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AFL, CIO, and AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department, Discrimination Case Files

 Collection 0054-LBR-RG9-002

The AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department and its predecessor organizations were formed with the goal of eliminating discrimination in employment, and the department was charged with processing and tracking discrimination complaints. This collection documents the department's work from 1956-1984 and consists of case files, compliance dockets, summary reports, correspondence, conference and meeting records, and subject files.


  • 1947-1984

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to the public and must be used in the Special Collections reading room. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


42.75 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of the Collection

This collection contains materials created or maintained by the AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department when discrimination complaints were processed during the years 1956 to 1984. The collection is comprised mostly of files the department kept on each case; other items document procedural matters or provide general information. Cases were referred to the department from a variety of sources including: the complainant, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), state civil rights/fair employment/human rights agencies, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, the U.S. Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity (PCOEEO), the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), other federal agencies, congressmen, and local unions. Approximately three-quarters of the cases here were referred by the EEOC (instituted in 1965) or state agencies that received complaints for the EEOC. The experiences documented in the complaints include discrimination of race, color, sex, religion, and disability, among others. There is little detailed information here on the conciliation of most cases.

This collection documents discrimination complaints primarily made against local unions. A few cases concern international unions, the AFL-CIO, AFL-CIO departments, state and local central bodies, and other organizations. Locals were frequently named as co-respondents with employers.

Biographical / Historical

Immediately after the AFL-CIO’s first constitutional convention in December 1955, the Executive Council established a Civil Rights Department to serve the constitutionally-mandated Committee on Civil Rights, which was “vested with the duty and responsibility to assist the Executive Council to bring about at the earliest possible date the effective implementation of the principle stated in this constitution of non-discrimination in accordance with the provisions of this constitution."(1) This principle directs the federation "to encourage all workers without regard to race, creed, color, national origin or ancestry to share equally in the full benefits of union organization.”(2)

Before the merger, the AFL produced a less structured system than the CIO for overseeing civil rights issues in its affiliated unions. Although a resolution was introduced at the 1952 AFL convention calling for a department of civil rights, none was established until the merger. Despite inequities present in local and international unions, the AFL lacked both a committee and a department devoted exclusively to civil rights issues until 1952. To fill the void, Boris Shishkin, the chief economist of the federation, served as the spokesperson and specialist on civil rights issues until 1955. Long active in anti-housing discrimination, Shishkin produced fact sheets, pamphlets and other materials on the problems of race discrimination. Additional AFL staff work included guidance to the affiliated unions in negotiating anti-discrimination clauses in their collective bargaining contracts. Both the AFL and the CIO participated in presidential commissions looking into racial discrimination, and the AFL-CIO continued this practice after the merger.

In 1942, the CIO established a Committee to Abolish Racial Discrimination (renamed the Civil Rights Committee in 1953). It counseled and advised internationals and locals on questions of racial policies, worked with government agencies to push antidiscrimination legislation, and attempted to set up committees to abolish racial discrimination in industrial union councils of the CIO. Its only chair was James B. Carey. Several members of that committee later served on the AFL-CIO Civil Rights Committee, of which Carey was the first chair.

When the AFL and the CIO merged in 1955, the new organization created a Civil Rights Department with Boris Shishkin of the AFL appointed as director. James B. Carey of the CIO became chairman of the AFL-CIO's Civil Rights Committee.

One of the earliest activities of the Civil Rights Department was the investigation of complaints of discrimination in employment.(3) The department became active in the issues of fair employment practices, discrimination in housing, and school desegregation, and it began working directly with affiliated unions and state and local central bodies on civil rights issues. The documented experiences include discrimination of race, color, gender, religion, and disability, among others.

At its August 29, 1956 meeting, the Executive Council adopted a Civil Rights Committee report that requested the creation of a subcommittee to facilitate the processing of complaints. Beginning in November 1956, the Civil Rights Department was given the responsibility of receiving complaints, assessing their validity, ascertaining the facts, notifying the international unions or central bodies, and providing assistance in bringing about compliance. The Committee on Civil Rights, the Subcommittee on Complaints (later called Subcommittee on Compliance), and the Civil Rights Department began reviewing and monitoring discrimination cases to encourage compliance and conciliation in cases that involved affiliated unions. Unresolvable cases were referred to the subcommittee. Once the department or subcommittee considered involvement unnecessary, a case was labeled "closed." This Subcommittee on Complaints (later Subcommittee on Compliance) first met November 20, 1956. There is little detailed information on the conciliation of most cases.

