Gerry's Home Page Up BioSketch Spirit of Ben Civil Rights




Ben Stahl

I was back at Temple University again, having graduated in 1936. But this time I was at their Urban Archives, leafing through the accumulated writings, correspondence and documents I have been depositing with them in the aftermath of forty years of employment with national CIO and AFL-CIO from 1943 to 1982. Included in the files were the materials I had stashed away relating to the Human Rights Committee (the Committee) of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO Council — minutes, communications and the like — and seeing them again I felt it would be valuable to tell about the Committee and its work, activities that constituted a unique experience, both for the labor movement as a whole and for me as an individual. Formed in 1957 and in existence until mid-1965, the Committee was the most active one of any Central Labor body that I have witnessed during my service as a national staff representative for the trade union movement. It was a committee that took strong positions on the controversial issues arising during the civil rights revolution of the 1960s, yet positions consistent with organized labor’s official civil rights program and policies.

I served on the Philadelphia AFL-CIO Human Rights Committee from 1959 to 1965, first as secretary and later as consultant, and therefore was deeply involved in its deliberations and recommendations to local and national trade union bodies. Nineteen fifty four, it will be remembered, saw the historic, unanimous Warren Supreme Court decision on school desegregation — the legal start of an end to segregation and, hopefully, discrimination in our nation. But not much was achieved until the civil rights movement got underway with the Southern lunch-room sit-ins, Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott, the 1963 March on Washington, the philosophy of affirmative action and the Johnson federal legislation. Then a conscious alliance of church, community and other groups pressed forward for major change. Our Committee played its part in this ferment, a significant role and somewhat unique for an official committee of a local labor body. It was responsible for implementing labor’s civil rights policies in the Philadelphia area during this exciting period. And the impact of this Committee’s policies and activities takes on even more meaning viewed currently when a new need arises for a civil rights thrust to reverse recent Supreme Court rulings that have demolished gains of the 1960s.

I was part of the student movement of the 1930s when I attended Temple University — first, of the Student League for Industrial Democracy and then the American Student Union. Built to a large extent around the economics of the l930’s depression, that student movement had far closer ties to the developing labor movement than the student groups of later periods — the 60’s or the 80’s. It was natural that I start my association with organized labor soon after graduating from college, employed by the Philadelphia Workers Education Project of WPA and shortly thereafter, at the age of 21, elected as Secretary of the WPA Teachers Union (AFT). I taught union classes during the period of the rise of the new CIO industrial unions and the expansion of the AFL. The WPA program taught new leaders and members of unions how to function in their roles. I then worked for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and was a member of the CIO State, County, Municipal Workers Union — frequently differing with the union’s national and local philosophy and approach. In 1943, in the midst of World War II, I went to work for national CIO as a field representative in Delaware. I continued with the national organization until the AFL-CIO merger in December l955, organizing and servicing workers in New England, the Mid-West, the West Coast, parts of the South, and back home in Pennsylvania, operating out of the respective CIO regional offices, or on national organizing drives such as telephone, brewery, shoe, jewelry, furniture and insurance. Besides my major regular assignments, I became involved in the local labor movement’s relationship to the various communities. After the historic merger of AFL and CIO, I continued to work for the unified organization in various parts of the country, organizing textile in the South and teachers in Louisville, among other drives, and returning to Philadelphia in early 1959. During a break in my employment for national AFL-CIO, I combined teaching workers education classes for the Philadelphia School District with working on civil rights and community relations as Area Director of the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC), then becoming a major force for trade union action in the civil rights field. Quite naturally I became involved with Philadelphia’s AFL-CIO Human Rights Committee, which had already been functioning for two years. I returned to the national AFL-CIO staff in the spring of 1962 to direct the Philadelphia teachers’ successful organizing drive. After they won collective bargaining rights in l965, I remained with national AFL-CIO until 1969, when I transferred to AFL-CIO’s Human Resources Development Institute, serving as its Mid-Atlantic Regional Director until retirement in July 1982.

Formation of Philadelphia’s AFL-CIO Human Rights Committee

Although the AFL and CIO national merger occurred in December l955, the local Philadelphia counterparts did not merge until November 30,1960, almost five years later; the former Central Labor Council (AFL) head, Norman Blumberg, a Painters Union official, became President of the new AFL-CIO Council, and Joseph Kelley, former President of the CIO Council and an IUE local, its Secretary-Treasurer. Since the early 1940s, however, the two groups had a positive history of working together harmoniously, despite conflicts at times on organizing and on political and legislative goals. Through the Labor Education Association, established shortly after the closing of the WPA Workers Education Program, they conducted joint educational conferences, classes and seminars. They carried out joint activities in War Relief campaigns and cooperated with the Jewish Labor Committee in human rights conferences, meetings and support activities.

National AFL-CIO at its l955 merger convention established a national Civil Rights Committee, chaired first by Secretary-Treasurer William Schnitzler and then by Charles Zimmerman, ILGWU Vice-President and Chairperson of JLC’s National Trade Union Council, with long-time AFL staffer Boris Shishkin as full-time director. It requested all local Central Labor Councils to establish local committees on civil rights, and accordingly the two Philadelphia labor bodies set up separate Human Rights Committees in the spring of l957. Ronald Smith, Secretary-Treasurer of AFSCME District Council #33, chaired the AFL Committee and David Schick, of the Newspaper Guild, chaired the CIO Committee. After a few separate meetings, the two groups decided to meet jointly and submitted their recommendations to their two Council Executive Boards. Steve Remsen, JLC’s full-time Area Director, was appointed Secretary of the Joint Committee. Of the original fifteen Committee members, only George Morris, active NAACP member and business agent of the Window Cleaners Union, SEIU, was black — an indication of the limited black leadership in the local labor movement in this period following the U.S. Supreme Court decision on school desegregation and in an era that would see major focus on civil rights issues by the nation as a whole and by the labor movement in particular. When I replaced Steve Remsen as JLC Area Director, I was appointed Secretary of the joint Philadelphia AFL-CIO Human Rights Committee.

