CBTU Co-Founder Bill Lucy Addresses ‘Desperate’ State of Black Workers

Coalition of Black Trade Unionists Co-Founder Bill Lucy, left, said that public works programs are a way to lift large amounts of people out of poverty at a panel discussion at Georgetown University on the state of African-American workers.

Revered labor leader Bill Lucy, a Co-Founder and former President of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), called on Congress to enact New Deal-style public works programs at a panel discussion on black workers at Georgetown University.

Lucy, who called the current state of the black workforce “desperate,” pointed to the success of New Deal programs like the Work Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps, which during the Great Depression provided millions of Americans with work constructing roads, bridges, parks and other critical infrastructure that still stands today. The unemployment rate for African Americans is currently at 13 percent, nearly double the rate of the U.S. as a whole.

“The black community and the broad community need good-paying jobs,” said Lucy, who served as the Secretary-Treasurer of AFSCME from 1972 until his retirement in 2010. “The parallel may well be that the massive infrastructure programs of the 30s is what’s needed now to put people to work.”

The panel was a follow-up to a Georgetown Public Policy Institute study that concluded the 2000s were a lost decade for America’s young workforce, especially for African-American workers. The study found that between 2000 and 2012, the employment rate for young Americans fell from 84 percent to 72 percent. During the same time period, opportunities have become especially scarce for young men, high school graduates and young African Americans.

“There was a point in time when you went to school, graduated and went down to the plant and got a job and worked there until you retired,” said Lucy. “For an awful lot of people who had that way of life, change has come. The plant is no longer there, it’s in Berlin or China. No policy has been put forward to help these folks adjust to this new situation.”

The panel, hosted by Georgetown’s Kalmanovitz Institute for Labor and the Working Poor, was moderated by Washington Post political columnist Eugene Robinson. Panelists included Lucy; Eric Arnesen, an African-American history scholar at George Washington University; and Nikki Lewis, the Executive Director of DC Jobs with Justice.

Click here to learn more about the Kalmanovitz Institute.