Civil and Human Rights Committees Play a Key Role
In these divisive times, UAW local civil and human rights committees are on the front line of educating members about protecting civil rights and getting out the vote for midterm elections. One of the hardest working committees is Local 652’s Civil and Human Rights Committee in Lansing, Michigan. The 3,000 members of the amalgamated local include workers who build Cadillacs and Camaros at General Motors’ Lansing, Grand River and Lansing Regional Stamping plants.
Local 652 President Randy Freeman says the committee’s diversity is the key to their impact on the shop floor. Age diversity helps, too, because each generation has a unique strength. “Older members have good people skills. Younger ones are great with technology. We need both,” said Freeman. They also need solid support from leadership with midterm elections on the horizon, and they get it, said Freeman. “Everyone understands how important it is to get the vote out, get registered, get boots on the ground.”
At the helm of the 13-member committee is chair Winston Williams. Its focus is on education and election turnout. That includes getting local politicians to the local to engage with members. “We had half of the Ingham County Commission at our Black History Month event in February,” said Williams. The committee has its eye on November and is working now on voter education, getting out the vote, and building confidence to have effective conversations with their co-workers.
In today’s smart phone world face-to-face communication is the glue that keeps that interaction going in the plant and the community. “The UAW’s civic engagement is better than any institutions’ in the world in terms of what we do in the community, from the March of Dimes to the United Way to the Boy Scouts to other organizations,” said Region 1D Director Gerald Kariem. “UAW members have an outstanding record on civic engagement. I see it every day,” including hosting a Poor People’s Campaign meeting at the local.
“Civil rights, the dignity of all workers—these are more important than ever in midterm season,” said UAW President Dennis Williams. “We need UAW civil rights committees to continue doing the hard, but necessary, work of making sure workers understand their rights and responsibilities in the workplace when it comes to anti-discrimination. They’re also key to ensuring we understand what’s at stake in November.”
In addition to hosting and working with state and local politicians, the committee sponsors training sessions on workplace rules and helps members with discrimination issues. “Sometimes workers don’t feel like they have a voice. We’ll listen to them,” said Williams. The committee also holds events such as February’s 22nd Annual Black History Event where Kariem gave a keynote address. Retired worker Claude Browne spoke about discrimination he faced as an African-American worker decades ago, and about his work as the UAW’s second chair of the Civil Rights and Fair Practice Department. Browne is in his 90s.
The committee recognizes members for exemplary work. Two retirees were recently honored for their education work with local members—Maria Van Core and Robin McClary, with McClary receiving the F.S. Patterson Diamond Achievement Award for education work on the plant floor.
The committee gets support from Neville Mark, Region 1D’s liaison with the Regional Advisory Council on Civil and Human Rights. “We support the committee’s civil rights education and voter turnout work,” said Mark. “In politics today, the sense of equality and fairness for everyone is important now. So is creating a workplace where everyone can thrive.”
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