Role of the Committee Before the Two Councils’ Local Merger

The Committee met regularly, focused on federal, state and local civil rights legislation — including adequate funding of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) and the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (CHR) — made recommendations to unions on financial contributions to various causes and distributed educational materials to local unions on various relevant issues. It avoided becoming involved in discrimination matters within the labor movement, although Committee member Harry Wagner, a building trades local union officer, reported that he was making surveys and working with building trades unions on their problems in his capacity as Regional Director for the PHRC. The Committee sponsored a conference on "Labor’s Role in Human Relations" in November 1959 with representatives of civil rights and community relations organizations as speakers.

Factors Relating to the Committee's Successes

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission

Several new developments helped expand both the horizons and activities of the local AFL-CIO Human Rights Committee. Harry Boyer, President of the Pennsylvania CIO Council, continued as Chairperson of the PHRC when new legislation expanded its jurisdiction from employment matters (FEPC) to include coverage of discrimination in housing, education and public accommodations. Boyer’s dual role as head of the state CIO and the state’s civil rights enforcement agency gave status and support to trade union human rights activities. This continued when Boyer later became head of the merged Pennsylvania AFL-CIO Council.

The Negro Trade Union Leadership Council

An additional important local event was the establishment of the Negro Trade Union Leadership Council (NTULC), led by James H. (Jimmy) Jones, Staff Representative of the United Steelworkers of America. NTULC brought together local black union leadership and conducted classes, sponsored educational conferences, adopted positions, took actions and later sponsored funded training programs for blacks and other minorities.

Jimmy Jones was the key player in the struggle for civil rights within the Philadelphia labor movement. Appointed by Philip Murray in 1943 as one of the first black staff representatives of the United Steelworkers of America, he rose quickly both within the labor movement and within the community. In the 1940s he organized the Council for Equal Job Opportunity as an integral part of the active Fellowship Commission, helped write one of the first local fair employment acts which created a Fair Employment Practices Commission, became a Vice-President of the Philadelphia CIO Council and a force in the political and community activities of the labor movement. He later represented Steelworkers President I. W. Abel on the well known Kerner Commission’s study of civil rights and racism in America.

When NTULC was first established there were few full-time black union staff in Philadelphia, but its activities developed a presence of black trade unionists in key positions throughout the local labor movement and several participants in NTULC activities moved on from Philadelphia to national union leadership. I worked closely with NTULC and particularly with its president, Jimmy Jones, in helping to get the organization underway, and served on its Board of Directors for its entire existence until Jones’ death in 1985.

A major goal of NTULC was the establishment of an Apprentice Outreach Program (AOP) in Philadelphia to recruit minorities for the construction trades and train them to pass the apprenticeship entrance tests. NTULC’s major focus on discrimination in the labor movement had been on the building trades with their higher wages, their visible patterns of a workforce — out in the open air — and the periodic discrimination complaints against their unions. The AOP became organized labor’s approach to breaking discriminatory patterns in the construction industries because, while it concentrated on an affirmative action program of recruitment and tutoring that resulted in bringing minorities into these skilled trades, it still maintained the standards of the unions. AOPs were funded by the U.S. Department of Labor and eventually were established in over 130 metropolitan areas. Philadelphia building trades leaders were slower than those in other cities to accept the AOP concept, but they finally did so — as preferable to the "Philadelphia Plan" which was being promoted by officials of the U.S. Department of Labor and was considered by the building trades as undermining their unions.

As a result of the pressure of the local AFL-CIO Human Rights Committee, NTULC was awarded the government contract for administering the AOP for the Philadelphia five county area. Through NTULC’s efforts Hispanics and women, as well as blacks, were later brought into the apprentice programs.

Over the years NTULC expanded its job training activities with funding from federal, state, city and foundation sources, thus becoming one of the major local employment and training agencies in the nation with important influence within the local labor movement. When, in 1969, I later transferred from National AFL-CIO staff to its new employment and training arm, the AFL-CIO Human Resources Development Institute, NTULC and HRDI jointly developed training programs geared to minorities, and subsequently to women, to bring them into the mainstream of employment.


Another important development locally was the establishment by JLC and NTULC of JOINT, a unified structure which initiated monthly luncheon forums that continue to this day. Now including Hispanics in the expanded sponsoring Ethnic Labor Coalition, these forums have acted as a center for gathering and exchange of views of trade unionists and community activists. The first forum, held May 17, 1961, was in the form of a symposium with Common Pleas Judge David L. Ullman, national leader in the Jewish community relations field, and Leon Higginbotham, then President of the Philadelphia NAACP (later to become a distinguished federal judge), as speakers. Higginbotham spoke frankly in enunciating the goals and methods used by the increasingly militant black civil rights leaders; Some members of the audience found the speech shocking. Through JOINT, black and Jewish trade unionists held regular informal bull sessions, issued joint statements on public issues and became a well known force on human rights and labor issues. During my two-and-a-half years as Regional Director of JLC I was responsible for arranging these JOINT forums and continued to assist in planning them when I returned to the national AFL-CIO staff in March 1962.

