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Black History Month Labor Profiles: Bill Lucy

Black History Month Labor Profiles: Bill Lucy

During Black History Month, we will be profiling past and present leaders in the intersecting movements to protect and expand the rights of African Americans and working families. We'll highlight both important leaders of the past and those who are continuing the legacy of those strong leaders who laid the foundation for the present. Today, we take a look at Bill Lucy.

Labor organizer and leader Bill Lucy was born in 1933 in Memphis, Tenn.  He worked for Contra Costa County in California as a materials and research engineer and in 1956, he joined AFSCME Local 1675.  A decade later, he was elected president of the Local and the next year, he left engineering to work full time for the labor union.  He worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Memphis sanitation strike in 1968 until King was assassinated later that year. The strike continued and the union won recognition.

Lucy was elected AFSCME International Secretary-Treasurer 1972 and retired in 2010.  Also in 1972, he became the first president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and served as its president until 2012. 

In 1994, Lucy became the first African American elected president of Public Services International (PSI), an international federation of public sector unions with more than 20 million workers, represented by 669 unions in 154 countries and territories. He also was instrumental in the anti-apartheid movement, as one of the founders of the Free South Africa Movement, that eventually led to  Nelson Mandela's release from prison and to the first democratic elections in South Africa.

The NAACP, is one of many organizations to recognize Lucy's contributions.

Though his name is not as well-known as King and Mandela, Lucy has carved out a legacy based on living wages, health care benefits, and job safety. And like these famous men, Lucy's legacy lives on through the lives of hundreds of thousands of working families around the world every day. 

Ebony magazine frequently cites Lucy as one of “The 100 most Influential Black Americans.”

In January, at the AFL-CIO Martin Luther King Civil and Human Rights Conference Lucy was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award. The award is a special honor given to a leader whose entire career has been unselfishly dedicated to the advancement of workers’ rights and civil rights. Lucy, an exemplary winner of the award, is a shining example of a trade unionist, and has inspired thousands of his brothers and sisters to continue to fight for a better tomorrow.

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