The entire staff of the Civil Rights Department processed discrimination complaints, but certain people were particularly involved: Boris Shishkin and Walter Davis in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Don Slaiman and William Pollard in the 1960s and 1970s, and Richard Womack in the 1970s and 1980s.

A major function of the department has been the dissemination of information, publishing pamphlets and holding conferences covering a variety of civil rights topics. In the 1960s, the department became a liaison between the labor movement and various federal agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Department of Labor, and the Department of Justice. It established ties with the A. Philip Randolph Institute and several independent civil rights organizations, such as the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League (NUL). In the late 1960 and early 1970s, it worked with affiliates and with the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department and the Human Resources Development Institute (HRDI) to establish affirmative action programs for recruiting and preparing young people of color for apprenticeships and jobs in the skilled trades. "Operation outreach" was one such program.

This information was compiled and written by archivists at the George Meany Memorial Archives at the National Labor College.

1. Constitution of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (1955), Article XIII, Section l (b).

2. Ibid., Article II, Section 4.

3. This policy was contained in a resolution on civil rights passed at the First Constitutional Convention. AFL-CIO, Report of the first Constitutional Convention. Proceedings (1955, pp. 109-110).

Staff List

  1. 1955-1964: Boris Shishkin, Director
  2. late 1950s: George L.P. Weaver, Assistant Director
  3. late 1950s: Theodore E. Brown, Assistant Director
  4. 1959-1964: Donald Slaiman, Assistant Director
  5. 1961-1965: Walter G. Davis, Assistant Director
  6. 1964-1974: Donald Slaiman, Director
  7. 1964-1974: William Pollard, Staff Representative
  8. 1965-1985: E.T. Kehrer, Southern Area Director
  9. 1967-1970: Robert McGlotten, Staff Representative
  10. mid-1960s: Normal Hill, Staff Representative
  11. 1960s-1970s: Doris Gibson (Hardesty), Administrative Assistant
  12. 1960s-1970s: Santo J. Ruiz, Staff Representative
  13. 1974-1986: William Pollard, Director
  14. 1976-1996: Cynthia McCaughan, Staff Representative and Coordinator of Women's Activities
  15. 1977-1986: Richard Womack, Staff Representative
  16. mid-1970s: Leonard J. Lewis, Staff Representative
  17. 1986-2003: Richard Womack, Director
  18. 1994-1996: Susana Gomez, Staff for Hispanic Issues
  19. 1995-1996: Patricia Ozborne, Secretary to Director
  20. Date unknown: Victor Kerszenwejg, Staff Representative

Timeline Supplement

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
A civil rights organization in the United States, formed as an interracial endeavor to advance justice for African Americans. Its mission in the 21st century is "to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination".
National Urban League (NUL)
A civil rights organization dedicated to economic empowerment, equality, and social justice, headquartered in New York City. Their mission is to help African-Americans and others in underserved communities achieve their highest true social parity, economic self- reliance, power, and civil rights. The League promotes economic empowerment through education and job training, housing and community development, workforce development, entrepreneurship, health, and quality of life. The Urban League collaborates at the national and local levels with community leaders, policymakers, and corporate partners to elevate the standards of living for African Americans and other historically underserved groups.
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR)
Founded in 1950 as the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights by A. Philip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; Roy Wilkins of the NAACP; and Arnold Aronson, a leader of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council. They were committed to social justice and the firm conviction that the struggle for civil rights would be won not by one group alone, but through coalition and changes to legislation. They lobbied for and won the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the Civil Rights Act of 1960, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and also helped to organize one of the defining events of the 20th century — the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963.
U.S. Civil Rights Commission
First established as an independent agency in the Executive Branch by the Civil Rights Act of 1957, then reestablished as the United States Commission on Civil Rights by the Civil Rights Commission Amendments Act of 1994 (108 Stat. 4338), October 25, 1994. The Commission on Civil Rights (1957-94) was a predecessor agency. It holds public hearings and collects and studies information on discrimination or denials of equal protection of the laws because of race, color, religion, sex, age, handicap, or national origin; and on discrimination or denials of equal protection in the administration of justice.
President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity (PCEEO)
Established by Executive Order 10925, signed by President John F. Kennedy on March 6, 1961, which required government contractors to "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed and that employees are treated during employment without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin." The committee was chaired by then Vice President Lyndon Johnson, and Vice Chair and Secretary of Labor Arthur Goldberg was in charge of the Committee's operations. This first implementation of affirmative action was intended to give equal opportunities in the workforce to all U.S. citizens, not to give special treatment to those discriminated against. Following passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which went into effect a year later on July 2, 1965) and President Johnson's Executive Order 11246 (which was signed on September 24, 1965), the Committee's functions were divided between the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance (which in 1975 was renamed the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs).
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
Established as an independent agency, effective July 2, 1965, by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (78 Stat. 253), July 2, 1964. Its purpose is to monitor compliance with and enforce provisions of statutes to end discrimination in employment as well as promote voluntary action programs.
A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI)
Founded as an AFL-CIO Constituency Group as an organization for African-American trade unionists which advocates for social, labor, and economic change at the state and federal level, using legal and legislative means. Their mission is to fight for racial equality, social and economic justice by building and strengthening bridges between labor and communities of color with a nationwide network of more than 150 chapters in more than 40 states.
U.S. Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP)
A U.S. Department of Labor program that administers and enforces three equal opportunity mandates: Executive Order 11246, as amended; section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended; and the Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974, as amended, 38 U.S.C. 4212. These mandates prohibit Federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or veteran status. They also require Federal contractors and subcontractors to take affirmative steps to ensure equal opportunity in their employment processes. OFCCP also shares responsibility with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission in enforcing Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act.