The Southern Sit-Ins

As the southern student sit-ins against segregation mounted, many northern civil rights organizations joined them in their attack on de facto and de jure segregation, focusing particularly on support of lunch counter sit-ins. In Philadelphia, labor’s picket line around the center city Woolworth store on April 20, 1960, broke the local media’s silence on the issue and brought the southern struggle closer to local citizens and particularly to union members. Many unions, responding to the Human Rights Committee’s call and led by ILGWU Manager William Ross, cooperated with the Philadelphia Civil Rights Coordinating Committee, composed mainly of area college groups supporting the southern sit-in movement.

Program of Activity Adopted by AFL-CIO Human Rights Committee

The Committee further supported the southern sit-ins by distributing materials to local unions, including an Atlantic Monthly’s reprint, "A Southern Point of View" and CHR’s "A Counseling Program for Minority Group Job Seekers." It issued press statements denouncing the desecration of local churches and synagogues. Its members were regularly furnished with literature on civil rights issues published by labor, government and community relations agencies. New issues included the fair housing movement and practical steps to integrate educational institutions.

The Committee was by now a vocal force on the local human rights scene. In 1960, with a report that there were over 25,000 Puerto Ricans residing in the city, the Committee directed a questionnaire to local unions on the extent of their Puerto Rican membership and any special problems due particularly to language difficulties. (Over thirty years later, with the Puerto Rican population five times larger, there is still little trade union leadership and participation from this ethnic sector which still finds itself at the bottom of Philadelphia’s economic ladder.)

The Committee expanded its opposition to segregation when it attacked South African apartheid at its May 6, 1960, meeting, adopting a motion on the "South African situation." The resolution stated that the "Committee should inquire of the National AFL-CIO Civil Rights Committee regarding the organization’s policy toward economic reprisals being made by South Africa towards U.S. banks, radio and TV networks and other U.S. agencies that plan to discuss or act against South African segregation policies."

Local Labor Merger and the Joint Human Rights Committee

The Joint AFL-CIO Human Rights Committee laid plans for its continuation after merger of the Central Labor Body (AFL) and the Industrial Union Council (CIO), slated to occur on November 30, 1960. Looking forward eagerly to the long awaited event, it noted at its last meeting before merger that "the new merger constitution provides for the establishment of a Human Rights Committee to continue our Committee’s work." It made recommendations for its permanent structure in the merged body, anticipating that its role would now be enhanced, as indeed it was for the almost five years to follow. These recommendations were embodied in an eleven page report, dated December 1, 1960, to the Council’s new Executive Board. It was signed by Co-chairmen David Schick and Ronald Smith and by me as Secretary.

The report reviewed the Committee’s history and activities. It also indicated major issues that required attention: anti-religious incidents, state and national legislation, the Committee’s relations with AFL-CIO’s Civil Rights Department, the Puerto Rican community, the sit-in movement, labor representation in the community and work with local unions and community organizations. It concluded by making seven recommendations to the Executive Board:

1. That the Human Rights Committee be authorized to designate labor representatives to human relations agencies, subject to Executive Board approval.

2. That a sub-committee be set up on neighborhood tensions.

3. That an annual Human Rights Conference be conducted by the Committee with awards to unions and individuals who had done outstanding work in the field.

4. That labor be represented on a specified list of agencies, particularly those dealing with employment and housing.

5. That the Council have some means of communicating with local unions and individuals on matters of local interest, including human rights.

6. That Boris Shishkin be invited to speak to an early meeting of the new Committee — with all Council Executive Board members also invited.

7. That a report be prepared summarizing the Committee’s activities of the past year.

Under a section of the report dealing with "working with local unions and groups" the development of NTULC in Philadelphia was noted, pointing out that "it is part of the general movement of Negroes to act for themselves and develop leadership within the Negro community. There has been some apprehension within the local labor movement that this group might develop into a power-politics caucus. To date, these fears have no foundation. Our Committee, realizing that the problem of discrimination against the Negro is the most significant one within our city, should work with all groups in the Negro community interested in the welfare of all citizens."

As to this apprehension about the "political" aspirations of NTULC, I particularly remember attending its first Annual Banquet, along with 150 others, mostly unionists. Reverend Adam Clayton Powell, Congressman from New York City, was keynote speaker. Although he was a noted orator, a member of the House Labor Committee and considered liberal and pro-union, he also had an image as being one of the new militant black leaders. Concerns were expressed to me regarding NTULC’s having invited that type of leader as the star attraction. I was specifically asked by some local union officers whether NTULC planned to run slates of officers within local unions. I pointed out that the Jewish Labor Committee did not get involved in local union politics or elections, nor had the Catholic Workers group that formerly existed in Philadelphia. The experience in the first few years with NTULC’s activities and program soon dispelled those fears. The NTULC banquet became an annual event; it grew to a minimum of one thousand attendees, had international union presidents as speakers, gave a series of awards to unionists and community leaders and became a labor happening that attracted a wide range of union and community leaders. It also helped NTULC’s financial status.

A Permanent Unified Labor Human Rights Committee

The new Executive Board of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO Council reviewed the Joint Human Rights Committee report and recommendations and in early 1961 established the AFL-CIO Human Rights Committee in accordance with the new constitution. James Jones was appointed Chair; Ronald Smith, Vice-Chair; and Joseph Schwartz, Manager of Knit-Goods Local l90 ILGWU and former JLC chair, as Secretary. I was appointed Consultant to the Committee and continued in that position when I returned to national AFL-CIO staff to direct the Philadelphia teachers’ organizing drive in early l962, until the Committee’s dissolution in l965. A representative group of unionists were appointed as members of the Committee.

