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Home » Legislative Update » US Department of Labor Features Black History Month Labor Panel

US Department of Labor Features Black History Month Labor Panel


On February 28, representatives from several AFL-CIO Arts, Entertainment, and Media Industry Coordinating Committee (AEMI) affiliates engaged in a panel discussion at the US Department of Labor entitled “Making Equity Real: Creating Career Pathways and Good Jobs in the Arts.” Hosted by Julie Su, acting Labor Secretary, and Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson, National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) chair, the event was supported by AFM International President Tino Gagliardi. It highlighted the significant difference that union membership and collective bargaining make in the lives and careers of Black creative professionals in the performing arts. Coordination of this program, with comments from Su and Jackson, underscored the Biden Administration’s support of arts workers and the historic contributions made by African American artists to American life and culture.

The event, which took place in the Great Hall of the Francis Perkins Building in Washington, DC, featured speakers from the Department of Labor as well as student arts groups from historically Black colleges and universities Bowie State University and Howard University. The formal session centered on the careers of Black trendsetters in today’s labor movement.

I was among a distinguished group of panelists that included American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) Dancers Vice President Antuan Byers, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) member Frank Brown, Stage Directors and Choreographers (SDC) Board Member Ruben Santiago-Hudson, and Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) New York Local President Ezra Knight. The panel was joined by US Representative Maxwell Frost (D-FL), who is also a jazz drummer.

Black History Month panel (L-R): DOL Acting Secretary Julie Su (moderator), AGMA Dancers Vice President Antuan Byers, IATSE board member Frank Brown, AFM Legislative-Political Director Alfonso Pollard, SDC board member Ruben Santiago-Hudson, SAG-AFTRA NY Local President Ezra Knight, and Congressman Maxwell Frost.

The panel discussion centered around our personal stories about initial involvement in the union movement; equitable workforce development programs; union support systems for minority performers; how unions raise the bar and level the field for arts workers, especially through collective bargaining; and what more needs to be done to improve opportunities for African Americans at the intersection of labor and the arts.

Jackson discussed ways the NEA and labor are working together, particularly in areas of prevailing wage and greater interaction between unions and NEA grantees. Jackson also announced the NEA’s current search for a chief diversity officer.

In the end, I mentioned the work of the AFM Diversity Committee to enhance educational efforts in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) officer training and the committee’s commitment to increasing the number of Black local AFM officers, in particular Black women officers, throughout the union. Finally, in terms of outreach, I was also able to point out how the AFM is partnering with the Sphinx Organization, League of American Orchestras, and Black Orchestral Network to resolve the age-old issue of increased participation by African Americans in American symphony orchestras.

Thanks to AFM Local 161-710 (Washington, DC) President Ed Malaga; Executive Officers Patty Hurd and Sharon Bingham Woolfolk; former board member Ephriam Woolfolk; and Secretary-Treasurer Marta Bradley for their ongoing support of AFM government relations activities in our nation’s capital.