Remembering Howard Metzenbaum (1917-2008) – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

The National Consumers League and its allies in the consumer advocacy world lost a friend and icon last week: U.S. Senator Howard Metzenbaum (D-OH), who supported the work of the Child Labor Coalition as a Senate Advisor. Metzenbaum championed the rights of consumers and workers in Congress and was beloved by consumer and labor leaders alike. For example, to protect workers from the disruption of plant closings and loss of jobs, Metzenbaum authored a law requiring 60 days’ notice before a company could shut down a plant.

Metz, as he was called, never shied away from a fight – often infuriating the conservatives in Congress. And when he retired from the Senate, he agreed to serve as Chairman of the Consumer Federation of America. Lucky CFA! I would be hard-pressed to name another Senator whose name is so synonymous with consumer rights and protections. For Metzenbaum, there were no sacred cows – he went after big oil, the insurance and pharmaceutical industry, banks, in his nearly twenty years of service. He also championed the campaign for universal health insurance, an issue with as much (perhaps more) urgency today as it had back in the 1980s.

During my decade with Consumers Union, I worked with many former Metzenbaum staffers and the Senator himself. He reviewed the resumes of applicants for CU’s Esther Peterson Public Interest Fellowship, and I worked on vetting aspiring consumer advocates for that program. They share common traits that I see in many consumer colleagues: indefatigable advocacy for consumer issues in Congress and in the federal agencies and an unwillingness to take “no” for an answer when consumer rights and protections are at stake, even when the deck is stacked against them.

Senator Howard Metzenbaum, vocal and fearless consumer advocates in Congress are a rare breed and we will miss you.