Joseph Schwartz, as the new Secretary of the Committee, was a bright, colorful and effective part of its new leadership. Joe headed a large union, known for its educational programs for its members, and its involvement in political and civic affairs. A former socialist and Chairperson of Americans for Democratic Action, he was considered an active, progressive union leader. He and Jimmy Jones became close "buddies." For many years, the union’s and NTULC’s offices were across the street from each other on Broad Street in North Philadelphia and they were in constant communication, organizationally and socially. Also, getting together as leaders of JOINT, they had the opportunity to philosophize on the events of the day. I spent much of my time with Jimmy and Joe in person and on the phone in developing and implementing policies for the Committee.

Two major events sponsored by the Committee in 1961 were a luncheon to mark its inauguration, addressed by Boris Shishkin and Harry Boyer, and an October 7th Civil Rights Conference, key-noted by Emil Mazey, UAW Secretary-Treasurer. Speakers and panelists from labor and community relations agencies led workshops on seniority and fair-employment, effects of automation on training needs, and implications for labor of the new provisions of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.

The new Committee met regularly and, caught up in the excitement of the expanding civil rights movement, enjoyed good attendance and participation. Early in its existence it decided that although it would continue to monitor civil rights legislation, events in the South, and activities of local community relations organizations, its major role and responsibility would be to tackle problems within the Philadelphia house of labor — an area in which no other group could act as effectively.

There was indeed, at that time, substantial criticism aimed at the labor movement by civil rights organizations, minorities and others. There were claims, some valid, others only perceived, that particularly in the skilled crafts of the construction and building trades, but also within other unions, discrimination and de-facto segregation existed. Focussing on problems within one’s own house was new and controversial for a typical Council committee, but in a bold step the Philadelphia AFL-CIO Human Rights Committee directed its activities toward two major areas, which it formalized in a document issued February 27, 1963. The two areas of concentration were:

"1. To work with voluntary agencies and government bodies in the community on problems dealing with discrimination against people because of color, religion or place of birth — in housing, jobs and education."

"2. To eliminate discriminatory practices within the organized trade unions in the community in job placements and apprentice recruitment and to foster equal rights and opportunities for all people."

There were still some segregated local unions, both black and white, in Philadelphia in violation of the AFL-CIO national constitution. The image existed particularly in the black community, that the skilled jobs in the construction industry were barred to minorities, primarily because of union policies, nepotism in admittance to the building trades unions and a discriminatory testing system for apprentices. At banquets in hotels, rarely was a black waiter assigned, even when the sponsoring organization requested an integrated work-force.

It was during this period that the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations developed the policy of focusing on patterns of discrimination in particular industries rather than limiting itself to processing complaints filed by individuals against a particular employer. This innovative policy was considered controversial in both the business and labor communities, but the AFL-CIO Human Rights Committee looked favorably upon the concept. The Committee worked closely with the distinguished attorney and Chairperson of CHR, Sadie Alexander, and monthly meetings were held between the officers of the Committee and Ms. Alexander and the Commission’s Executive Director, George Schermer, to review current problems within the labor movement. I remember the high level of discussions at these meetings, the concern of all participants and the positive results that emerged. Tackled here were the segregated locals among motion picture operators and musicians and discriminatory patterns in the hotel industry, the printing industry and the construction trades. Surveys undertaken by CHR in industries where there were few union members, such as insurance, banking and department stores, were also of interest to the AFL-CIO Committee.

Focusing on Entrance to the Building Trades Apprentice Programs

Since the major concern within both the labor movement and the community were the charges of discriminatory patterns inside the construction industry, the building trades became an emphasis of the AFL-CIO Human Rights Committee. In a letter dated November 15, 1961, to the President of the Philadelphia Building Trades Council (BTC), it requested a meeting to discuss the apprentice training programs of that Council’s affiliated local unions.

Building Trades apprenticeship programs were generally under the supervision of a Joint Labor-Management Apprenticeship Committee. Most of the crafts had a full-time or part-time Apprentice Coordinator. Applicants had to fall within a certain age bracket, usually 18 to 25, and have a high school diploma; and some unions allowed years of service in the military to be taken into consideration in determining age eligibility. Written and oral tests were given to applicants. Some locals accepted applicants only once a year during a limited period. (The Carpenters Union accepted applications throughout the year and gave tests periodically.) There usually was no public announcement of the application period dates or the dates of the written test, which was the first step into the apprenticeship program. No females, to my knowledge, ever took the tests; there were no women members in any of the Philadelphia Building Trades Council local unions. Applicants were rated on the basis of their score on the written test and then called in for an oral interview before a joint labor-management committee. Some of the local unions gave extra credit points to sons and nephews of local union members. There was virtually no public information on application requirements and dates or the nature of the tests. Absolutely no outreach was done. Once having passed both the written and oral examinations (and grades on the orals could be very subjective) the applicant was placed on an apprentice list in the order of his rank. Most building trades crafts had four year apprentice programs (some less) which included training on the job under a journeyman and attendance at classes, usually once or twice a week in the evening. The Carpenters Union had its apprentices attend class for a full day once a week, so that each day 1/5 of the current apprentice group would be attending class, working on jobs the other four days. Because union members could, upon obtaining jobs in other localities, transfer temporarily or permanently to other local unions in the country, apprentice training curriculum standards were often developed by the national union. Union contracts provided for wage increases as apprentices moved up to the next year level.

The BTC’s previous response to complaints of discrimination had simply been that there was no discrimination. BTC spokesmen might comment that minorities — blacks and Hispanics — lacked the educational background to do well on the tests, but that any minority worker who scored high enough on the test would eventually enter the craft. (In practice this did not happen.)