  1. AFGE: American Federation of Government Employees
  2. AFL-CIO: American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations
  3. AFSCME: American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees
  4. AIFLD: American Institute for Free Labor Development
  5. APRI: A. Philip Randolph Institute
  6. BCTD: Building and Construction Trades Department
  7. BRAC: Brotherhood of Railway, Airline and Steamship Clerks, Freight Handlers, Express and Station Employees
  8. CLUW: Coalition of Labor Union Women
  9. COPE: Committee on Political Education
  10. CORE: Congress of Racial Equality
  11. CRD: Civil Rights Department
  12. CWA: Communications Workers of America
  13. ERA: Equal Rights Amendment
  14. HRDI: Human Resources Development Institute
  15. IBEW: International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
  16. IRRA: Industrial Relations Research Association
  17. LCCR: Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
  18. LCLAA: Labor Council for Latin American Advancement
  19. LEAP: Labor Education Advancement Program
  20. NAACP: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
  21. NAIRO: National Association of lntergroup Relations Officials
  22. NASSA: National Association of Spanish Speaking Americans
  23. NCCJ: National Conference of Christians and Jews
  24. NEA: National Education Association
  25. NTULC: Negro Trade Union Leadership Council
  26. NUL: National Urban League
  27. OIC: Opportunities Industrialization Centers
  28. OPEIU: Office and Professional Employees International Union
  29. RTP: Recruitment and Training Program
  30. SCLC: Southern Christian Leadership Conference
  31. SOEH: Society for Occupational and Environmental Health
  32. SPACE: Council of AFL-CIO Unions for Scientific, Professional and Cultural Employees
  33. USWA: United Steelworkers of America

Organization of the Collection

This collection is organized into six series:

Series 1
Case Files, 1947-1984
Series 2
Compliance Dockets, 1962-1977
Series 3
Summary Reports, 1963-1981
Series 4
Correspondence, 1961-1978
Series 5
Conferences and Meetings, 1964-1981
Series 6
Subject Files, 1956-1979

Custodial History

The AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department transferred these records to the George Meany Memorial Archives in 1982, 1986, and 1988. The George Meany Memorial Archives transferred these records as part of a major transfer of their archive and library holdings to the University of Maryland Libraries in 2013.

Existence and Location of Copies

Select folders from this record group were digitized by the "Advancing Workers Rights in the American South: Digitizing the Records of the AFL-CIO’s Civil Rights Division" project and are available online in the University of Maryland Libraries Digital Collections. This project was supported by a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from the Mellon Foundation.

Related Materials

AFL and AFL-CIO Research Department, Boris Shishkin papers: reports on the work of the Civil Rights Department (1956-1963), minutes to some Civil Rights Committee meetings (1962-1964), and summaries of certain pending cases can be found in the Chronological Files series.

AFL, CIO, and AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department records, 1943-1967 (0044-LBR-RG9-001) contains materials concerning: the Civil Rights Committee and the department's interaction with federal civil rights and equal employment agencies, including meeting minutes of the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities (PCOEEO).

AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department records, 1946-2000 (0068-LBR-RG9-003) are a continuation of the department's record of activity for the 1980s and 1990s, with some overlap in the 1940s through 1970s. This collection includes statements and testimony made by AFL-CIO staff and officials regarding civil rights issues.

In addition, the biannual Reports of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), and AFL-CIO Executive Council minutes contain civil rights sections that include brief information on prominent cases and on the AFL-CIO interaction with federal agencies. For access to index of the Executive Council Minutes, contact the collection curator.

AFL, CIO, and AFL-CIO Information Department records, Major News Publications (0078-LBR-RG20-001). Selected titles are available in the Internet Archive.

CIO and AFL-CIO Information Department, Press Releases (0048-LBR-RG20-003).

AFL, CIO, and AFL-CIO Information Department records, Major News Publications (0078-LBR-RG20-001).

"Daily Labor Report" in Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), Accessible in HathiTrust Digital Library

"Fair Employment Practices" in Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), Accessible in HathiTrust Digital Library

Processing Information

Except for the case files, there is no evidence that a central file for discrimination case materials existed. The documents in this collection have been pulled from various Civil Rights Department staff and subject files in order to consolidate documentation on discrimination cases and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Active case files originally existed in two series: one for EEOC cases and one for non-EEOC cases, called AFL-CIO cases. Closed case files were usually interfiled, and this organization has been maintained for research purposes.

This collection is an artificial consolidation of the discrimination case files with the files of various staff members. All documents concerning particular cases have been moved to the Case Files series. In most instances duplicates, non-AFL-CIO publications and newspaper clippings - readily available elsewhere - have been discarded (e.g., Civil Rights staff was particularly reliant on the Bureau of National Affairs "Daily Labor Report" and "Fair Employment Practices" for information).

A large proportion of the documents are duplicates of materials generated outside of the AFL-CIO. Many of the referring agencies sent copies of complaints and other documents to the department. The department had a formal agreement with the EEOC to have copies of materials sent to it. Despite this arrangement, there were still problems with receiving items from the EEOC. The relationship between the Civil Rights Department and the EEOC commissioners was sometimes turbulent, but the relations between the department and some of the EEOC staff was good. Many of these documents generated by federal agencies are not currently available at the National Archives.

Todd J. Kosmerick and Kathleen Hutton at the George Meany Memorial Archives initially processed these records in June 1991. The University of Maryland Libraries received the records and the finding aid in 2013. In 2017, Bria Parker exported and cleaned the finding aid contents from the Eloquent Systems database using OpenRefine, and finally transformed the finding aids into Encoded Archival Description (EAD) using a series of programmatic scripts. The finding aid was ingested into ArchivesSpace in 2017, at which point Jennifer Eidson updated the descriptive content for accuracy. Revisions include changes to biographical/historical notes, scope and content notes, and the creation of new collection numbers. Jennifer Eidson also enhanced custodial histories and re-wrote collection titles to better conform to archival standards.

In 2022, as part of a unit-wide effort to begin the work of consciously editing archival description, the following revisions were made to this finding aid by Jennifer G. Eidson: The department history was moved into the Biographical/Historical notes from an external document, the department staff list and a list of abbreviations were added. Contextual information was added regarding the purpose of the organizations/agencies represented in the materials, by creating a Supplemental Timeline in the Biographical/Historical note. The Scope and Content Note at the collection level, and for Series 1, was revised. List of discrimination case files with significant document added to the Scope and Contents Note in Series 1, external document of the same list removed. The Related Material note, the Processing Information Note, and Revision Notes were revised as well.

Guide to the AFL, CIO, and AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department, Discrimination Case Files
Processed by Todd J. Kosmerick and Kathleen Hutton at the George Meany Memorial Archives.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • 2018-01-23: Revisions and updates made post-ArchivesSpace migration by Jennifer Eidson. Please see the processing note for more detailed information.
  • 2022-09-16: Biographical/Historical Note moved from external document into finding aid, staff list, list of abbreviations, and timeline were added as well. Scope and Content Note revised and Preferred citation added at the collection level. List of discrimination case files with significant document added to the Scope and Contents Note in Series 1, external document of the same list removed. Revisions and updates made by Jennifer G. Eidson.
  • 2023-10-04: Liz Caringola created digital objects for materials digitized by the "Advancing Workers Rights in the American South: Digitizing the Records of the AFL-CIO’s Civil Rights Division" project and updated related finding aid notes.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742