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Pelosi: 'Labor Movement Was Blessed to Have Jack Henning as a Leader'

Washington, D.C. - Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke on the House floor this morning in tribute to the life of California labor leader Jack Henning, who died last week. Below are the Speaker's remarks.

“Madam Speaker, I rise to pay tribute to a leader for working men and women, a distinguished diplomat, and a great American: John Henning, known to us as Jack, who passed away on June 4, 2009. 

“Jack Henning will be long remembered for his distinguished career on the front lines of the labor movement, fighting passionately for justice, equality, human rights and jobs in California, and across America, and throughout the world.

“A native San Franciscan, Jack began his career working for the Association of Catholic Unionists.  He joined his first union, the United Federal Workers of the CIO, after graduation from college. Jack served for decades as a dedicated leader of working people, rising to be president of the California Labor Federation. 

“In that role, Jack represented millions of California workers with great distinction.  Not only union members, but millions of Americans who never belonged to a union enjoy better wages, safer workplaces, greater rights and a more secure retirement because of the battles waged by union leaders such as Jack Henning. 

“Jack was a close ally of the legendary farm workers Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.  He cited among his proudest accomplishments the passage in 1975 of the landmark Agricultural Labor Relations Act, which our colleague Howard Berman was so much a part of.  It provided tough labor protections for those who had been abused and mistreated for decades in California's pastures of the plenty.

“Jack Henning ended his farewell speech from the California Labor Federation in 1996 with this: ‘And if by a suspension of the laws of nature if I were young again, I would follow no other course, no other flag, but the flag of America and the flag of labor.'  The labor movement was blessed to have him as a leader.

“As distinguished as he was on behalf of workers, Jack made many other contributions to his state and his nation for which we are all grateful. 

“Before taking the presidency of the California Labor Federation, Jack served Presidents Kennedy and Johnson as Under Secretary of Labor, and was appointed by President Johnson as the Ambassador to New Zealand in 1967. 

“Jack also was a distinguished regent of University of California for a dozen years, during which he helped lead the fight for expanded opportunities for minority students, and demanded that the university divest its investments in apartheid in South Africa.  That divestment initiative helped bring about the peaceful ending of apartheid and the new day of majority rule in South Africa.

“We will all miss Jack greatly, but none more than his sons Patrick, Daniel, John Jr., and Thomas; his daughters Mary and Nancy; his 12 grandchildren and his great-grandchildren.  We also remember his beloved wife Betty, who preceded him in death.

“I hope it is a comfort to his family that so many people mourn their loss and are praying for them in this sad time. 

“Jack Henning was a proud American, a devout Catholic, passionate about his Irish roots, and a great friend and mentor to many of us.

“Madam Speaker, I join Jack Henning's family, friends and workers worldwide to honor his legacy, celebrate his life, and remember his illustrious contributions to the state of California and to our great nation. And later today thousands of people will gather in California to do just that -- celebrate his life and pay tribute to him.”