No response was received to the November 15th letter nor to follow-up letters or personal contact. Finally, losing patience, the Committee sent a letter on August 28, l962, signed by Jones and Schwartz, to C. J. Haggerty, President of the National Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, requesting that "through your office, meetings be arranged between representatives of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO Human Rights Committee and the Philadelphia Building Trades Council to discuss this important matter." The letter noted:

"The apprentice training program in Philadelphia is a significant one, carried on with the use of public funds and public facilities supplied by our public school system. There has been unfavorable publicity in the local press because of criticism of the apprentice training program and procedures in selection of applicants. There are reports of investigations by federal, state and local agencies.

"There have been indications of action by various community groups. We know that your office has been concerned that the policy adopted by the AFL-CIO conventions be adhered to by all affiliates. We had hoped to discuss the implication and significance of the apprentice training program quietly within the ranks of the labor movement and, if there were any problems that existed, to solve them within the family of labor. We still hope that this approach may be used."

Copies of the letter to Haggerty were sent to AFL-CIO President George Meany, Chairperson of the National AFL-CIO Civil Rights Committee William Schnitzler, officers of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO Council and Philadelphia Building Trades Council, and all members of the local Committee.

The letter to Haggerty promptly resulted in a meeting on September 4, 1962, between the Executive Board of the Phila. BTC and the Committee, which was represented by Jones, Schwartz, Walter Reeder (Steelworkers staff representative) and me. BTC’s position at the meeting was that each local union was autonomous in dealing with matters of discrimination and with qualifications and standards for admission to their respective apprentice programs. It was pointed out to them that ABC, a non-union employers’ association based in Baltimore, was expanding to Philadelphia and planned to establish an apprenticeship program which would include blacks. ABC non-union contractors were making inroads in obtaining construction contracts in suburban and rural areas, not only from private industry but also from government agencies such as school boards. Non-union contractors with their lower wages and benefits were a real threat to the construction unions and ABC’s open campaign to recruit blacks as both journeymen and apprentices shook up some of the building trades leaders.

But at this meeting, the Building Trades Council merely agreed to send a letter to its affiliates suggesting that local unions contact the Philadelphia AFL-CIO Human Rights Committee if they had any problems on discrimination; they would make no recommendations to the local unions.

The Committee at an October 12, 1962, meeting heard a report from those who represented it at the September 4th meeting with the BTC. The Committee deplored the minimal progress made there and particularly the approach that each local craft was autonomous and that the BTC could therefore make no recommendations to the locals or any effort to tackle the problems caused to them, the labor movement as a whole, and the entire community by the lack of minorities in their ranks in a city with a large percentage of blacks and a growing percentage of Hispanics. The Committee therefore authorized its officers to pursue the problems of apprenticeship training by: sending a full report to Boris Shishkin on developments, meeting with the Vocational Education Director of the School District, meeting with specific local unions to discuss their individual programs, and working with federal and state apprentice training officials on the matter. The Committee accepted the structure of apprentice programs in the skilled crafts, but insisted that procedures be free of racial discrimination, that affirmative efforts be made to recruit minorities, and that nepotism and favoritism to the family of current members be removed.

Many of these apprentice programs were conducted in Philadelphia public school buildings. Public facilities were being used and School District teachers paid by public funds. The Committee decided to visit the classes, and after some bureaucratic delay on the right to do so succeeded in obtaining their schedule and assigned committee members to visit the various programs. They found that among building trades classes, only the Carpenters Union had black participants among its 180 apprentices and that this union was taking positive steps to increase its non-white representation. No non-whites were in attendance at the Electrical, Plumbers or Glaziers Union classes. (The Glaziers had some minority workers in industrial shops but none as apprentices and journeymen on actual construction jobs, and evidently none being trained for such positions.) The Bricklayers had blacks only in their first year class: somehow, according to comments received, they never remained for the second year. The teacher in the Printers Union class, a black, and a tenured regular vocational teacher in the city’s school system during the daytime, reported that he had never taught a Negro student in the union class and was himself unable to join the union that sponsored the class he taught. Unions other than building trades also maintained training classes in cooperation with the school system. The Knitters Program — sponsored jointly by the industry and Knit Goods Local 190, ILGWU, headed by Joe Schwartz — was well integrated, as were the apprentice classes at the Navy Yard, where there was no formal collective bargaining agreement although affiliates of the Metal Trades Council, AFL-CIO, had members and informal relationships with management.

The review of apprentice classes held with public school funding — its teachers paid by the public — confirmed patterns of discrimination in the skilled crafts. As a result of this study, the Board of Education adopted a policy that all apprentice classes taught under its auspices and in its buildings had to be non-discriminatory. Some of the construction crafts immediately moved their program outside the school system.

A movement developed within the Philadelphia community to have the U.S. Employment Service establish an Apprentice Information Center (AIC) where those interested could obtain details on qualifications to enter the various crafts, when and where to apply, nature of tests and other relevant information which hitherto was not publicly available. An AIC Advisory Committee was established with Malcolm Pritzker of the Printing Industry Association as its first chairperson and with representatives of government, industry, labor and community groups serving on the Advisory Council. Staff was provided by the Employment Service. I represented the AFL-CIO Human Rights Committee.

By this time, several cities had established Apprentice Outreach Programs, with support of their local building trades council, to recruit minorities and tutor them for the examinations. The Manpower Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, funded these programs, which were administered by national or local training or community groups. The AOP concept, when first presented, was rejected by Philadelphia Building Trades leaders. But the brief experiences in other cities showed AOPs to be successful and did not interfere with Building Trades structure or policies. The drive for a Philadelphia AOP developed simultaneously within the labor movement and the community, but Philadelphia was to be among the last cities to establish one.

