The U.S. Department of Labor Timeline - Alternate version

Then Now Next

August 1, 2012 to August 8, 2012

A History of The United States Department of Labor

Learn more about us at

— U.S. Department of Labor

Bureau of Labor Statistics Begins Collecting Employment Data

June 27, 1884

Before there was a Labor Department, there was The Bureau of Labor Statistics. Originally part of the Department of Interior, the Bureau publishes its First Annual Report in 1886 containing a study on industrial depressions. BLS is moved to the Labor Department when the department is established in 1913.

BLS was initially housed in The Kellogg Building at 1416 F St. NW in Washington, D.C.

— Bureau of Labor Statistics

The First Secretary

March 6, 1913 to March 4, 1921

William B. Wilson (April 2, 1862-May 25, 1934) comes to the U.S. at age 8. A year later, he works as a “breaker boy” in the coal mines. By age 14, he is secretary of his local union. He helps found the United Mine Workers and serves as secretary-treasurer. He represents Pennsylvania’s 15th District in the U.S. Congress. A champion of the eight-hour workday and jobs for women and minorities, he plays an important role in our World War I victory by mobilizing an effective workforce for defense production.

William B. Wilson

— U.S. Department of Labor

President Taft Creates Labor Department

March 4, 1913

After much opposition, President William Howard Taft signs the Organic Act creating the U.S. Department of Labor. Signed during Taft's last hours in office, it is followed shortly thereafter by President Woodrow Wilson's appointment of William B. Wilson (no relation) as the first secretary of labor.

William Taft joins Woodrow Wilson on his inauguration day. You can read about the Organic Act here:

— Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Meeting the Job Needs of Immigrants

January 22, 1915

As a result of the Immigration Act, the U.S. Employment Service begins functioning as a nonstatutory general placement agency for immigrants.

Immigrants arriving in New York Harbor

— National Archives

The Monthly Labor Review Is First Published

May 1, 1915

Royal Meeker, commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, launches the Monthly Labor Review. It includes information about the labor force, the economy, employment, inflation, productivity, occupational injuries and illnesses, and wages.

Browsable copy of May 1915 BLS bulletin. Click on the book to open as an interactive pdf. — Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division;

Establishing Benefits for Injured and Sick Workers

September 7, 1916

The Federal Compensation Act provides benefits to workers who are injured or contract illnesses in the workplace. The act establishes the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs.

15 year-old Estelle Poiriere, an employee of Doffer Granite No. 1 mill in Fall River, Massachusetts, shows the laceration of her index and middle finger caused when her hand became caught in a card machine. To learn more about FECA today, go to

— Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

Labor Department Streamlines War Production

January 4, 1918

The U.S. declares war on Germany and its allies on April 6. Congress creates the War Labor Administration to organize wartime production, giving the Labor Department an important role in the subsequent victory.

Artist & model pose with a Department of Labor wartime poster

— U.S. Department of Labor

International Labor Comes to the Capital

October 19, 1919

Even though the U.S. is not a member,the International Labour Organization holds its first meeting in Washington, D.C. It is chaired by Secretary of Labor William B. Wilson.

Delegates to the first meeting of the International Labour Organization

— International Labour Organization

Women Receive a Voice in the Workplace Through the Women's Bureau

June 5, 1920

The Women’s Bureau is created to develop standards and polices ensuring the effective employment of women and promoting the welfare of wage-earning women. Mary Anderson is the bureau's first director, serving until 1944.

Mary Anderson, the first director of the Women's Bureau

— U.S. Archives

Puddler Jim

March 5, 1921 to November 30, 1930

James John Davis (Oct. 27, 1873-Nov. 22, 1947) is born in Wales and immigrates to Pennsylvania eight years later. He takes up work as an apprentice in a steel mill and earns the nickname "Puddler Jim,” which follows him throughout his life. He is one of only three Cabinet members in history to hold the same post under three consecutive presidents. As secretary of labor, Davis supports changing immigration quotas, establishes the U.S. Border Patrol and lobbies steel mills to abandon the 12-hour workday. He resigns as secretary of labor to serve as a U.S. senator representing Pennsylvania. It is in the Senate that he co-sponsors the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires that workers be paid fair wages on public works projects.

James J. Davis

— U.S. Department of Labor

Railway Labor Act Creates National Mediation Board

May 20, 1926

Congress approves The Railway Labor Act to mend the tension between rail laborers and management. Administered by the National Mediation Board, an independent federal agency, the success of the RLA led to its expansion in 1936 to cover airline workers.

