Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude
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Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude

The Top Black Labor Union Leaders

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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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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.