Going Public on the Building Trades Patterns

The Philadelphia AFL-CIO Human Rights Committee, feeling that it was making no substantial progress in bringing minorities into the building trades crafts, decided the time had come to act boldly. On February 27,l963, it issued a report to the Executive Board of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO Council "on our failure to (1) break the pattern of segregated locals and (2) change the discriminatory membership practices of certain unions." The report was signed by the three Committee officers: Jones, Smith and Schwartz, and by me as Consultant.

This report, which stated that the Committee’s approach was to eliminate discrimination in two areas — within the community and within the labor movement itself — created a sensation within those two segments of the city. The report spoke first of positive developments in the larger community: "...breaking the barrier in restaurants which denied services to Negroes...drives to encourage citizens to register and vote. We condemned with equal vigor," it said, "Russia’s treatment of Jews and Mississippi’s efforts to block the admission of a Negro to its university. We have recently undertaken to support a special program in certain southwest counties in Georgia to help Negroes for full citizen participation." And it talked about its local community involvement.

But the report’s Section III bluntly stated that "our efforts to get certain labor unions to change the pattern of discrimination has failed." Although it pointed out that many unions developed programs to recruit Negroes for job placements, it indicated that in this report, "Here we are concerned with our failures."

Three items of failure were discussed, the first two dealing with motion picture operators and musicians:

"Item 1. The all-Negro local of Motion Picture Operators, 307A, refused to merge with the all-white local, 307. . . .The leadership of the white local merits our praise in granting more concessions than necessary in their efforts to comply with the full spirit of our parent body." The statement criticized the Negro local on its refusal to conform to national AFL-CIO policies and on setting a bad example in efforts to eliminate segregation."

Item 2 dealt with meetings of the Committee with representatives of the Musicians Locals 77 and 274, representatives of the International Union and the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations. The Committee then asked: "How can we criticize those unions who have no Negro members when unions with a Negro membership want to maintain a segregated local?"

Item 3: Apprentice training program of the building trades and other unions. This section summarized the history of the Committee’s efforts lasting almost a year to arrange a meeting with the Executive Committee of the Philadelphia Building Trades which then disclaimed any control over its autonomous affiliates. It criticized national Building Trades Department President James Haggerty "who made strong speeches...the Department has nationally adopted strong resolutions," but "We have been unable to get Mr. Haggerty to take an interest in our local problem. Haggerty," the report pointed out, "said that this country needs 2 million more apprentices to meet the challenge of automation, but no effort has been made locally to open up the apprentice training programs to include minority groups, now completely excluded."

The February 27th report told of the spot checks in the school system’s apprentice programs which showed that "with the exception of the Carpenters program, Negroes have been systematically excluded from all of the skilled apprentice programs" and charged that "the Philadelphia labor movement must assume its responsibility in this problem." It reported on the anti-union employer’s association in the construction industry that was contemplating setting up its own apprentice program, using Negroes who had been excluded from legitimate union programs.

Concluding this report, the Human Rights Committee noted that "the tackling of the apprentice program and the guaranteeing of equal opportunities to all regardless of race, creed, nationality or color, is a major responsibility of the Philadelphia labor movement. We humbly ask the full support of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO Executive Board in our activities to date and its recommendations for our next step. Unless we can boldly tackle this problem we have failed our responsibility in carrying out the policy adopted by the AFL-CIO."

The report, mailed to all twenty-three Council Executive Board members, was featured on page one of the March 3rd Sunday Bulletin in an article by labor reporter Douglas Bedell. The report and the newspaper story created a sizeable stir within the labor movement, locally and nationally. The March meeting of the Council lasted four hours. Building trades delegates attacked the report, claiming that "outsiders" were directing AFL-CIO policy (evidently referring to NTULC and JLC unionists) and some local unions threatened to withdraw from the Council. Nevertheless, the meeting accepted the Committee’s report by an overwhelming majority.

The Human Rights Committee, in a letter to the Executive Board in April, thanked the Council for accepting the February 27th report and informed it that the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations had asked the Motion Picture Operators 307 and 307A to merge within thirty days, but that Local 307A was not cooperating; that CHR had charged four BTC locals with discrimination (IBEW Locals 98 and l21, Plumbers 690 and Steamfitters 420); and that CHR had sent out questionnaires on apprentice programs to 34 unions. The Committee made four recommendations to the Council for follow-up:

1. That a report on Philadelphia apprentice programs be compiled and submitted to the national AFL-CIO Civil Rights and Building Trades Departments.

2. That the Council support the move for establishing a local Apprentice Center.

3. That it deny eligibility for Council office to any delegate of a local union in violation of AFL-CIO policy of non-discrimination. (This recommendation created a furor within the local labor movement).

4. That it recommend that the School District review its policies in order to prevent discriminatory classes in its buildings.

The Philadelphia Building Trades Council took one step forward. It set up its own Human Rights Committee to investigate complaints against its local affiliates, and our Human Rights Committee referred pending complaints against the Lathers Union and the Operating Engineers to this new BTC committee.

As a result of the continuing pressure, in little more than a year the BTC accepted the concept of the Apprentice Outreach Program which its counterparts in other cities had cooperated with for several years and found beneficial. It agreed that the NTULC should operate the program, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. A formal signing of the contract took place in the office of Mayor James J. Tate with leaders of the building trades and members of the AFL-CIO Human Rights Committee present. To many of us this was a hopeful beginning of a new and more constructive period of solving the problems of discrimination within the ranks of organized labor.

Blacks — and later Hispanics and women — were trained and prepared for the building trades apprentice tests and a first gradual, then steady, flow of minorities entered the various construction crafts. NTULC’s AOP program was a success. It developed other training programs: for journeymen who were too old to enter apprenticeships, but had past experience in construction and needed more skilled training in order to be accepted on unionized jobs; for youth to bridge the road from school to work, and for other specialized programs. NTULC became the major trainer for union jobs in Philadelphia.