A photograph of the National Mediation Board, responsible for administrating the "Railway Labor Act." To learn more, go to:

— Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Collection

Fair Pay for Longshore and Harbor Workers

March 4, 1927

The Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act gives longshore and harbor workers compensation equal to that of state workers. It also compensates for lost wages, medical benefits, and rehabilitation services to longshore, harbor and other maritime workers who are injured during their employment or who contract an occupational disease related to employment.

Emblem of the International Longshoremen's Association c. 1901 More information about the Act may be found at:

— Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Collection

BLS Begins Collecting Unemployment Data

July 7, 1930

When the Great Depression hits, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is only collecting information on employment. In 1930, Congress authorizes BLS to collect unemployment data - just as unemployment is about to hit an all-time high.

Isador Lubin, Chief of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, presents labor statistics to the Special Senate Committee on Employment, 1937. Visit BLS at

— Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Collection

Father of the Five-Day Workweek

December 9, 1930 to March 4, 1933

William N. Doak (Dec. 12, 1882-Oct. 23, 1933) stays close to home. Born in Roanoke, Va., he attends the state’s public and business schools. As a railway worker, he rises to become vice president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen. Doak encourages passage of the Davis-Bacon Act and fights to regulate immigration. As secretary of labor under President Herbert Hoover, he institutes a five-day workweek at the Labor Department, leading the way for progressive reform throughout all labor sectors.

William N. Doak

— National Archives

The Trail Blazer

March 4, 1933 to June 30, 1945

Frances Perkins is the first woman appointed to the Cabinet. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College and a witness to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, Perkins goes on to lead the battle against the Great Depression as secretary of labor. In office for 12 years (longer than any other secretary of labor), Perkins is the principal architect of the Social Security Act of 1935, maximum hour laws and a federal minimum wage. She also oversees the creation of regulations on child labor and unemployment insurance.

Frances Perkins

— National Archives

New Deal Agencies Offer Employment During Depression

March 31, 1933

President Roosevelt and Congress create independent agencies like the Civilian Conservation Corps as part of the New Deal to help reduce high unemployment and bring an end to the Depression.

CCC men at work in Prince George's County, Maryland

— Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Wagner-Peyser Act Brings Workers, Employers Together

June 6, 1933

Created with unemployed workers in mind, the Wagner-Peyser Act establishes the U.S. Employment Service, which creates a forum where workers and employers can exchange information.

Congressman Theodore Peyser, Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins and Senator Robert Wagner look on as President Franklin D Roosevelt signs the Wagner-Peyser Act into law. You can read the Act in its entirety at

— Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library

U.S. Joins International Labour Organization

June 19, 1934

While not a member of the League of Nations, Congress authorizes the U.S. to join the International Labour Organization and take part in efforts to improve working conditions worldwide.

This painting, created in the same year the the U.S. joins the ILO, reflects an international desire to secure harmony and order for all workers.

— Machinery Abstract, 1934. Artist: Paul Kelpe; Transferred from the U.S. Department of Labor to the Smithsonian Institution.

National Labor Relations Act Codifies Worker Protections

June 5, 1935

The National Labor Relations Act defines unfair labor practices and protects workers' rights to strike and collectively bargain. The National Labor Relations Board is created to enforce the new law.

Workers voting in a union election. Read what President Roosevelt had to say about the act here:

— National Labor Relations Board

Social Security Act Creates Safety Net for Most Vulnerable

August 14, 1935

The Social Security Act of 1935 begins payment of benefits to the elderly, disabled and unemployed. Social Security benefits are supported through payroll taxes. The Social Security Administration began life as the Social Security Board. The SSB was an entirely new entity, with no staff, no facilities and no budget. The initial personnel were donated from existing agencies. Frances Perkins offered one of her Assistant Secretaries, Arthur Altmeyer, to be an initial Board member. Perkins even gave her high-backed red-leather executive chair to Altmeyer since the SSB had no furniture.

Ida May Fuller is seen here receiving her first increased benefit check from the SSA. Visit the Social Security Administration online to learn more:

— Social Security Administration

Apprenticeship Act Allows Labor Department to Oversee On-the-Job Training

August 16, 1937

Before the National Apprenticeship Act is passed, on-the-job training is unregulated. The Labor Department is put in charge of creating regulations protecting the health, safety and welfare of workers. The new law also encourages the use of contracts when hiring individuals to work as apprentices.

Peter J. Carey & Sons printing company in New York City depended on apprentices to run their business. c.1935. You can read the original National Apprenticeship Act here:

— Collection of Donald A. Dewey

Fair Labor Standards Act Codifies 40-Hour Workweek

June 15, 1938

The Fair Labor Standards Act standardizes the 40-hour workweek and codifies paid overtime, minimum wage and child labor laws. It also creates the Wage and Hour Division to enforce the law.

