Bill Usery, an indefatigable and gregarious negotiator who helped avert or settle strikes by railway and postal workers, coal miners and football players as a federal mediator and as the secretary of labor under President Gerald R. Ford, died on Saturday December 11 2016 in Eatonton, Ga. He was 92.
The cause was heart failure, his son, Melvin, said.
Mr. Usery (pronounced USS-ah-ree), a former welder and union official, was a Democrat who served under two Republican presidents, Mr. Ford and Richard M. Nixon. As an assistant labor secretary under Nixon, he was instrumental in the government’s decision in 1969 to grant organizing and collective bargaining rights to millions of federal employees.
In 1984, as a private negotiator, he helped seal a deal among the United Auto Workers for General Motors and Toyota to jointly own and operate an auto factory in Fremont, Calif. In 1976 Mr. Usery was nominated as labor secretary after directing the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service for three years,
Mr. Usery, who used the initials W. J. but was called Bill, attended Georgia Military College Preparatory School from 1938 to 1941, then worked as an underwater welder during World War II building mass-produced cargo-carrying Liberty ships. He enlisted in the Navy in 1943 and served on a repair ship in the Pacific.
After the war, he was a machinist in an Armstrong Cork Company plant while attending law school at Mercer University in Macon, Ga., at night, though he never graduated. He soon joined the machinists’ union and became a founding member and president of Local 8.
In 1969, President Nixon named him an assistant secretary of labor for labor-management relations. He was director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service from 1973 to 1976, then special assistant to President Ford.
His first wife, the former Gussie Mae Smith, died in 2005. In addition to his son Melvin, he is survived by his wife, the former Frances Pardee, and a granddaughter.more » « less