Labor, Civil Rights, and the Hughes Tool Company

Labor, Civil Rights, and the Hughes Tool Company

Labor, Civil Rights, and the Hughes Tool Company

Labor, Civil Rights, and the Hughes Tool Company

Synopsis

On July 12, 1964, in a momentous decision, the National Labor Relations Board decertified the racially segregated Independent Metal Workers Union as the collective bargaining agent at Houston's mammoth Hughes Tool Company. The unanimous decision ending nearly fifty years of Jim Crow unionism at the company marked the first time in the Labor Board's history that it ruled that racial discrimination by a union violated the National Labor Relations Act and was therefore illegal. The ruling was for black workers the equivalent of the Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court in the area of education.

Michael R. Botson carefully traces the Jim Crow unionism of the company and the efforts of black union activists to bring civil rights issues into the workplace. His analysis places Hughes Tool in the context created by the National Labor Relations Act and the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). It clearly demonstrates that without federal intervention, workers at Hughes Tool would never have been able to overcome management's opposition to unionization and to racial equality.

Drawing on interviews with many of the principals, as well as extensive mining of company and legal archives, Botson's study "captures a moment in time when a segment of Houston's working-class seized the initiative and won economic and racial justice in their work place."

Excerpt

On July 1, 1964, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decertified the racially segregated Independent Metal Workers (IMW) Union as the collective bargaining agent at Houston’s Hughes Tool Company. The ruling ended nearly fifty years of Jim Crow unionism at Hughes Tool, one of Houston’s premier manufacturing plants. But much more importantly, for the first time in the Labor Board’s history it ruled that racial discrimination by a union violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and therefore was illegal. In a unanimous decision, the five-member board revoked the certification of the IMW because the union had failed to fairly represent African Americans at the company by systematically discriminating against them.

In 1962 Ivory Davis, a black material handler, longtime employee at Hughes Tool, and union member, filed charges against the company and union with the Labor Board that eventually led to the decision. Davis’s action against the union stemmed from the white leadership’s refusal to file a grievance on his behalf after management denied him an apprenticeship because of his race. The union’s labor agreement with Hughes Tool reserved apprenticeships for whites only. In 1962 Davis and the black union leaders decided to challenge the validity of the race-based labor contract between Hughes Tool and the IMW. They did so by taking the unusual step of seeking to decertify their union as the collective bargaining agent for the company’s employees. Their action was the beginning of a two-year struggle that combined the efforts of the federal government, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and African American unionists at Hughes Tool to break Jim Crow’s grip over the company’s workforce.

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