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.
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42.75 Linear Feet
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.
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).
This collection is organized into six series:
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.
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.