The continued fight for fair treatment in the workplace
Fred Redmond made history on June 12 when he became the highest-ranking African American officer in the history of America’s labor movement — a milestone accomplishment that was not easy to achieve.
Redmond’s fight for social, racial, and economic justice, equality, and fair treatment in the workplace and throughout society brings him to Charlotte this Labor Day Weekend. Sunday, Sept. 4, he’s a guest speaker at St. Paul Baptist Church on behalf of AFL-CIO’s Labor in Pulpit, Bimah, and Minbar Program which aims to strengthen the relationship between the labor and faith community.
Redmond says his parents’ “Great Migration” from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago in 1956 was one of the life-changing moments that led to his success.
“I was just a toddler, I was two years old at the time,” said Redmond. “It was at a time … when black people were escaping the Jim Crow South, coming north and seeking better opportunities.”
In Mississippi, Redmond’s parents were the children of sharecroppers who envisioned a better life for him and his three brothers. Despite the relocation, the siblings faced a tough upbringing in the city. Redmond grew up in poverty and depended on food stamps to help supplement their nutritional needs. To provide for their family, his father worked a series of odd jobs while his mother cleaned houses in the suburbs of Chicago.
“We were poor, but I didn’t realize I was poor,” said Redmond. “I never heard my parents complain, my mother would come home every night and sit on the side of the bed, soak her feet, read her bible, and my father, he just worked, he did everything he could to provide us the best life that he could.”
For him and his family, a critical turning point occurred when his father obtained a union job at an aluminum mill in Chicago – where raw metals are shaped into plates, sheets, coils, and different appliances.
“We finally got healthcare insurance and we went to the Goodwill, it was to drop off clothes, not to buy clothes,” said Redmond. “And for the first time in my life, I was able to go to a dentist, I didn’t even know a dentist existed.”
Redmond ended up following in his father’s footsteps and got his first job in the labor movement at Reynolds Metal Company, where he became a member of the United Steelworkers (USW) — North America’s largest industrial union. During his time in the alliance, he rose through the ranks to become president and served three terms in the late 1990s.
His climb to creating American history continued in 2006 when he was elected as international vice president for human affairs — a role where he managed the union’s Civil and Human Rights department while working to address economic inequality and attacks on voting rights.
Two years later, he was elected to serve on the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization’s (AFL-CIO) Executive Council board — a federation with 57 unions that represent 12.5 million working people around the world. During his time in the position, he continued to fight for racial and economic justice in the workplace, communities, and the U.S. For Redmond, he hopes his story will inspire young Black Americans.
“The labor movement was very instrumental in my life, and I believe the labor movement can be very instrumental in theirs,” said Redmond.
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