The COALITION OF BLACK TRADE UNIONISTS (CBTU) was founded in 1973 by AFRICAN AMERICAN union workers displeased with the policies and practices of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the nation's largest federation of trade and labor unions.
When the AFL-CIO Executive Council, headed by president George Meany, officially adopted a neutral stance in the 1972 presidential contest between the Republican incumbent Richard Nixon and the Democratic challenger George McGovern, black labor leaders regarded the proclamation of neutrality as merely one more example of the marginal place accorded to the views and needs of African Americans within the labor movement. They called on their fellow black unionists to gather in Chicago to discuss and assess the position of black workers in the American labor movement. The five leaders who issued the call and formed the initial steering committee of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists were William Lucy, the international secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); Nelson "Jack" Edwards, vice president of United Auto Workers (UAW); William Simons, president of Washington Teachers Union (WTU), Local 6; Charles A. Hayes, vice president of United Food & Commercial Workers Union (UFCW); and Cleveland Robinson, president of Distributive Workers of America, District 65. More than 1,200 black union officials and members, representing more than 30 international and national unions, gathered at the historic La Salle Hotel in September of 1972. Those at attendance in Chicago agreed on the need for a permanent organization to articulate the wishes and concerns of African American workers within the AFL-CIO as well as to push for greater inclusion of minority representatives in the leadership ranks of organized labor. The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists was officially established in May 1973 at a meeting of more than a thousand black unionists in Washington, D.C. The goals set forth by the CBTU in its manifesto, "The Need for a Coalition of Black Trade Unionists," included increasing the number of blacks in union leadership positions; bridging the gap between organized labor and the black community; tackling everyday problems and concerns of working families; promoting voter registration and education; and supporting progressive causes and candidates. To attend to and address the concerns of all black workers, the first executive committee of the CBTU included five prominent black women and the organization's Executive Council organized the National Women's Committee, led by Reverend Addie Wyatt, in 1982.
By 1976 the group had 9,000 members nationally, with 150 in Cleveland. In that election year, the coalition held its 5th annual convention in Cleveland at the Convention Center, where it endorsed Jimmy Carter for president and urged African Americans to register and vote for a candidate with their interests in mind. Locally, the few black leaders have included Bruce Foster of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Paul Wells of Local 1099 of the Municipal Foremen's & Laborers' Union, and John Vinegard of Local 10 of the Hotel, Motel, & Restaurant Supply & Bartenders' Union. Resolutions that came out of the convention included endorsements for the Humphrey-Hawkins Bill for full employment, busing to achieve school integration, tax reform, national health care, federal aid to cities with high unemployment, and protests against apartheid in South Africa. In 1995, membership stood at 37 members; the director was Lee Smith.