To read what FDR had to say in his weekly Fireside Chat about the Fair Labor Standards Act, go to:

— Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

Dictionary of Occupational Titles Is First Published

June 15, 1939

The Dictionary of Occupational Titles, which defines the tasks and skills needed for specific jobs, is created as a resource for those looking to switch careers or who are unemployed and seeking work.

Discontinued in the early 1990s, the Dictionary of Occupational Titles is now available exclusively online as O*net:

— U.S. Department of Labor

Mobilizing for War, Helping Veterans

December 7, 1941 to September 2, 1945

Although the Department does not administer any special war labor agencies like it did in WWI, its contributions are significant. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is the research arm of the Office of Price Administration, War Labor Board and the Armed Forces. The Division of Labor Standards and Women's Bureau ensure that labor standards are maintained despite labor shortages and soaring production demands. The Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of June 22, 1944, popularly known as the G.I. Bill of Rights, provides $20 weekly unemployment allowance in addition to counseling, placement services, education and on-the-job training to nearly 10 million veterans between September 1944 and August 1949.

A WWII veteran poses next to the G.I. Bill of Rights

— National Archives

The Peace Maker

July 1, 1945 to June 10, 1948

Lewis Schwellenbach runs for governor of Washington state and serves as a U.S. senator and a federal district judge before President Truman selects him as secretary of labor. As a senator, Schwellenbach argues for American neutrality in future wars—due in part to his experience serving in the infantry during World War I. As labor secretary, he focuses on the rights of individuals with disabilities and veterans, and is an opponent of anti-immigrant legislation. Schwellenbach dies in office at the age of 53.

Lewis Schwellenbach

— National Archives

Combatting Child Labor

October 10, 1947

President Truman creates the Bureau of International Labor Affairs to foster U.S. international relations efforts. The office works to end child labor abroad.

Young African miners, c. 1941

— Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

A Man of Action

August 13, 1948 to January 20, 1953

Maurice Tobin (May 22, 1901-July 19, 1953), starts his political career at 25 as the youngest-ever elected Massachusetts state representative and, more than a decade later, defeats four-term Boston Mayor James Curley. He becomes governor of Massachusetts before his appointment as secretary of labor. Tobin supports the Fair Employment Practices Bill, which prohibits discrimination based on race, religion or national origin. Under Tobin, the department’s staff and budget are fortified and government labor functions are consolidated. Under the Marshall Plan, he mobilizes American unions in rebuilding Europe; during the Korean War, he is responsible for wartime labor supply. Tobin also creates the Defense Manpower Administration.

Maurice Tobin

— National Archives

The Plumber

January 21, 1953 to September 10, 1953

Best known for being the odd man out on President Eisenhower’s “Nine Millionaires and a Plumber” Cabinet, Martin Durkin (March 18, 1894–Nov. 13, 1955) was, literally, a plumber’s apprentice who rose to become president of his union. As secretary of labor, Durkin tries to eliminate loyalty oath requirements listed in the Taft-Hartley Act but fails. He resigns after less than a year in office and is the shortest-serving secretary in the department’s history. With the help of former Secretary Frances Perkins, he goes on to serve as director of labor for the state of Illinois.

Martin Durkin

— National Archives

Fighting Bias in Government Contracts

August 13, 1953

President Eisenhower creates the Committee on Government Contracts during Secretary Martin Durkin’s nine-month period in office. The Committee looks into complaints of discrimination in government contracts and makes recommendations for ensuring that equal employment opportunity requirements in contracts are being met. Fourteen federal agencies, including the Labor Department, provide representatives to the committee.

Genevieve Dixon worked as a mathematical "computer" for a Buffalo, N.Y. aircraft company.

— "More Than 200 Negroes Hold Key Scientific Jobs in Industry." Ebony Sept. 1950.

A Social Conscience

October 9, 1953 to January 20, 1961

Nicknamed “the social conscience of the Republican Party,” James Paul Mitchell (Nov. 12, 1900–Oct. 19, 1964), believes in labor-management cooperation, fighting against employment discrimination and bringing attention to the plight of migrant workers. He lays the foundation for the Landrum-Griffin Act, which regulates labor reporting and disclosures. In 1958, President Eisenhower appoints Mitchell to the Emergency Manpower Agency, a secret group, established to serve in the event of a national emergency that comes to be known as the “Eisenhower Ten.”

James P. Mitchell

— National Archives

First African-American Serves As Assistant Secretary of Labor

March 4, 1954

In his own words, J. Ernest Wilkins considered his nomination to be assistant secretary of labor “an honor to his race.” Appointed by President Eisenhower on March 12, 1954, he becomes the second African-American in history to reach as high a post in the government’s executive branch.

