AFL-CIO to hold regular talks on racism beginning in September

SILVER SPRING, Md. – Yesterday, as part of the AFL-CIO Executive Council meetings, the AFL-CIO Commission on Racial and Economic Justice held its first meeting.  The meeting included labor leaders and academic advisors who, as a group, decided to launch a series of internal conversations in the labor movement around the role of race in unions, workplaces and in the broader communities.

After the meeting the AFL-CIO issued a statement drafted by the commision which read, “The recent activism of the Black Lives Matter movement has created a national and global conversation about the insidious role that racism plays in the lives of black people.

“Since the death of Trayvon Martin,” the statement said, “the AFL-CIO has worked to open a constructive dialogue around the role of race. This has included a speech by AFL-CIO President Trumka in Ferguson and a discussion among local labor leaders in the wake of Michael Brown’s death.

The commission paid special attention, apparently, to the harm that racism does to white, as well as Black workers.

“In addition the AFL-CIO is working with affiliates, constituency groups and community partners to educate workers and analyze the way racism weakens the collective power of all working people and harms both people of color and white workers,” the statement read.

Over the next few months the AFL-CIO is expected, as a result of the work of the new commission, to identify practices within local labor bodies that build solidarity among white members and members of color, and expose practices that undermine or obstruct solidarity and constructive relationships.

The commission hopes to expand the AFL-CIO’s work to address the challenges faced by all communities of color including new immigrants who face discrimination on the job, and are also more likely to get trapped in the criminal justice system.

The commission was formed at the AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting in February this year. 

The AFL-CIO yesterday named the following members of the commission:

President Marc Perrone, UFCW, Co-Chair
Vice President Fred Redmond, USW, Co-Chair
President James Boland, Bricklayers
President Tom Buffenbarger
President J. David Cox, AFGE
Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, AFL-CIO
Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson, AFT
Secretary-Treasurer Laura Reyes, AFSCME
President Kenneth Rigmaiden, IUPAT
Secretary-Treasurer, Liz Shuler, AFL-CIO
President Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO

The advisory council will include:

Dorian Warren, Roosevelt Institute Fellow & MSNBC Host, Co-Chair
Ian Haney-Lopez, Professor of Law, University of California at Berkeley, Co-Chair
Ana Avendano, Vice President of Labor Participation, United Way
Judith Brown-Dianis, Co-Director, Advancement Project
Bill Fletcher, Labor Scholar & Consultant
Jack Hayn, Assistant to President, IUPAT
Courtney Jenkins, Young Worker Advisory Council, APWU
Terry Melvin, Secretary-Treasurer of NY State AFL-CIO, President of Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Chair of Labor Commission for Community Action
Steven Pitts, Associate Chair, University of California at Berkeley Labor Center
Petee Talley, Secretary-Treasurer of OH State AFL-CIO, Ohio Coalition on Black Civic Participation
Robin Williams, Associate Director, Civil Rights and Community Action Department, UFCW

Photo: David Carson/AP


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.