Union Membership and the Black Worker

Union membership translates into significant economic gains for blacks. At the beginning of this century, the full-time median weekly earnings of black workers, who were union members (male and female) was $603. This was about twenty-five percent (25%) higher than earnings of $463 a week received by black workers, who didn’t belong to unions. In addition to increased earnings, a union card brings other benefits including better health and welfare coverage, pension protection, and increased job security.

Blacks have been workers since they first arrived on the shores of North American continent. At first, they labored under the guise of indentured servants and slaves. Their skills and labor helped the country experience major economic growth. However, because of discrimination and national oppression, African-American families failed to reap the benefits of its growth. Despite the country’s economic upswings, African-American workers continued to labor under inferior wages, in deplorable working conditions and without needed benefits.

A major breakthrough for blacks in their quest for equal employment opportunity came under the leadership of the great labor and civil rights leader, A. Philip Randolph.

It was Randolph who organized the first "March on Washington" movement in 1941, demanding justice for black workers. From that historic march came the first Presidential Executive Order forbidding discrimination by federal contractors.

Randolph organized The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925. He was the first African-American elected to the AFL Executive Council, he was later recognized by the united labor movement, which elected him to a similar position with the merged American Federation Of Labor and the Congress Of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

Black workers represented by various unions total almost three million. This equals about one-fourth of all blacks in the workforce. Nearly one third of the Teamsters’ membership is black. This puts the number of Blacks in the Teamsters’ union at about 450,000 men and women in occupations and industries, ranging from airlines to zoos.

The Teamsters Union is not the only union which can trumpet a high rate of black members. Studies have shown that black workers join unions in proportionately higher numbers than all other segments of the general working population. The results one out of six black workers is a union member.

Today, blacks have assumed various leadership positions throughout the trade union movement. Members of the TNBC serve in many top elected offices within the Teamsters Union.

TNBC: History in Brief

Miami, Florida July 7, 1971, the Teamsters National Black Caucus held its first meeting at the Playboy Plaza Hotel. The meeting's goal was to bring about a change to the Teamsters International. New passages were entered on the pages of the history of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Robert Simpson of Teamsters Local 743 in Chicago was the spokesman for the delegates at the meeting. Simpson said that blacks had been omitted from high paying leadership positions at the Teamsters International level. Simpson also noted that "Blacks serve as special organizers in times of Black crises without the salary or title." General President Frank E. Fitzsimmons and several Vice Presidents agreed to form a committee to rectify the problem. The General President promised that blacks would be considered for vacancies occurring on the general executive board before the 1976 Teamsters Convention.

In September, 1975, John H. Cleveland, President of Teamsters Local 730 in Washington, D.C. became the first appointed chairperson of this newly formed organization. Cleveland later became the first African American Vice President of the IBT. In 1984, Edward "Doc" James was appointed Chairman and ran un-opposed until October 1993. In January, 1994, Claude Brown was appointed to serve the remaining term of Doc James. In September, 1998, Chris Silvera became the first Chairman elected by the membership of the TNBC and was reelected in August of 2003.

Chris Silvera resigned in December 2006 and Terry Freeman was appointed from Vice Chair to Chairman to serve his remaining term. Albert R. Mixon was elected Chairman in 2008 and took office in 2009. Mixon was reelected to a second term and served until 2016, he also became an IBT Vice President. Ferline Buie, the first female to serve as Chairman of the TNBC was appointed to serve Mixon remaining term. She was also an IBT Vice President-at- Large and President of JC 55. James "Curb" Curbeam was elected Chairman in 2018 at the 43rd Annual Educational Conference; the term commences on January 1, 2019. Curbeam is also the Southern Region Organizer Coordinator for the IBT.

The TNBC was formed to:

Organize the unorganized in our communities throughout the U.S.

Promote affirmative action in the workplace and in our community.

Encourage political action and legislation.

Increase the level of African Americans' participation within Teamster Locals and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters

The TNBC has played a key role in the continuing struggle to recruit African Americans into the IBT. It goes without saying that union membership is one of the best investments for African American workers. African American workers represented by unions total almost three million of the entire labor membership, equaling more than one fourth of all African Americans in the workforce. Nearly one-third of the Teamsters' membership is African American. Studies have shown that African American workers join unions in proportionately higher numbers that all other segments of the general working population. Today, in the 21st century, too many African American workers and their families still find themselves searching for their share of the American dream. While much progress has been made in the area of civil rights, those gains are endangered by persistent economic inequalities, political attacks, and judicial decisions that are endangering affirmative action and anti-discrimination laws.

To meet current and future challenges, the TNBC is working in the following areas:

Political Action

Educational Programs

Legal Support

Workplace Representation