— Jet Magazine, September 2, 1954

Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act

September 14, 1959

Birthed from the worry that union leadership and funding were linked to organized crime, the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act becomes an important piece of federal law meant to prevent corruption and foster democracy within unions. The law is enforced by the department's Office of Labor-Management Standards.

Longshoremen on their lunch break c. 1945. To read the LMRDA in its entirety, go to:

— Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

The Negotiator

January 21, 1961 to September 20, 1962

The son of immigrants, Arthur J. Goldberg (Aug. 8, 1908–Jan. 19, 1990) supervises an espionage group during World War II. He serves as general counsel for the United Steelworkers of America and is the chief legal counsel for the AFL-CIO merger in 1955. As secretary of labor, he mentors a young Daniel Patrick Moynihan, advocates for civil rights and raises the minimum wage. Believing that government has a responsibility to help solve labor disputes that threaten the economy, he successfully intervenes in a 1962 steelworkers strike. Later, as a Supreme Court justice, he brings the “silent” Ninth Amendment back into relevance and argues against the constitutionality of corporal punishment. He reluctantly resigns from the Supreme Court in 1965 to serve as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Arthur J. Goldberg talks with workers

— U.S. Department of Labor

Job Training Takes Hold

March 15, 1962

The Manpower Development and Training Act creates the first major federal job training program. It is focused on training and retraining individuals who lose jobs due to automation and technology. Less than a year after the law is passed, the Manpower Administration is created. The new agency is tasked with overseeing all employment and training programs at the department.

Monique Nugent (left), was an instructor at a training salon at Saginaw Technical Institute. To get an overview of what the Manpower Administration did, and how its heir, the Employment and Training Administration, is carrying on its mission, read

— Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

A History Making Phone Call

August 30, 1962

On August 30, 1962, President John F. Kennedy called Willard Wirtz to offer him the position of Secretary of Labor in his cabinet.

Listen to President Kennedy Offer Willard Wirtz the Position of Secretary of Labor at: — U.S. Department of Labor

A Builder of the Great Society

September 25, 1962 to January 20, 1969

W. Willard Wirtz (March 14, 1912-April 24, 2010) graduates from Harvard Law School and is hired to teach by future Supreme Court Justice Wiley B. Rutledge. While at Northwestern University, he instructs another future Supreme Court justice: John Paul Stevens. Wirtz rises in the political ranks writing campaign speeches and is appointed undersecretary of labor in 1961. As secretary of labor, Wirtz is a proponent of collective bargaining. He champions department programs aimed at the young, under-educated, long-term unemployed and older workers. In conjunction with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he implements antidiscrimination responsibilities for the department.

W. Willard Wirtz

— U.S. Department of Labor

Preparing Workers for the High-Tech Era

February 19, 1963

To meet the need for education and training programs that would prepare people for burgeoning high-tech industries, the Labor Department establishes the Manpower Administration.

Read about the history and implications of the Act here:

Equal Pay for Equal Work

June 10, 1963

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 guarantees that men and woman be given equal pay for equal work. It also ensures that employers cannot reduce the wages of either sex to equalize pay.

Watch this vintage video made by the Department of Labor at: — U.S. Department of Labor

Banning Discrimination in the Workplace

July 2, 1964

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The act was initiated under President John F. Kennedy. Following his assassination, President Lyndon B. Johnson saw it through to law.

Martin Luther King, Jr. congratulates President Johnson after signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. Listen to President Johnson's remarks on the Civil Rights Act by clicking here:

— U.S. Department of Labor

Launching the Job Corps

August 20, 1964

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the the Economic Opportunity Act which, in part, creates the Job Corps. A part of Johnson's "Great Society," the act is designed to tackle the problems of unemployment and provide opportunities for citizens living in poverty to compete in the growing economy.

1969 Job Corp poster featuring Olympic champion and Job Corp graduate George Foreman. Read what President Johnson has to say about the Economic Opportunity Act here:

— U.S. Department of Labor

Ensuring Equal Employment Opportunities in Federal Contracting

September 24, 1965

Within the Labor Department, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs is established by Executive Order 11246, signed by President Johnson. OFFCP holds federal contractors to a higher obligation for affirmative action. E.O. 11246 prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors and federally assisted construction contractors and subcontractors from employment decisions that discriminate based on race, sex, color, religion or national origin.

