The UFCW Minority Coalition is an organization made up of UFCW members dedicated to promoting diversity and inclusion within the labor movement. To help celebrate Black History Month, we’re sharing the Minority Coalition’s first edition of their Trailblazer series. The UFCW Minority Coalition Trailblazer Series is an educational resource that commemorates the work and life achievements of UFCW union leaders of color who helped build the American labor movement and led the way in the struggle for justice and equal rights.
Awesome Addie is the first in the UFCW Minority Trailblazer Series–an account of the life of the late UFCW International Vice President Addie L. Wyatt. Beginning with Addie’s life as child in the rural south, this publication follows her story as her life transitions to the harsher urban environment in Chicago, where she eventually got hired for a company called Armour for a typing position.
It was at this job that Addie first saw the types of injustice that many workers faced–at her first day of work for Armour, she never typed a single word, and was instead ushered onto a production line, to pack stew into cans. This was an example of the company’s racist hiring practices–the color of your skin often determined what position you worked, no matter what your skill level. They also used discriminatory wage practices, paying people differently for equal work, based on the shade of their skin. Addie was outraged at these practices. The one spot of hope was that the line workers belonged to the meatpacking union, which allowed them to make higher wages than the clerical workers.
This was just the beginning of Addie’s long career, working in various factories, unions, and even becoming a Reverend. Throughout her career, Addie became more and more involved in union work and organizing. Although it was a road with many challenges, she eventually worked her way up to leadership positions within the union, striving to bring the union forward. In fact, at the age of 25, Addie became the first black woman to be elected vice president of a packinghouse workers’ local union. A year later, she also became the first female president in her local’s history. Addie’s friendliness, experience, and fierce determination fighting for workers rights helped her become the leader she was. For over two decades, Addie proved herself to those who didn’t take her seriously–ensuring every provision of the union contract was followed. Eventually, she said, the workers saw that it didn’t matter what color your skin was or what gender you were, because in a union, they were working to improve all workers’ rights.
Knowing that unions meant a better chance for fairness on the job, higher wages, and more benefits, Addie made union work a top priority. She also pushed for safer working conditions, seeing first-hand how dangerous factory work could be. She worked hard in negotiations to save the jobs of blacks and women, who were often the first to be fired when companies needed to downsize.
It is no surprise that Addie played an active role in the Civil Rights Movement, along side Martin Luther King, Jr, organizing people to take part, just like the workers she organized in the factories. She continued to work in the name of civil and workers rights, despite facing racism and being arrested for partaking in the marches.
Addie’s life was spent helping people and fighting on three fronts: for workers, for the black community, and for women. She organized protests for civil rights, pushed for equal rights for all, especially women (she was a proponent of the Equal Rights Amendment), and empowered workers to stand up for themselves. She became the UFCW’s first African American female International Vice President, and helped oversee the union grow to 1.3 million members. Click here to read Awesome Addie in its entirety.