Black Workers in White Unions: Job Discrimination in the United States

By William B. Gould | Go to book overview

14 Industrial and Public-Employee Unions

Outside of the craft unions, minority employment patterns and systemic discrimination vary. This chapter will examine employment relationships in which a number of noncraft unions are exclusive bargaining representatives, most particularly, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the United Automobile Workers, the United Rubber Workers, and the Amalgamated Meat Cutters.


Introduction

For the industrial unions, and for many of their public-employee counterparts, the political dynamics involved in union policy-making on the race issue are considerably different from those discussed previously. For the most part, blacks have been in the industries covered by the industrial unions' jurisdiction in considerable numbers since World War II, a fact largely attributable to manpower requirements of the employers and the drift of blacks from the land to urban centers in the North. This has made black demands inside the industrial unions quite different from those made in the construction trades, where the concern is access to jobs.

In the industrial unions, black demands have had two areas of emphasis. The first relates to type of employment and promotion. For even in unions like the UAW, which has a good reputation in matters of race, based upon the egalitarian stance it took in the 1940's when white auto production workers refused to work with Negroes, the skilled trades have been traditionally a lily-white bastion. The same holds true of supervisory positions, and sometimes the direct contacts between black workers and white supervisors have been incendiary. Resulting protests have involved the industrial unions in issues which are normally beyond their bargaining scope, such as who are to be selected by management as supervisors and, more specifically, what steps management can take to alter the supervisory racial composition.

The second area of protest has involved the question of leadership. As the percentage of blacks in some of the unions has moved continuously upward, dissatisfaction with the all-white or predominantly white leadership at both the international and the local level (but especially the former) has increased. One of the unions in which this issue is most important is the United Steelworkers, whose convention was picketed by members demonstrating their displeasure with the

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