Official Web site of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance: You can read Executive Order 11246 here:


Expanding Wage Protections: The Service Contract Act

October 22, 1965

President Johnson signs the 1965 McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act to protect employees performing work for contractors and subcontractors. This act establishes standards for prevailing compensation and safety and health protection, and is applied to every contract entered into by the United States and the District of Columbia. Provisions are largely enforced by the department’s Wage and Hour Division and its Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

A maid preparing dinner c.1964. Read President Johnson's signing remarks at:

— Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

Taking Aim at Age Discrimination

December 15, 1967

Life expectancy increased significantly in the 1900s, and many new pieces of legislation for equal opportunity within the American workforce are passed. Attempts to include age as a factor by which employers cannot discriminate in law begins with the Employment Opportunity Act of 1962 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The lack of data on age discrimination prompts Secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz to commission the report “The Older American Worker: Age Discrimination in Employment.” Soon after its publication, in December 1967, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act is signed into law by President Johnson.

LBJ signs the Age Discrimination in Employment Act into law. You can find President Johnson's remarks on this Act here:

— National Archives

The Teacher and Strategist

January 22, 1969 to July 1, 1970

George Pratt Shultz (b. Dec. 13, 1920) is a graduate of Princeton University, World War II Marine Corps captain, and professor who teaches at both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago. In 1969, President Nixon appoints Schultz as secretary of labor. During his brief tenure, Schultz proposes the Manpower Training Bill of 1969 and uses groundbreaking computer technology to match unemployed workers with job opportunities. Through the “Philadelphia Plan,” he provides leadership in equal opportunity hiring. Schultz goes on to serve as director of the Office of Management and Budget, secretary of the treasury, and President Reagan’s secretary of state.

George P. Schultz

— U.S. Department of Labor

The Guardian

July 2, 1970 to February 1, 1973

Minnesota native James D. Hodgson (b. Dec. 3, 1915) serves in the Navy as an officer during World War II and goes on to become vice president for industrial relations at Lockheed Corp. As secretary of labor, Hodgson is instrumental in the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which President Nixon signs into law in December 1970. Hodgson expands the department’s regulatory responsibilities and, to aid Vietnam-era veterans, leads an expansion of employment and training programs under the Emergency Employment Act of 1971. After leaving his post as secretary of labor, he is named as U.S. ambassador to Japan.

James D. Hodgson

— National Archives

A New Milestone: Occupational Safety and Health Act

December 29, 1970

President Richard M. Nixon signs into law the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The act establishes the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which ensures workers' right to a safe and healthful workplace.

Nixon signs OSHA into law. Check out what OSHA has accomplished since its inception here:

— National Archives

The Worker

February 2, 1973 to March 15, 1975

Peter J. Brennan (May 24, 1918-Oct. 2, 1996) grows up in the then-heavily Irish “Hell’s Kitchen” neighborhood of New York. He attends a local college and takes a painter’s apprenticeship that leads to union work. His labor career is interrupted by a stint in the Navy during World War II. Brennan goes on to climb the ladder at several trade councils, including the New York AFL-CIO, and is tapped as secretary of labor by President Nixon because he knows “the people.”

Peter J. Brennan

— National Archives

Setting the Standard for Pensions and Benefits

September 2, 1974

President Gerald Ford signs the Employee Retirement Income Security Act into law on Labor Day in 1974. ERISA sets the minimum standards for retirement, health and other welfare benefits, today enforced by the Employee Benefits Security Administration.

President Ford's remarks on signing this legislation may be found at: See what's in store for your retirement at

— Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

A Man of Ideas

March 17, 1975 to January 31, 1976

A labor economist and a Harvard University professor, John T. Dunlop’s (July 5, 1914-Oct. 2, 2003) career is tied to Washington, D.C., where he advises every president from Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton. He works as an economic counselor and chairs both the National Commission on Productivity and the Construction Industry Stabilization Committee. He serves as secretary of labor for a little more than a year, resigning the office in protest of an executive branch decision to limit union demonstrations. He earns a reputation for his ability to create measurable results from big ideas.

John T. Dunlop

— National Archives

From Manpower to Employment and Training 

November 12, 1975

The Employment and Training Administration is created by President Gerald Ford to replace the Manpower Administration. The ETA administers job training programs and oversees the Unemployment Insurance benefits system.

Laid-off worker speaks at a 1975 labor meeting

— National Archives

The Mediator

February 10, 1976 to January 20, 1977

Born to a working class family in Hardwick, Ga., William J. Usery Jr. (b. Dec. 21, 1923) cites his mother’s instruction to follow the Golden Rule as the driving force behind his desire to improve labor conditions. A World War II veteran, his career grows through his involvement in the International Association of Machinists. He eventually becomes the union representative on the president’s Missile Sites Labor Commission. Appointed as assistant secretary of labor for labor-management relations by President Nixon, Usery is instrumental as a mediator. He also helps draft and implement key collective bargaining legislation. After a short tenure at the AFL-CIO, Usery briefly serves as secretary of labor during the final months of the Ford Administration. He then returns to the private sector, mediating a number of notable labor disputes.

