Ken Blaylock, a native of North Carolina, began his civil service career in 1954 as a plumber at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. He joined AFGE Local 997 and quickly became a union activist, progressing through the ranks until he was elected national president at the 1976 convention.
Passage of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 was one of Blaylock’s greatest achievements as AFGE national president. The Act expanded collective bargaining rights for government workers and created the Federal Labor Relations Authority. In codifying these rights in law, rather than relying on presidential executive orders, AFGE protected federal employees when anti-union administrations sought to destroy their rights.
“If we did not have the labor relations program in the federal sector locked into law, under this administration we’d be totally out of business,” Blaylock told the Washington Post in 1986.
Blaylock believed in constant organizing, developing strong locals, and educating local officers to handle worksite problems.
Blaylock was known for his natural eloquence and his success in raising AFGE’s union profile nationally and internationally. A Southern progressive, he took a brave, progressive stand for international union and human rights and built relationships with leaders in the civil rights movement. He emphasized grassroots political action, and under his leadership AFGE members were encouraged to get involved in the issues of the day – including people’s struggles in South Africa and Central America.
Blaylock was also successful in increasing diversity in the union from top to bottom and is credited with laying the groundwork for the success of future AFGE presidents.
Following his term as national president, Blaylock was elected to two three-year terms as District 5 national vice president. He last spoke to a large AFGE audience at the 2013 National Leadership Meeting, where he discussed the history of AFGE’s struggles and achievements. During the gathering he was honored for his service and leadership of the federation.
President Emeritus Blaylock is survived by his loving family and friends, and deeply remembered by countless AFGE trade unionists. His memorial page can be viewed here.