NTULC’s Apprentice Outreach Program lasted until 1981, when the United States Department of Labor, in line with President Ronald Reagan’s opposition to affirmative action programs, closed it and the 130 other similar programs funded in cities across the nation. But the structure of non-discrimination in application procedures and testing, as well as the removal of nepotism, has continued in Philadelphia’s construction industry.

Lacking now, however, are the special tutoring efforts for minorities and women, a lack reflected in the decline of the percentage of minorities and women entering the industry in the 1980s. Today, it is my belief, a new thrust is needed to re-institute the AOP concept for the 1990s. The AOP methodology should be able to meet the tests of the recent Supreme Court decisions which curtailed programs having goals for minority contractors or minority employment goals in particular industries. Such AOPs would basically constitute tutoring programs with goals but no quotas; they would not change employment standards or policies, but conduct affirmative action programs to tutor and prepare workers to possess the qualifications to enter the workforce.

Tackling Other Internal Union Situations

The Human Rights Committee, often in cooperation with CHR, pursued matters of discrimination and segregation affecting local unions other than the Building Trades. These included the two Motion Picture Operators locals, the two Musicians locals, the Printing industry — focusing on concerns of Local 520, a Directly Affiliated Union at Cuneo Press — and the banquet waiters at hotels, represented by the Hotel & Restaurant Workers Union.

Motion Picture Operators

Local 307A Motion Picture Operators, International Alliance of Theatrical, Stage Employees & Moving Picture Machine Operators (IATSE) were composed of 30 black members. Local 307 represented 300 white workers. A merger agreement, supported after some discussion by Local 307, would have permitted the black workers to work at any theater based on their total seniority within the national union, IATSE — and many of the blacks had many years of seniority that would have permitted them to work at the downtown theaters.

In October l963 a fresh opportunity arose to attack the current segregated situation when the Leader Theater, under contract with Local 307, located in a black neighborhood, 41st and Lancaster Ave., and owned by Stanley Warner, was sold to a Mr. Paul Kalimen. Mr. Kalimen signed a contract with Local 307A providing that only its (black) members would work at the theater — and at a rate one dollar per hour less than the previous union contract. The three white workers fired by the new management filed discrimination charges with CHR. The Human Rights Committee issued a full report to the Council attacking the viewpoints of Local 307A, which was claiming jurisdiction of the jobs because the theater was located in a "Negro neighborhood." The Committee called 307A’s approach "a horrible and tragic disposition." It commended Local 307’s willingness to merge and provide full seniority and membership rights to 307A members. A merger agreement which both parties indicated they would approve as of January 1, 1964, was rejected at the last minute by Local 307A. The Committee asked the international union to end the segregation. IATSE stepped in, dissolved Local 307A, merged the membership with full seniority rights, equal wages for all members and an end of segregation in job assignments.


Representatives of the Musicians International Union, as part of the Union’s program to eliminate its segregated local structure in several cities, met with Jimmy Jones and me, representing our local Human Rights Committee; CHR staff; and the officers of Local 77 (white members only) and Local 274 (black members only). The two locals each voted to accept members regardless of race — so for a period there were two integrated local musicians unions in the city. But finally both locals merged and became a unified Local 77; they have prospered relatively well since. The original rationale of Local 274 that its members played a different kind of music was soon forgotten.

The Printing Trades

The printing industry had developed historically with distinct crafts and craft unions. With the exception of the former well-integrated CIO Lithographers Union and the former AFL Bookbinders Unions, which had many women as well as minority members, there were few, if any, minority workers in these craft unions. Our Committee found that the newly reorganized employers’ association, the Printing Industry of Philadelphia, was also interested in breaking the pattern of discrimination in the industry; its new president, Malcolm Pritzker, became chairperson of the newly established Apprentice Information Center.

A major conflict developed at the large Cuneo Press Company. The semi-skilled and unskilled workers at the plant were represented by a former CIO local industrial union. Eight printing craft unions also had collective bargaining contracts with the company. A large number of Local 520 members were black, but none was ever able to be upgraded into any of the crafts. When vacancies occurred within the crafts, rather than move up black Local 520 members who had some familiarity with the machinery, apprentices were sent in by the craft unions from their eligibility lists, which contained only the names of young white workers. Local 520 filed a complaint with CHR against Locals 4 and 11 of the Printing Pressmens Union. Since I had some first hand information on the situation, having serviced the local for a period in my capacity as AFL-CIO Regional Representative, I was subpoenaed and testified at an informal hearing. The AFL-CIO Human Rights Committee established a Graphic Arts Employment Committee which was able to obtain an agreement among all parties on September 15, 1964, that provided a procedure for Local 520 members to move into the Printing Pressmen’s apprentice positions based on seniority at Cuneo and testing by the Printing Industry of Philadelphia as to capability. This agreement had such a powerful impact on patterns in the printing industry that the Graphic Arts Committee, as well as Gene Casey, its chairperson, were recommended for a Fellowship Commission Award.

Hotel Workers

Community relations and other organizations were complaining that no blacks or other minorities ever appeared as waiters at their banquets, even though they had often requested an integrated work-force for their affairs and minority waiters were known to be union members. The assignment as a banquet waiter was considered a very good job: the wage rate was high, the tips were guaranteed as part of the banquet contract and the assignment, mostly at night, meant extra income for a regularly employed waiter. Waiters were assigned to banquets based on their position on "the wheel," which kept track of these referrals — but none of the waiters on the wheel was black. The Human Rights Committee initiated a study of the union’s assignment pattern to hotels and subsequently CHR held a hearing on the discriminatory situation. Here the rationale was presented that "blacks never apply as banquet waiters." An agreement was worked out between CHR and the union that assignments to banquets would be made without regard to race, the all-white "wheel" would be abolished and a representative of Pennsylvania State Employment Service would be assigned to the union office to assist in referrals. The pattern of discrimination was broken.