William J. Usery

— National Archives

A Self-Made Secretary

January 27, 1977 to January 20, 1981

Ray Marshall (b. Aug. 22, 1928) grows up in Louisiana in extreme poverty, opting to go to an orphanage with his siblings rather than to be separated through adoption. His early experiences direct his interests toward fair labor practices and he earns a doctorate in economics from the University of California, Berkeley. He joins the faculty of the University of Texas, Austin, in 1962. He serves as secretary of labor for the Carter administration, oversees the creation of the Mine Safety and Health Administration and the Office of Civil Rights. Marshall authors 30 books, co-founds the Economic Policy Institute and serves as an advisor to numerous boards, commissions and institutes.

Ray Marshall

— National Archives

A Vital Mission: Mine Safety and Health Administration

November 9, 1977

The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act moves oversight and enforcement of mines from the Department of the Interior to the Labor Department. The new Mine Safety and Health Administration is tasked with enforcing employment standards for miners nationwide. The act mandates annual inspections for mines and requires that all underground mines establish rescue teams.

MSHA's official Web site:

— U.S. Department of Labor

A New Calling

February 4, 1981 to March 15, 1985

Although Raymond J. Donovan (b. Aug. 31, 1930) once intended to enter the seminary, it is his employment in the skilled trades that gives rise to his career in labor. He works his way up through the Schiavone Construction Co., eventually becoming executive vice president. Picked by President Ronald Reagan to serve as secretary of labor, Donovan is instrumental in creating the agency’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, and implementing the Migrant and Seasonal Worker Protection Act as well as the Retirement Equity Act.

Raymond J. Donovan

— National Archives

Serving Veterans as They Transition to New Careers

December 10, 1981

The Veterans’ Employment and Training Service is established by Secretary of Labor Raymond J. Donovan. VETS serves veterans nationwide by providing job training and other employment services.

Veterans' Employment and Training Services official Web site:

— U.S. Department of Labor

Ensuring Rights for Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Workers

January 14, 1983

The Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act sets employment standards for farmworkers. The act replaces the Farm Labor Contractor Registration Act.

A Mexican migrant worker harvests melons in Fresno, CA. President Reagan's comments on signing this Act follow:

— Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Divisions

Retirement Equity Act

August 23, 1984 to August 29, 1984

The Retirement Equity Act is signed into law on Aug. 23, 1984. It amends the Employee Retirement Income Security Act by addressing women’s rights not included in the original 1974 version of ERISA—including survivorship benefits, vesting and domestic relations orders.

ERA protestors in front of the White House c.1983. President Reagan explains the implications of the Retirement Equity Act here:

— National Archives

The Insider

April 29, 1985 to October 31, 1987

William E. Brock (b. Nov. 23, 1930) is born and raised in Chattanooga, Tenn. He serves in the Navy before going to work for his family's well-known candy business. He wins a seat in Congress in 1962 and represents his home state over four terms. He goes on to win a Senate seat, serving from 1971-77. After leaving the Senate, Brock becomes the Republican National Committee chair and then the U.S. trade representative. During his tenure as secretary of labor under President Reagan, Brock introduces the "Workforce 2000" initiative to address the shortage of skilled laborers. He also advocates for affirmative action, parental leave, increased health and safety measures, and increased opportunities for Vietnam-era veterans.

William E. Brock

— National Archives

Keeper of the Flame

December 14, 1987 to January 20, 1989

Ann McLaughlin Korologos (b. Nov. 16, 1941) serves as secretary of labor during the final two years of the Reagan administration. Before heading the Labor Department, McLaughlin holds public relations positions at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Treasury Department. Being only the second female secretary of labor, McLaughlin is “aware of the challenges” facing her. She devotes her tenure to addressing work-life balance issues as well as promoting economic growth as a means of improving working conditions.

Ann McLaughlin Korologos

— National Archives

Rules for Employee Polygraph Tests

June 27, 1988

The Employee Polygraph Protection Act, signed on June 27, 1988, prevents employers who are engaged in interstate commerce from using polygraph tests for workers either before or during employment. Enforced by the Wage and Hour Division, the secretary is authorized to assess civil money penalties up to $10,000 for employers in violation of the law.

Drawing of polygraph results. Learn more about the EPPA here:


Fair Notice for Mass Layoffs

August 4, 1988

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, signed on Aug. 4, 1988, protects workers by giving them advance notice of plant closings or mass layoffs.

