Robert E. Gleason, Who Served as International ILA Secretary-Treasurer for More than Two Decades, Passes Away at Age 82

NORTH BERGEN, NJ (September 3, 2020) Robert E. Gleason, well known and respected ILA officer, who served as Secretary-Treasurer of the International Longshoremen’s Association, for over 20 years, passed away in his hometown of Warwick, New York earlier today. He had just celebrated his 82nd birthday last month on August 8th and his family was with him at his passing.

Robert E. Gleason
Robert E. Gleason

Robert Emmet Gleason followed his father, legendary ILA President Teddy Gleason, into the ILA and while the elder Mr. Gleason may have been a tough act to follow, Robert Gleason made his own mark on the ILA and earned the respect of officers and members from Maine to Texas, the Great Lakes region, Canada. Teddy Gleason led the ILA through containerization and won landmark contracts for his members, but Bobby (as he was known around the ILA) Gleason expanded the ILA’s role in legislative issues and public policy.

His parents named him Robert Emmet Gleason, in honor of the Irish Republican nationalist patriot, orator and rebel leader. Robert Emmet Gleason was known to share some of those qualities of his Irish namesake, especially when he was fighting for his ILA membership.

His usual work week at the International saw him shuttle between the ILA’s legislative office in Washington and the International’s offices in Downtown Manhattan. He helped win major legislative victories for longshore workers, and enjoyed close relationships with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle from Congressmen Jack Kemp and Richard Gephardt to Senators Robert Dole and Ted Kennedy. He was instrumental is encouraging former President Ronald Reagan to address the ILA’s Quadrennial Convention in July 1983.

As Secretary-Treasurer, first with the Atlantic Coast District and later with the International, Bobby Gleason modernized the ILA’s financial systems. He had a rare talent to solve intricate mathematical formulas in his head. As part of the Gleason ILA dynasty, Bobby Gleason staunchly defended ILA members and became a trusted advisor to Presidents Gleason, John Bowers and Richard Hughes.

“Bobby Gleason was an ILA legend in his own right,” said current International President Harold J. Daggett. “Throughout his stellar career, he worked harder than anyone I know. He made Teddy Gleason proud. Bobby’s accomplishments were great, and his memory will endure.”

In 2012, a year after his sixth consecutive election to a four-year term as International Secretary-Treasurer in 2012, Gleason retired from the ILA. In total, Robert Gleason devoted over half a century working for the longshore union, which was headed for 24-years between 1963 and 1987 by his father, Thomas W. (Teddy) Gleason.

Prior to his international post, Robert Gleason previously served as Secretary-Treasurer of the ILA’s Atlantic Coast District for eight years.

Gleason was the fourth-generation family member to work in the longshoring industry. His entrance into the union came in 1957 when he worked as a checker with Sea-Land in Port Newark as a member of Local 1, ILA.

His previous government experience with U.S. Department of Transportation served Mr. Gleason well as for the ILA as he coordinated the union’s Committee on Political Education program for a number of years.

Mr. Gleason has served as a Vice President and Executive Board member of the New York State AFL-CIO.

Mr. Gleason represented the ILA at numerous conferences sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration to study Short-Sea Shipping, helping to formulate policies and programs to create more energy conscience and environmentally sound alternative methods of delivering cargo to America’s ports.

Between 1961 and 1963, Gleason served in the U.S. Army and was stationed with the Transportation Corps in the Panama Canal region. He was a proud member of American Legion Post 1870 in New York City.

After active duty, Gleason first worked with Seatrain and later with the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington.

Gleason was elected to a four-year term as secretary-treasurer of the Atlantic Coast District at the District’s 1983 convention. He was re-elected to another four-year term in 1987.

Gleason served on the ILA’s Civil Rights Committee. He also served as Secretary-Treasurer of the ILA’s Children’s Fund, which during Mr. Gleason’s tenure with the International, raised over $2 million for Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford, Connecticut.

In 2006, Gleason was honored by the Seafarers & International House in New York City, one of the industry’s top maritime organizations. Also in 2006, Mr. Gleason was invited by former U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao to serve as a member of the Maritime Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (MACOSH) as an employee representative.

Gleason received the Maritime Industry Good Scout Award in 2007 presented by the Greater New York Councils, Boy Scouts of America. He has also been honored by the United Negro College Fund as Man of the Year as well as the Essex and Union (New Jersey) chapters of the A. Philip Randolph Institute and was a recipient of the ILA Great Lakes District’s Owen J. Kavanaugh Award.

Mr. Gleason was a Vice President and Board member of the DC Friends of Ireland and he is a past Governor, Secretary and Vice President of the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City.

At the time of his passing, Robert Gleason resided in Warwick, New York and his wife, Judy. The couple have two grown daughters, Lauren and Erin.

The family will receive visitors at Lazar-Smith & Vander Plaat Funeral Home, 17 Oakland Avenue, Warwick, New York (845-986-4331) on Thursday and Friday, September 10 and 11, 2020 from 3 pm to 6 pm. Funeral services will be private.