By: William A. Burga, Past President, Ohio AFL-CIO
In all that is, and has been, written about John Glenn and his remarkable life, the one area that has not been fully explored is his support for working people and unions that helped make America great.
I first met Senator Glenn at the Canton AFL-CIO Dinner in 1970, and then again at a reception at Governor John Gilligan’s residence in 1974. What struck me about him in those early meetings was his sincerity of friendship when we shook hands.
Over the years, on subsequent occasions, he always showed the same friendly manner and genuine appreciation to meet. But his true beliefs of the rights for working people showed during, and after, his 24 years in the U.S. Senate.
In 1978 a Bill in the U.S. Senate called “Labor Law Reform” was pending, after passing the House. This Bill was to amend the National Labor Relations Act and correct some unfair advantages employers had when workers were attempting to unionize. We (labor representatives) counted 55 Senators favoring passage, but most Republicans and a few Democrats to prevent the Bill from being voted on were using a filibuster.
During this time, Senator Glenn was speaking at an Ohio AFL-CIO Convention in Cleveland explaining why he thought the Bill was needed and then quickly returned to Washington to vote on cloture to end the filibuster. Senator Glenn voted for workers then and on numerous other occasions. The AFL-CIO scored his overall voting record near the top in favor of working people issues.
Fast forward to 1987, when the Ohio legislature passed SB45, taking benefits from people injured on the job. This was another instance of unfairness to workers. Organized labor, along with the Trial Lawyers association and other allied groups opposed the bill and petitioned for the measure to be overturned by Ohio voters in a referendum election. One of the key moments in the workers’ ballot victory was John Glenn’s television ad against the Bill and in support of overturning it.
And, most recently in 2011 John Glenn again was on the right side of workers by supporting another referendum, this one to reject SB5 and to protect public employee collective bargaining rights. In this effort, Glenn’s support of state Issue 2 was critical to the massive citizen veto of SB5 and displayed his deep belief in the value of workers coming together to better their circumstance.
Yes, John Glenn will rightly be most remembered for his space and military heroics and patriotism but we in labor cannot forget how he stood for us and the positive difference he made for workers throughout his life. He was a hero to everyone in that sense also.