Web sites like provide up-to-date information and options to workers in transition. Read more about the WARN Act here:


Most Likely to Succeed

January 25, 1989 to November 23, 1990

Elizabeth Hanford Dole (b. July 29, 1936) is voted "Most Likely to Succeed" by her classmates at Duke University. With degrees from Harvard University’s School of Education and Oxford University, and only one of only 24 women in her Harvard Law class of 550, Dole learns the importance of a level playing field. She is appointed as the first female secretary of transportation in 1983, and rebuilds the nation's air travel workforce after the 1981 air traffic controller strike. As secretary of labor, she negotiates an increase in the minimum wage and initiates efforts to help minorities break through the glass ceiling. Dole leaves the department to become president of the American Red Cross.

Elizabeth Hanford Dole

— National Archives

Making a Commitment to Americans with Disabilities

July 26, 1990

The Americans with Disabilities Act, a civil rights measure, is passed to prohibit discriminatory practices on the basis of a disability. It sets guidelines for accessibility, opening premises previously unavailable to persons of diverse backgrounds, with the concept of reasonable accommodation. Disability, as the ADA defines it, includes visual, auditory and mobility deficits as well as mental, emotional and physical challenges.

Watch the signing ceremony for the Americans with Disabilities Act. Read the Act in its entirety here: — National Archives

Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling

February 7, 1991 to January 20, 1993

Once a teacher of English, history and economics, Lynn Morley Martin starts her political career serving on the Winnebago, Ill., school board in 1972. She soon finds herself in the U.S. House of Representatives, where she earns the nickname “the Axe” for her tight enforcement of budgetary guidelines. She is the first woman elected to a congressional leadership post: vice chair of the House Republican Conference. A tireless advocate for women’s and social issues, Martin is tapped by George H.W. Bush to serve as secretary of labor in 1991. During her time at the department, she establishes the Glass Ceiling Commission to assist women and minorities, and initiates a model workplace program to provide leadership guidance for U.S. employers.

Lynn Morley Martin

— National Archives

Glass Ceiling Commission Created by Civil Rights Act of 1991

November 21, 1991

The Glass Ceiling Commission is created in 1991 to investigate the “artificial barriers” that prevent qualified women and minorities from moving into more senior positions. The commission works to identify and quantify bias in order to propose solutions for its eventual eradication.

An overview of the Glass Ceiling Commission may be found here:

— Copyright 1993 Rob Rogers/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Reprinted with permission.

The Academic

January 20, 1993 to January 20, 1997

Robert Reich amasses an impressive academic pedigree, graduating summa cum laude from Dartmouth, winning a Rhodes Scholarship and earing a J.D. from Yale. He assists the U.S. Solicitor General, works for the Carter Administration at the Federal Trade Commission and teaches at Harvard for over a decade. In 1993, his fellow Oxford classmate, Bill Clinton, taps Reich to be secretary of labor. Under Reich, the minimum wage is increased, the School-to-Work Opportunities Act passes, the “No Sweat” program begins, and the Family Medical Leave Act is signed into law. The author of over a dozen books, Reich stays active in politics and the economy, teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, working as a contributor to American Public Radio and CNBC, and using his blog and other social media to voice his opinions.

Robert Reich

— U.S. Department of Labor

Protecting Jobs During Family and Medical Leave

February 5, 1993

The Family and Medical Leave Act is best known for its provision of parental leave for the birth of a child. It also guarantees that a job will be there upon return, for new foster parents, caretakers of injured or ill relatives, workers with personal health problems, and others.

Watch President Clinton's remarks at the signing of the Family and Medical Leave Act. You can read more about the Act here:— William J. Clinton Presidential Library

Ending Sweatshops in the Garment Industry

September 12, 1996

The “No Sweat” initiative, a multifaceted movement to end sweatshops in the garment industry, is begun. Sweeps of manufacturing centers are conducted to enforce the law, and publications are produced identifying retailers who had promised to go sweatshop-free to help educate consumers.

Watch Wage and Hour explain the "No Sweat" initiative here:

— U.S. Department of Labor

A Public Servant for All Seasons

May 1, 1997 to January 20, 2001

Alexis Herman is the youngest person to ever serve as director of the Department’s Women’s Bureau, appointed by Jimmy Carter when she is only 29. She starts her own consulting firm and later works her way up through the Democratic National Committee, eventually becoming vice chair. Herman serves the Clinton Administration as deputy director of the Presidential Transition Office and as the head of the White House Office of Public Liaison. As secretary of labor, Herman earns accolades for her handling of the UPS strike. She oversees the creation of the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), reorganization of federal employment and training programs under the Workforce Investment Act, and the adoption of ILO’s Convention 182, banning abusive child labor.

Alexis Herman

— U.S. Department of Labor

Keeping America Earning

August 7, 1998

The Workforce Investment Act (August 7, 1998) is enacted during President Clinton’s second term to create a means for businesses to participate in workforce training and career pathways programs. It replaces the Job Training Partnership Act of 1982, providing funding for local, statewide and national on-the-job training.

