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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.

From December 1, 2021 through September 30, 2022, significant sections of this collection will be closed to staff and researchers while the materials are being digitized. This is not indicated at the series or folder level; please contact us at for more information.

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

With the passage of a resolution at the First Constitutional Convention in 1955, the AFL-CIO stated its goal to eliminate discrimination in employment. 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. 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. Unresolvable cases were referred to the subcommittee. Once the department or subcommittee considered involvement unnecessary, a case was labeled "closed."

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.

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.

Related Materials

Materials pertinent to this collection can be found in other collections.

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 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 are a continuation of the department's record of activity for the 1980s and 1990s, with some overlap in the 1940s through 1970s.

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.

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). Statements and testimony made by AFL-CIO staff and officials, and AFL-CIO publications are available in other labor collections.

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.

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.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

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