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The Shoulders I Stand On

Greetings ATU. I hope 2023 has begun a new and prosperous year for your family and you. As we start the new year, may we all commit to continuing the fight for and on behalf of our members to secure good wages, strong benefits, and a good quality of life.

In February we celebrated Black History Month. I would like to take a personal privilege to thank the Black ATU International Officers and other labor leaders whose shoulders I stand on. Beginning with our first black International Vice President Bruce Foster, our first International Secretary-Treasurer Oliver Green, and International Secretary-Treasurer Oscar Owens, a friend, and mentor whom I succeeded.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the other black retired or deceased International Vice Presidents who have contributed to this International Union. Wilford Spears, Jackie Breckenridge, Rodney Richmond, JC Reynolds, Karen Simmons, Charles Pettus, Claudia Hudson, and Paul Bowen. By acknowledging these Brothers and Sisters, I hope you are reminded of the struggles and sacrifices made by many people, too many to mention in this article.

Many others outside of the ATU paved the way for opportunities for people of color, and I would like to mention a few of them - William “Bill” Lucy and A. Philip Randolph.

A friend of the ATU, Bill Lucy is a founder and first president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), which was formed in 1972. CBTU is not a black separatist or civil rights organization. It is the fiercely independent voice of black workers within the trade union movement, challenging organized labor to be more relevant to the needs and aspirations of Black and poor workers. 

A. Philip Randolph was a renowned labor leader and civil rights activist who founded the nation’s first major Black labor union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), in 1925. In the 1930s, his organizing efforts helped end racial discrimination in defense industries and segregation in the U.S. armed forces. Randolph was also a principal organizer of the March on Washington in 1963, which paved the way for the passage of the Civil Rights Act the following year. Inspired by this success, Randolph and civil rights activist Bayard Rustin founded the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) in 1965 to continue the struggle for social, political, and economic justice for all working Americans.

The current presidents of these organizations, Clayola Brown (APRI) and Terry Melvin (CBTU), were speakers at our ATU International convention last September. These organizations are constituency groups of the AFL-CIO, and I encourage you to get involved with them.

As you can see, there are many Black trade unionists that we can look up to. At the time of writing this article, our brothers and sisters in Local 689-Washington, DC, are on strike against contractor Keolis in Loudoun Country, VA, in their fight for decent wages, a secure retirement, and strong benefits. I also want to honor these strong workers, many of them people of color, who are bravely standing in solidarity on the picket line. As A. Phillip Randolph famously said, “Freedom is never granted; it is won. Justice is never given; it is exacted.”
I ask that you please support our Local 689 and our fellow members in their fight for freedom and justice because “an injury to one is an injury to all.”