African Americans have always struggled for parity in the workplace. In addition to racial tensions, cutbacks in the public and private sectors have undermined the standard of living for those affected. Outsourcing and exporting of jobs, immigration, natural and man-made tragedies have also played significant roles in the workplace dynamics. But the labor union acts as the light at the end of the tunnel when it performs as it was designed to do, on behalf of the workers, especially the African American worker.
Much insight can be gleaned from a sample of the inner workings of some of the nation’s prominent unions and as the nation gets ready to celebrate Labor Day 2007, it is fitting that the labor unions get an opportunity to lend their voices in support of those who labor for the benefit of the masses. Like every other strata of society, the union was not always friendly towards Blacks as they had to struggle for legitimate inclusion.
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was the first successful Black union, founded by A. Philip Randolph to represent the interests of the Pullman Porters. Since then, Blacks have enjoyed the fruits of labor unions on par with the rest of society. Southern California is home to a distinguished group of African American union representatives including the following:
JOY BROWN-PRICE: Currently, she is the first vice president and political chair of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 585. She defines a ‘shero’ as “…a woman who inspires others through her own actions.” That, she has done.
LAWRENCE “LARRY” BROWN: President of Angel City Branch 24 of the National Association of Letter Carriers, and a lifetime member and trustee of Morning Star Baptist Church. He is also active in the Democratic Party and was awarded the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Democrat of Year award. He told the Sentinel, “We should keep in mind that while we are at the barbeque and the picnics, the real meaning of Labor Day is solidarity among workers worldwide. The current situation with the jobless rate and the economic conditions nationwide, it is more imperative than ever for Black Americans to become more aware of what’s happening around them. Labor Day is a day for those in the union and those out of the union to look at where we came from.”
FAITH D. CULBREATH: President of Security Officers United of Los Angeles, Local 2006, a newly charted Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local that is made up of 4,000 security officers in Los Angeles. She also serves on the executive board of the SEIU CA property service council representing 40,000 members throughout the state.
TYRONE FREEMAN: The youngest leader elected to the international executive board of SEIU in 1996 and was also elected vice president of SEIU International in 2000. He represents nearly 200,000 California long-term care workers. As president of one of the largest local unions in the country, he is transforming labor in California with his tireless commitment to leading the fight for livable wages, affordable housing and health care for all.
ALICE GOFF: President of Area Local 3090, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, the Los Angeles City clerical and support services unit, president of AFSCME District 36 and vice president of the international union representing California. The membership of Goff’s Local 3090 is predominantly female and has forged groundbreaking policies on pay equity, family leave and protecting victims of domestic violence in the workplace. She has served on AFSCME’s international women’s committee where the agenda is set for the national union’s policy on women’s rights. She was born in Belize, and enjoys reading, traveling and family events.
ALAN LEE: The international union area field services director for AFSCME who has earned a reputation as a fearless and outspoken advocate for human and labor rights. He is a founding member and chairman of the board of African American Community and Labor Leaders Alliance (ACLLA), and under his leadership, it has emerged as a powerful force bridging the gap between the African American and labor communities. He is one of the union’s youngest directors.
RALPH MILLER: President of AFSCME Local 685, Los Angeles County Probation Officers Union. Among his recent accomplishments as president of Local 685, he negotiated the biggest pay raise in the history of the union by mobilizing more than 1,000 members, along with community activists to protest before the Board of Supervisors. He is also vice president of the Los Angeles County Federation, AFL-CIO, treasurer of the Coalition of County Unions and a member of the board of directors of numerous public safety organizations.
STEVEN NEAL: As the director of community services for AFL-CIO, he is responsible for developing and implementing strategic plans for building coalitions between labor, community and religious organizations to improve the quality of life for their shared constituencies. He has been lauded for his ability to work with diverse group of people. In addition to his role as community services director, Neal serves as the executive director of the labor community services food and emergency program of Los Angeles, a non profit program that services more than half a million individuals annually. He is a member of the NAACP, SCLC and a trustee of the A. Philip Randolph Institute.
ROBERT TURNER: The international representative of the Brotherhood of Teamsters Union. Since the 1960’s, he has focused on the necessity to organize and educate the unorganized workers on the traditions and benefits of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. He was one of the founding members of the Teamsters National Black Caucus and has guided its expansion from zero to more than 20 chapters in the last decade. His dream is to unite the labor movement to strategically combat capitalist employers and anti-labor entities globally.
YVONNE WHEELER: A committed labor, civil rights and community activist who has spent her life championing the rights of working people. She is currently an AFL-CIO senior field representative covering all of Southern California. In 1999, she became the first African American elected as president of the Communications Workers of American Local 9586. Her credits include crucial L.A. area campaigns such as the longshore union lockout, supermarket strike/lockout and helping to defeat the governor’s 2005 special election initiatives. Wheeler is the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions for her activism.
VELMA JACKSON BUTLER: President of the American Federation of Teacher Local 1521, which represents the clerical/technical employees in the district. She first became active in the union in 1991 and has since also joined with the Coalition of Union Women as well as serve as a Vice President on the Executive Board for the California Federation of Teachers and a Southern Vice President for the CFT/Council of Classified Employees.