Black people have been active in labor movements since before the Civil War. With today being Labor Day, I thought it would be fitting to acknowledge a lesser known behemoth in the Labor Movement: Addie Wyatt. Addie Wyatt is one of the country’s foremost Labor Union Leaders, Women’s Rights Advocate, and Civil Rights Activist.
In 1941, Wyatt applied for a clerical job at Armour & Co. meatpacking company but instead offered a potion on the assembly line due to policies against hiring Blacks for clerical positions.
Wyatt eventually joined the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) union after learning they did not discriminate against its members. Shortly after, Wyatt was pulled off the assembly line to work full-time as a labor organizer for the UPWA.
During that time (and still happening in 2019) many did not take a black woman in that position seriously because they didn’t feel Wyatt could adequately negotiate on their behalf. That changed after Wyatt fought “to make sure that companies paid workers according to federal regulations and didn’t force them to work excessive hours or under inhumane conditions.”
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In 1953, Addie Wyatt was elected vice president of UPWA Local 56. The following year she became the First Woman President of the local. When the UPWA merged with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen in 1968, Wyatt served as an international representative until she became director of the newly formed Women’s Affairs Department. In the 1970s, Wyatt became the “the first female international vice president in the history of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen and later served as director of its Human Rights and Women’s Affairs and Civil Rights Departments.”
In addition…because racism…many AFL-CIO unions had clauses restricting Black membership. Wyatt joined labor organizer A. Phillp Randolph and formed the Negro American Labor Council, which fought for the “rights of blacks to join unions and reap their rewards.”
Addie Wyatt helped redefine women’s roles in the Labor Movement, allowing them a chance to take a Seat At The Table to negotiate for rights that were inclusive to all. Wyatt also encouraged women to become skilled in jobs that were considered “men’s labor”.
Wyatt, who was an ordained minister along with her Rev. Claude Wyatt, was also instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement, often working with Dr. Martin Luther King to organize meetings and demonstrations in Chicago. She played an integral role in every Chicago initiative of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which was led by King. Wyatt also joined King for the March On Washington and the Voting Rights March from Selma to Montgomery Alabama.
Wyatt was also a founding member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the National Organization of Women (NOW), and the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), the country’s only national organization for union women.
In 1975, Wyatt was named one of Time Magazine’s Women Of The Year.
In 1984, Addie Wyatt retired as one of the labor union’s most prominent and highest ranked black, female officials. In 2012, Wyatt was inducted into the Department of Labor’s Hall of Honor. She died in 2012 at the age of 88.
Salute to this trailblazer…this pioneer in the black and women’s labor movement. We are forever indebted and will continue to celebrate you and your legacy so that it never forgotten!