TTD and our 36 affiliated unions proudly stand with the rest of the labor movement in honoring the contributions and achievements of Black Americans to our nation, past and present.
Black History Month Profiles
Several of our affiliated members were featured in the AFL-CIO’s Black History Month Profiles, including:
This year, for Black History Month, the IAM is highlighting some of our current history makers within the organization. All this month, we will be running stories on current Black activists in the IAM.
Katrina Coleman started her union journey when she was hired as a clerk for Amtrak in Philadelphia in 1986. In 2014, she was elected to serve as Local Chairperson of Transportation Communications Union (TCU/IAM) Local 1351, a role she maintains today. She was also appointed to serve as an Assistant National Representative for TCU/IAM Unit 86 in 2016.
Coleman works in a male-dominated industry and has experienced many obstacles along her journey.
“I have found it hard to be respected and treated in the same manner as my male counterparts,” said Coleman. “I was fortunate to have a mentor who fostered my growth and development in the labor movement.”
Coleman credits retired TCU/IAM Assistant Legislative Director Mark Taylor for helping her remain focused and remembering why she was there—“to serve our members.” She was proud to see another Black member in a leadership role, and it made her “proud to be a union leader.”
“Katrina is the embodiment of what a TCU/IAM representative—of what any union representative—should be,” says TCU/IAM National President Arthur Maratea. “She is deeply invested in the wellbeing of our members, evident by the tireless work she does on their behalf every day. The heartbeat of our membership runs through her. She has the respect of leaders within our organization, as well as across the table. I am proud to have Katrina as a part of my team.”
Her hopes and dreams for herself are to one day sit on the stage as a National Officer.
“I want to have a real seat at the table to be an example and inspiration to all people of color that there is no glass ceiling,” said Coleman. “That Black workers throughout North America one day will not have to fight for diversity and inclusion. The wisdom, experience and insights we have should be welcomed on every team.”
Coleman says she is empowered by civil rights activist Al Sharpton’s fight for racial justice for all. She also admires the women of the WNBA, who are more recent champions of justice.
“They did what I strive for daily, to choose courage over comfort and stand up for social change,” said Coleman.
Coleman’s advice for other union members is “get involved, speak up, and ask questions” and to learn more about their role in the labor movement and understand what it means to be a union member.
Edison Fraser began his career, and his IAM membership, as a Customer Service Agent with Southwest Airlines at BWI Airport in 2002 with Local 846. He immediately became involved in his union and was appointed first as a shop steward and then as a Local Lodge educator. He continued his leadership roles by serving as a Local Lodge Recording Secretary, then Local Lodge Secretary-Treasurer, and finally Local Lodge President, before becoming an organizer for District 142.
In that role, he helped achieve significant organizing victories, including Air Tran Airways and United Airlines. In 2012, he was appointed first as a Grand Lodge Special Representative for the Transportation Department and later as a Grand Lodge Representative. Most recently, in 2021, he became Transportation Coordinator.
Fraser said that although he encountered obstacles along the way, older leaders realized that he was willing to learn, so most welcomed him.
“I took advantage and volunteered to participate in union activities every chance I got,” said Fraser.
He was mentored by the late IAM Grand Lodge Representative Rene Cicero, who took Fraser under her wings and always encouraged him.
Fraser recalls Cicero telling him, “Eddie, you fit the mold, and one day you will make this union proud.”
Fraser was encouraged by seeing other Black IAM leaders, like now retired General Secretary-Treasurer Robert Roach Jr., and General Vice President Diane Babineaux.
These experiences have made Fraser the union activist he is today.
“Edison Fraser lets nothing stand in his way,” said Richard Johnsen, IAM Chief of Staff to the International President. “His work ethic and dedication to this union is second to none. I feel so fortunate and proud to have him as one of our leaders in Transportation. There is no doubt that he is paving the road for future leaders of the IAM.”
Fraser’s advice is to look at the history of the IAM and see how diverse it has become, and to take the opportunity to become more active in our union, especially for Young Machinists.
“Remember, you are the future, and no one can stop that,” Fraser says of the IAM’s younger members.
Fraser hopes members realize there are many resources to allow equal opportunities in the IAM to service our members in various capacities. He also encourages members to take advantage of the educational opportunities the IAM. He earned his associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees through the IAM.
