The Top Black Labor Union Leaders

Before sleeping-car porters organized in 1925, most labor unions excluded blacks. Today 20 percent of black workers belong to a union, and black members' median salary is 36 percent more than that of non-members. The Root celebrates black labor leaders, past and present.

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  • The Struggle for Black Union Leadership

    The Struggle for Black Union Leadership

    A. Philip Randolph
    Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters

    In 1925 A. Philip Randolph became the leader of the black service staff of the Pullman railroad cars. It was the first African-American labor union. In 1941 Randolph threatened to bring 100,000 black job seekers to Washington, D.C. In response, President Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order that ended race, color, creed and national origin bias in the hiring of workers in defense industries or the federal government, and created black membership in federal unions. In 1955 Randolph was elected an AFL-CIO vice president.

    Captions by Frank McCoy

  • A Dream for Racial and Economic Justice

    A Dream for Racial and Economic Justice

    Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
    Civil rights leader

    In 1961 Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about the labor and civil rights movements uniting for decent wages, fair working conditions, and security in health and retirement.

    Click and scroll for King’s speech to the AFL-CIO in 1961.

  • The Evolution of a Labor Giant

    The Evolution of a Labor Giant

    Arlene Holt Baker
    Executive vice president, AFL-CIO

    In 1930 the AFL-CIO recognized the Pullman porters’ union. Seventy years later, Arlene Holt Baker is third in the leadership of the 11.5 million-member AFL-CIO, a federation of 56 national and international labor unions. She had been an organizer and California area director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The 30-year union veteran, who also worked with clerical employees for the city of Los Angeles, says, “Economic empowerment occurs through collective bargaining and having a voice at work.”

  • Union Membership Was Inevitable

    Union Membership Was Inevitable

    Diann Woodard
    President, American Federation of School Administrators

    The leader of AFSA‘s 20,000 members — who include public school principals, vice principals, administrators and supervisors in school districts — Diann Woodard grew up in a United Auto Worker family. For more than 36 years, she has been a Detroit public school teacher, guidance counselor and assistant principal.

  • From Classroom to Union Success

    From Classroom to Union Success

    Dr. Lorretta Johnson
    Executive vice president,
    American Federation of Teachers

    In 2008 Lorretta Johnson was elected to her present position. For more than 30 years, she had been a vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 1.5 million members in roughly 3,000 local affiliates and 43 state affiliates. Johnson, who began her career in 1966 as a $2.25-an-hour teacher’s aide at a Baltimore elementary school, is also treasurer of the national board of the A. Philip Randolph Institute. In 2007 the average salary for a union teacher was $51,000.

  • The Mail Must Go Through

    The Mail Must Go Through

    William Burrus
    President, American Postal Workers Union

    The Wheeling, W.Va., native was the first African American to be elected president by the membership of a national union in direct balloting. He leads the American Postal Workers Union, the single largest bargaining unit in the United States. It comprises more than 280,000 clerk, maintenance and motor vehicle employees who work in 37,000 facilities. The APWU also represents private-sector mail workers.

  • The Backbone of California Schools

    The Backbone of California Schools

    Clyde Rivers
    Member, AFL-CIO Executive Council and California School Employees Association

    The motto of the California School Employees Association, which represents 220,000 school support staff in 750 chapters, is “Essential work, extraordinary workers.” Clyde Rivers represents the CSEA on the AFL-CIO Executive Council and California Labor Federation Executive Board. He was president of the CSEA from 2001 to 2005 and worked in the San Mateo County Community College District for 38 years. Rivers retired in 2006.

  • Machinists Keep Things Rolling and Flying

    Machinists Keep Things Rolling and Flying

    Robert Roach Jr.
    General vice president, transportation, International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers

    There are more than 720,000 members of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers employed throughout North America. Roach worked his way up from a Trans World Airlines ramp serviceman in the early 1970s to his current spot at the IAM in 1999.

  • Teamsters: Interracial From the Start

    Teamsters: Interracial From the Start

    Albert R. Mixon
    Member, General Executive Board
    Vice president at large, International Brotherhood of Teamsters

    Black and white delegates attended the formation of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in 1903. The 21 industrial divisions of the Teamsters currently have more than 1.4 million members. Albert R. Mixon joined the Teamsters in 1977 as a factory worker. By 2003 he was his local’s president and secretary-treasurer; he rose to his current position on the executive board six years later. He is also chairman of the Teamsters National Black Caucus.

  • Great Public Schools for Every Student

    Great Public Schools for Every Student

    Rebecca S. “Becky” Pringle
    Secretary-treasurer, National Education Association

    The physical-science teacher, with 31 years of classroom experience, was elected secretary-treasurer of the 3.2 million-member National Education Association in July 2008. The country’s largest professional organization, it represents elementary and secondary school teachers, higher-education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers Pringle previously served as a member of NEA’s executive committee from 2001 to 2007.

  • They Make the Cars -- And Many Other Things

    They Make the Cars -- And Many Other Things

    General Holiefield
    Vice president, United Auto Workers
    Member, International Executive Board

    In June 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a version of what would become his hallmark “I Have a Dream” speech before members of the United Auto Workers in Detroit. Holiefield has belonged to the UAW since he went to work at Chrysler’s Jefferson assembly plant in Motown 37 years ago. Today the multiracial UAW has 390,000 members. Holiefield is also a member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.

  • One of the Most Diverse Unions Ever

    One of the Most Diverse Unions Ever

    Gerald “Gerry” Hudson
    International executive vice president, Service Employees International Union

    More than 50 percent of the 2.2 million members of the Service Employees International Union belong to local unions that are led by a person of color or a woman. Gerald Hudson has been with the SEIU, which initially represented immigrant janitors and window washers, since the 1970s, moving to leadership posts a decade later. He describes his focus this decade as “dedication to addressing urban sprawl and the disproportionate impacts of environmental degradation on low-income and minority communities.”

  • They Do Much More Than Make Steel

    They Do Much More Than Make Steel

    Fred Redmond
    International vice president (human affairs), United Steelworkers

    The United Steelworkers union does more than its name may imply. Its 1.2 million active and retired members have worked or currently work in mining, health care or the oil sector and are pulp, paper and forestry workers. They also make Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Carrier air conditioners. Fred Redmond, whose main responsibility is the care and safety of fellow steelworkers, joined the union in 1973.

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