Standards Amendments of 1966 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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