Fraser relates to and admires the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He says King had a vision and would let nothing stop him. His favorite quote by King is, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Reggie Dixon initiated into the IAM in 2002 when he started working for the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA). He was elected as Local 759 Recording Secretary in 2005 and President in 2008. In 2012, he also became Vice President of District 112, serving in both roles until 2018. His dedication to the union resulted in his appointment to the Southern Territory as a Grand Lodge Special Representative in August of 2021.
“Brother Dixon has proven himself as a leader and dedicated unionist,” said IAM Southern Territory General Vice President Rickey Wallace. “Brother Reggie heeded the call from his union when his District was in difficult times. The members of District 112 have benefited from his service and commitment to represent our membership to the best of his ability.”
“I have a long way to go and a lot more to learn, but every day has been truly a blessing, and the love and passion what I do that started in 2005 is still in me today,” said Dixon.
Unfortunately, like other Black union leaders, Dixon faced many obstacles along his path. Working three times harder to gain trust from local lodge members and companies, Dixon encountered members who said they did not want him to represent them because of the color of his skin. He overcame those battles by pressing ahead and winning their grievances.
Wallace recognizes the challenges faced by Dixon.
“Being from the South, Reggie has faced challenges above the normal day to day representation of our members,” said Wallace. “We still have a long way to go in our country and particularly in the South when it comes to racial equality, but I am so proud that Brother Reggie is a part of our Southern Territory staff. He is a great asset to our Organization.”
He also relied on others, such as his mentor, Steve Hernandez, who helped him professionally and personally, as well as Southern Territory Chief of Staff Craig Martin, who talked to him on Christmas Eve after a disgruntled member who hurled racial slurs at him. During the 2020 elections, when racial tensions were high, Southern Territory General Vice President Rickey Wallace reached out to check on him.
Brother Dixon says he admires President Obama for his place in history as the first Black president.
“He earned the people’s trust by his actions, and not by the color of his skin,” said Dixon.
He hopes others will see that we all are the same and stop judging each other due to race.
Dixon also serves as a co-chair on the JTA Outreach Program, which performs many community service activities like feeding the homeless and hosting speakers for local public schools. Dixon’s IAM Brothers and Sisters say that he has always had a caring heart and helping hand, and he serves the membership in an exceptional manner.
“Get involved, stay active in local lodge meetings, and become leaders in this union,” said Dixon.
He also urges other Black union members to become leaders, “because we need more minority leaders in this union, especially in the South.”
Dixon’s hope is for Black workers to continue their education and become active in their communities, leaders on their jobs, especially union jobs, and role models for our youth.
Helena Thornton started her career in August 2006 with US Airways in Charlotte, NC as a part-time fleet service agent. She was elected as a Shop Steward in 2008, and in 2010, she ran for Victory Lodge 1725 Conductor Sentinel—and lost by only three votes.
Despite the obstacles of working in a male-dominated field and being a single mom, Thornton never gave up.
“If nothing else, this gave me the strength, drive and the determination to overcome any obstacle,” said Thornton.
Her hard work and determination to learn more paid off when she ran again in 2013 for Conductor Sentinel and won. She also became a delegate for her Local Lodge and attended her first Grand Lodge Convention in Toronto, as well as the Transportation Conference and the Women’s and Human Rights Conference. During this time, she served on her Local Lodge’s Women’s Committee, where she worked to revamp the committee’s mission.
In 2016, Thornton was elected to serve as Local 1725’s Recording Secretary. She formed the Community Service Committee after attending the Community Service Program at the William W Winpisinger Center. She was a delegate to the 2016 Grand Lodge Convention in Chicago, and attended the Transportation Conference and District Lodge 141 Conference as a delegate.
During her term as Recording Secretary, she was appointed to be an auditor to District 141 by President and Directing General Chair Michael Klemm. In 2019, Thornton was one of the three honorary recipients of the Community Service Award from the Women’s Department at the IAM Women’s Rising Conference. In 2022, Thornton was elected as the first woman president of her lodge.
Thornton notes that she was fortunate to be given all the training to ensure that members were represented to the best of her ability. She also notes the help she received from her assistant general chairs, who got her more involved on the district level. She also credits IAM women in leadership roles, and how they were always supportive of any and all women in whatever role they wanted.
