For over four decades, William (Bill) Lucy has been at the forefront of the labor movement in American and around the world. As International Secretary-Treasurer of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) for nearly 40 years, Lucy helped the union grow from 200,000 to over 1.4 million members in 3,500 local unions nationwide. He also helped define the role of African Americans in the labor unions when he co-founded the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) in 1972. Along the way, he has stood alongside the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in civil rights struggles and Nelson Mandela in opposition to apartheid. Lucy co-founded the Free South Africa Movement, a grassroots campaign that sparked widespread opposition to apartheid across the United States.
After the release of Nelson Mandela—the South African leader who had been imprisoned by the apartheid government for 27 years—Lucy led a fundraising effort to bring Mandela on a United States tour. Four years later, when South Africa had its first post-apartheid elections, Lucy went as part of an AFL-CIO monitoring delegation. After twenty years of fighting apartheid, Lucy was present when Mandela was elected the first black president of South Africa.
Throughout the 1990s Lucy continued to move through the upper ranks of international labor. In November of 1994 he was elected president of Public Services International (PSI), the world’s largest union federation. The first African American to hold this position, Lucy oversaw 10 million members from over 100 nations.
In 1995 the AFL-CIO appointed Lucy to its executive council, the federation’s highest decision-making body. He also served as vice president for several of the AFL-CIO’s departments including the Industrial Union, Maritime Trades, and Professional Employees. In addition Lucy served on the boards of directors of civic groups such as the African America Institute, Americans for Democratic Action, and the Center for Policy Alternatives.
Though his name is not as well known as King and Mandela, Lucy has carved out a legacy based on living wages, health care benefits, and job safety. And like these famous men, Lucy’s legacy lives on through the lives of hundreds of thousands of working families around the world every day. Ebony magazine frequently cites Lucy as one of “The 100 most Influential Black Americans.” Lucy has two children, Benita Marsh and Phyllis Manuel.