Workers of color to testify on union biases

White leadership challenged to share the power

Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones

Minneapolis is part of an AFL-CIO eight-city racial and economic justice tour. Members of the national AFL-CIO’s Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice will visit Friday, February 12 at Minneapolis’ United Labor Centre to hear rank and file union members, especially Blacks and other persons of color, share their concerns and experiences with racial disparities within their respective unions.

Given that in many reports the city has been found with some of the worst racial economic disparities in the nation, Minneapolis became part of the tour at the urging of Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation (MRLF)’s People of Color Union Members caucus. “We passed a resolution that we supported this summit,” explains Cathy Jones, a 10-year local postal carrier and member of Local 9 of the National Association of Postal Carriers.

While the February 12 “Membership Voices” session (7:30-9:45 am) is not open to the public, union members and non-union community members can speak with Commission members at a MRLF-hosted “Town Hall Dinner” at the United Labor Centre Thursday, February 11, from 6-9 pm.

“We, as union members, have had enough of being locked out of positions of leadership,” says Jones. “There are some of us who feel that union leaders and unions are intentionally keeping union members of color out.”

Jones said that the national AFL-CIO conducted two studies (1995 and 2005) and both recommended the local affiliates improve their diversity efforts. “The [national] AFL-CIO does not control their affiliates. They can’t mandate them to do anything,” she notes. “Still not much has changed in 2016.

“It’s important for us as union members of color to let our predominately White leaders know enough is enough,” says Jones, who wants White union leaders to “acknowledge” union members of color “and to find persons of color who are qualified” for leadership roles. They need to “stop making excuses why they are not involved. I’m proud that I will be one of five people who will give lengthy testimony (on February 12).”

Too much nepotism and other unfair advantages are often in play in many unions, notes Jones. “I work in a predominately White male industry, and it’s a continual good-old-boy system. They don’t value the differences in our union and [need to] be more thoughtful when it comes to people of color. This is a group that is not interested in reaching out and does not want to give up power. They want to keep it small and keep the power to themselves.

“These are the challenges we are facing and the barriers we are trying to break down,” says Jones.

Even though there are two opportunities for union members of color to testify to Commission members, “I’m also concerned about the actual people who will show up because of the retaliation piece,” says Jones. “A lot of us have real good, middle-class jobs, and a lot of people don’t want to risk that. They are afraid to speak out. I don’t blame them.

“I love my job,” says Jones, who adds that there could be some retaliation against her as a result of her outspokenness.

“It is not a comfortable subject,” says MRLF Community Organizer KerryJo Felder on speaking out about the lack of inclusion in unions.

The two scheduled sessions later this month are “intentional uncomfortable conversations about why we are here and how are we to go forward,” concludes Jones. “We pay union dues just like everyone else. It’s time for us to get a piece of the pie.”


Look for an MSR follow-up story that allows union leaders a chance to respond.

RSVP is required for both the February 11 and February 12 events. For more information or to RSVP, contact KerryJo Felder at 612-321-5669 or

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to