“Without a doubt, the mentorship and leadership that I received from the William W. Winpisinger Center is one that could never be replaced,” said Thornton. “I can honestly say the relationships that are built there are for a lifetime.”
“Helena is a very determined individual who has time and time again proven herself to be a strong union leader,” said Richard Johnsen, IAM Chief of Staff to the International President. “Becoming the first woman President of Local Lodge 1725 is a significant accomplishment, and I applaud her.”
Thornton admires and can relate as a mother to Mamie Till-Mobley, an American civil rights activist whose son, Emmett Till, was kidnapped and murdered after being wrongfully accused of whistling at a white woman at a grocery store. She fought to bring justice for her son and educate people on discrimination.
Thornton’s advice to members is to get involved. She encourages her IAM Brothers and Sisters not to get discouraged and feel like they may not fit in, because every person has a place in their local, as well as their union.
“At the heart of it all, it’s about unionism and what we stand for,” said Thornton. “Always strength in numbers as Fighting Machinists do.”
Her hope is for people is “to learn to respect everyone no matter of race, ethnicity, gender and equality. Because everyone bleeds red, so we’re not as different as people want us to be. Let’s just respect and love each other.”
Thornton also encourages people to learn the Black history for themselves, not what others perceive it to be.
Jason Hargrove, Local 26-Detroit, MI
Early in the pandemic in April 2020, Brother Hargrove, a 50-year-old bus driver, posted a Facebook live video about a passenger who openly coughed on his bus without covering her mouth. He pleaded with riders and the public to wear masks warning of the danger of COVID-19.
Eleven days later, Brother Hargrove was one of the first ATU members to die of COVID-19.
His Facebook video went viral, garnering international media coverage on CNN and other outlets, raising the profile of the ATU and transit workers as frontline heroes providing critical transit for nurses, health care workers and other essential workers to fight the pandemic. Brother Hargrove was a true ATU hero.
Jacquely Robinson, Local 1756-Arcadia, CA
Since joining Local 1756-Arcadia, CA, Sister Robinson has gone beyond the call of duty to get involved in her Local.
A school bus driver, she also trains new school bus drivers to help them get certified and deal with the demands and challenges of being a school bus driver. Sister Robinson has also been taking the lead in organizing members to fight for a better contract at the Alvord School District Yard and Corona-Norco School District Yard.
We thank Sister Robinson for her hard work and commitment to her Local and our Union.
Will Elliott, Local 1336-Bridgeport, CT
A Bus and Van Operator for the Milford Transit District (MTD), Brother Elliott played an important role in Local 1336’s successful Safe Service campaign to fight for COVID protections and safety measures for members including PPE on the job.
He recruited his fellow members to sign petitions and letter campaigns, distributed leaflets and buttons as well as recruiting riders and community allies to take part in actions.
Reflecting back on the campaign Brother Elliott said, “It was amazing what we accomplished with the history we have as a unit. When things aren’t right, we are going to demand change and make it happen.”
Leatha Falls, Local 1005-Minneapolis, MN
A Cleaner and Helper for Metro Transit, Sister Falls played a critical role in Local 1005’s successful campaign to win a strong contract after a long fight with the transit agency.
She was a key member of the Local’s Contract Action Team in developing and planning strategic tactics and actions to put pressure on Metro Transit. Sister Falls also recruited members to get involved in the campaign including to sign petitions, attend the rallies and other actions.
We applaud Sister Falls for going above and beyond for her Local.
Even before Rickey Brame Sr. hung up his inside journeyman wireman’s tools two years ago, the Portland, Ore., Local 48 member’s musings often turned to rich stories spanning the journey he and other African-American electricians have navigated through their local union.
Collecting tales, not just the sagas already known, but also the whispers of the electrical trade, came naturally for a guy who hung around his father’s popular barber shop. But Brame knew he couldn’t collect all the stories on his own.
Click here to read how IBEW electrician Rickey Brame Sr. honored Black history in his local.
Ivan Dawns, the first Black union representative with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) in Ontario and a staunch supporter of Black community causes in the Toronto region, has been honored by the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) with a High Achievement Award.
Click here to read more.