United Way
Indiana 211

Rex Ambrose

Rex Ambrose

Haynes International / USW 2958

There is a strong bond between United Steel Workers (USW) and the Civil Rights Movement. Steel Workers participate in the AFL-CIO Civil Rights Labor Conference and many sessions are dedicated to racial justice. And this is where Rex Ambrose from local 2958 USW comes in… 

"At the AFL-CIO conferences in Memphis I met Al Sharpton and Reverend Jesse Jackson. I wished I had liked history in school but that wasn’t the case so now later in life it piqued my interest and this opportunity came along. We discussed how civil rights movement relates to organized labor because they work in very parallel ways, a movement for fair and equal treatment, safety and health, voting, racial quality. United Steel Workers do the same things through collective bargaining with companies. “

“During the conference I took some of the same steps that Dr. King took when he was in Memphis in 1968. We visited the National Civil Rights Museum, the former Lorraine Motel, where Dr. King died. We visited his room and stood on the balcony where he was shot. We met at the Sanitation Workers Union Hall, the reason Dr. King came to Memphis and we marched together. Marches today are different than what they were during the civil rights era. Now we plan them, talk to city officials and march in peace. We have come a long way and I quote Jesse Jackson when he said ‘we have come a long way because of Dr. King.’ When we march, we march for everyone who has been wronged and everyone is welcome. Civil rights groups and labor unions have a common bond and that is to make conditions better.”

Click here for AFL-CIO Civil and Human Rights Conference info that happens annually, over the Martin Luther King Jr Day weekend.

The USW represents 850,000 men and women employed in metals, mining, pulp and paper, rubber, chemicals, glass, auto supply and the energy-producing industries, along with a growing number of workers in public sector and service occupations.

Did you know?
The year was 1968. Dr Martin Luther King had been assassinated.
Dr. Martin Luther King was in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a march of sanitation workers protesting against low wages and poor working conditions.
Two Memphis garbage collectors, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were crushed to death by a malfunctioning truck. Twelve days later, frustrated by the city’s response to the latest event in a long pattern of neglect and abuse of its black employees, 1,300 black men from the Memphis Department of Public Works went on strike.

Sanitation Workers were supported by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and demanded recognition of their union, better safety standards, and a decent wage. The union, which had been granted a charter by AFSCME in 1964, was unable to gain support. Conditions for black sanitation workers worsened when Henry Loeb became mayor in January 1968. 

The night before Martin Luther King Jr died; he spoke to sanitation workers and said “somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for rights. And so just as I said, we aren't going to let dogs or water hoses turn us around. We aren't going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on.”

Here is the final part of Martin Luther King's last speech “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top”. He delivered it on April 3, 1968, at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee.

The next day, King stepped out onto the balcony of room 306 of the Lorraine Hotel to speak with Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) colleagues standing in the parking area below. An assassin fired a single shot that caused severe wounds to the lower right side of his face. Reverend Jesse Jackson was on the balcony with Dr. King that day.

On 8 April, an estimated 42,000 people and union leaders marched through Memphis in honor of King, demanding that Loeb give in to the union’s requests. In front of the City Hall, AFSCME pledged to support the workers. Negotiators finally reached a deal on 16 April, allowing the City Council to recognize the union and guaranteeing a better wage. While the deal brought the strike to an end, the union had to threaten another strike several months later to press the city to follow through with its commitment.