North Philadelphia Project — The War Against Poverty

Through its Human Rights Committee the AFL-CIO Council became involved in the "War Against Poverty" and the rebuilding of Philadelphia’s slum areas. Alarmed at the deterioration of the neighboring community, a group of Temple University professors initiated the "North Philadelphia Project." The Human Rights Committee arranged for over a hundred trade unionists, residents of North Philadelphia whose names were submitted by their local unions, to attend a meeting at the university on the evening of March 21,1962. They were invited as "trade unionists" who wanted to work on some aspect of the "Project" such as health, employment, vocational training, social agencies, schools, inter-group relations, recreation or neighborhood development. Much enthusiasm was generated and many unionists volunteered to serve on the various planning committees. It was estimated that 40,000 union members and their families lived in the area, and a Labor Action Project developed as part of the overall movement. A non-profit corporation was established which became the Philadelphia Council for Community Advancement (PCCA).

President Johnson’s "War Against Poverty" eventually replaced Temple’s North Philadelphia Project. Fear at the university of high labor involvement, factional and political conflicts within the North Philadelphia community and changes within the city’s labor leadership gradually diminished labor’s involvement. PCCA continued to play a role — led first by Samuel Dash, former city District Attorney who later directed the Watergate investigation, and then by W. Wilson Goode, who became the city’s first black mayor and has recently announced a new North Phila. Plan. PCCA continues as a planning and housing agency.

Relating to the Philadelphia Community

Through its Human Rights Committee, the labor movement developed a closer relationship to the community at large. The Committee was represented on various local organizations and received and acted on regular reports from its representatives on Fellowship Commission, Council for Equal Job Opportunity, Urban League, Noth Philadelphia Project and other groups. The Committee worked closely with the Coordinating Council on School Integration, as did the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which was seeking collective bargaining rights at this time through an organizing drive I was assigned to coordinate by national AFL-CIO.

Our Committee continued its monthly meetings with CHR Chair Sadie Alexander. It recommended Jack Weiner of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union to serve on CHR and he was appointed by Mayor James Tate. (Some twenty years later, after retirement as Regional Director of AFL-CIO’s Human Resources Development Institute, I was appointed to the City’s Commission on Human Relations by Mayor Goode. No trade unionist, incidentally, served as Commissioner in the interval between Weiner and me.)

On broader fronts, the Committee pressed for national civil rights legislation pending in Congress, commended President John Kennedy for his action in facilitating the entrance of a black student into the University of Mississippi and condemned anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. It raised funds for two young Philadelphians conducting a voter registration drive in Albany, Georgia under the auspices of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Council; it coordinated work with other Council committees, pointing out to the Political Action Committee that in Oklahoma it was the NAACP and other black groups that defeated a "Right to Work" proposal in that state, which indicated the progressive role of blacks as natural allies of the labor movement.

The Committee’s Last Period

On October 6, 1964 the Committee convened a meeting of Philadelphia’s union leaders. This well-attended event was addressed by the new AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department director, Donald Slaiman, and Andrew Freeman, new local Urban League director. Many Building Trades officers attended, including Joseph Burke, President of the Sheet Metal Workers, Local l9, and a severe critic of the February 27, 1963 report. It was here that the final agreement was reached to establish an Apprentice Outreach Program under NTULC sponsorship and here was the formal start of actually recruiting minorities, and later women, for the construction skilled trades — a program that lasted until 1981 when the AOP programs were no longer funded by the U.S. Department of Labor.

JOINT — the cooperative activities of NTULC and JLC — continued its monthly luncheons and involvement in a variety of community actions. Jimmy Jones and Joe Schwartz became a leadership team for progressive action. Despite some weak spots, the Philadelphia labor movement, spearheaded and sometimes prodded by its Human Rights Committee, was acknowledged as an important local force of the 1960s civil rights revolution. Norman Blumberg, President of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO Council, died unexpectedly in January, 1965. A painter by trade, he had come out of the building trades. Although he moved cautiously, he held the labor family together. And he supported the activities of the Human Rights Committee. Returning from a union conference in New York in December l963, he reported that organized labor’s aim is seeking "better opportunities for all regardless of race, creed or color." He supported better apprentice programs and better training for jobs. The Philadelphia AFL-CIO constitution provided that Secretary- Treasurer Joseph Kelley temporarily succeed to the presidency until a special election could be held. A heated campaign for president ensued between Kelley and Edward Toohey, Director of Philadelphia’s Committee on Political Education (COPE). Division was to a large extent on AFL versus CIO lines. There were battles over the apportionment of votes. The election was held in June 1965 with Toohey the victor by a close 52%-48% of votes cast.

Most of the CIO unions withdrew from the AFL-CIO Council and set up a separate Industrial Union Council which tried unsuccessfully to obtain a charter from AFL-CIO’s national Industrial Union Department. Included in the group that withdrew was Steelworkers Representative Jimmy Jones, chairperson of the Human Rights Committee. Although the Council’s constitution provided for a Human Rights Committee as a standing committee, no new Chairperson was appointed to replace Jones. Committee members were not re-appointed and the Committee never met again.

Thus ended the tenure of Philadelphia’s official AFL-CIO Human Rights Committee. Labor’s work in the civil rights field in the city was carried forward in the following years primarily by JOINT (JLC-NTULC) and by several concerned unions.

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