Learn more about the Workforce Investment Act,

— U.S. Department of Labor

Cracking Down on Child trafficking

June 17, 1999

The United Nations agency for social justice in the labor sector, the International Labour Organization, adopts Convention 182 to prohibit and eliminate child labor. The convention, ratified in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1999, defines a “child” as anyone under 18 and labels child trafficking—whether for sex, drugs or slave labor—as among the worst kinds of child labor.

Read the ILO's report here:

— U.S. Department of Labor

Launching the Office of Disability Employment Policy

December 21, 2000

To reinforce the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Office of Disability Employment Policy is created as an authority on national policy to integrate individuals with disabilities into the workplace. Its goal is to remove the limits on employment opportunities that people with disabilities face. The agency provides information on required accommodations to employers, and advises people with disabilities about their rights.

ODEP gathers to celebrate its tenth anniversary. Visit their official Web site:

— U.S. Department of Labor

The Achiever

January 29, 2001 to January 20, 2009

Born in Taipei, Taiwan to parents who fled mainland China, Elaine L. Chao immigrates to the United States aboard a freight ship. She is eight years old. Chao studies economics and business and is granted a White House Fellowship in 1983. By 1986, Chao is the deputy administrator of the Maritime Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation, eventually going on to head the department. She serves as director of the Peace Corps and president and CEO of the United Way of America. As secretary of labor, Chao pursues regulatory and legislative reforms, updates labor union financial disclosure regulations, and revises white collar overtime regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act. In June 2011, Chao receives the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service.

Elaine L. Chao

— U.S. Department of Labor

Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration Renamed Employee Benefits Security Administration

February 3, 2003

The Employee Benefits Security Administration focuses on protecting the benefits of workers and their families by regulating retirement, health care, and other benefit plans. It has the authority to administer and enforce provisions of laws including the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA); the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA); The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA); and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Learn what EBSA can do for you at:


Enhancing Miner Safety and Health

June 13, 2006

The Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (MINER) Act wins approval after three major mining tragedies in the same year that killed 19 workers. It includes a number of safety provisions to modify the Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, including requiring mines to provide more updated accident contingency plans and to train miners to survive emergency situations.

Wireless technology allows miners to track personnel, production and equipment, helping to prevent mining accidents. Read George W. Bush's remarks on signing the MINER Act here:

— U.S. Department of Labor

The Crusader

February 24, 2009 to January 22, 2013

Hilda L. Solis grows up in California, the daughter of blue collar immigrants from Mexico and Nicaragua. She is the first person in her family to attend college, choosing to study political science and public administration. She briefly serves in the White House Office of Hispanic Affairs during the Carter Administration, successfully runs for the California State Assembly, State Senate and, finally, the U.S. House of Representatives. During her time in public office, Solis focuses on labor, immigration, domestic violence and the environment; she is a 2000 recipient of the Profile in Courage Award by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. As secretary of labor, Solis invests heavily in on-the-job training, helping transitioning veterans, green jobs, protecting the working class and worker safety.

Hilda L. Solis

— U.S. Department of Labor

Fair Pay for the 21st Century

January 29, 2009

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 reverses a Supreme Court decision that held that people subject to pay discrimination have only 180 days from the date the employer first decides to pay them less to file a discrimination claim. It reinstates the long-standing interpretation of the law that treats each paycheck as a separate discriminatory act that starts a new clock. It is the first bill signed into law by President Barack Obama.

President Obama Signs the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act video on YouTube

Affordable Care Act

March 23, 2010

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010, with the goal of decreasing the number of uninsured citizens and reducing health care costs via tax credits, subsidies, incentives and fees for employers and uninsured individuals. Under PPACA, insurance companies are required to cover all applicants at the same rate of coverage regardless of pre-existing conditions or gender.


Destined to Serve

July 23, 2013

Public service and standing up to injustice are in Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez's blood. The son of immigrants and grandson of a Dominican ambassador who sought freedom in the United States after speaking out against the Trujillo regime, Perez has spent more than 25 years in public service at the local, state and federal levels. Growing up in Buffalo, New York, Perez worked his way through college earningamaster's of public policy from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, and a juris doctorate from Harvard Law School. As Secretary of Labor, he works to reduce income inequality, expand veterans employment, close the skills gap and expand employment for people with disabilities.

Video: Meet Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez — U.S. Department of Labor

DOL Turns 100

March 4, 2013

The department commemorates a century of serving workers. Learn all about our first 100 years at

U.S. Department of Labor Centennial Video — U.S. Department of Labor