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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mary Moore, August 17, 2006. Interview U-0193. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Union activities, race relations, and connections to the civil rights movement

Moore discusses her work with the union of VA hospital employees in Birmingham, Alabama, from the early 1970s through the 1990s. Moore joined the union early in her employment at the hospital, eventually rising to the rank of executive vice-president. Here, she discusses some of the union's aims and activities, various intimidation tactics of her employers, and the role of race relations within the union. Finally, she concludes by drawing connections between the labor movement and the civil rights movement.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mary Moore, August 17, 2006. Interview U-0193. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

SARAH THUESEN:
Getting back to your union activity just a little bit. When you first got involved with it who were the lead organizers? Who recruited you?
MARY MOORE:
The man's name was—his last name was Parker. He was one of the people on nursing service. He was the one that told me they are mistreating you in this laboratory. You need to go and talk to your union official. At that time the union president was ill. The vice president, at that time, was a black guy that worked in dietetic. His last name was Tucker. He was the one—. Even when I went to him, even though we were unionized '72, '73, his bosses—. At that time the bosses still kind of had a hold on our union people. A lot of the meaningful cases that they should have been addressing, the bosses would make it so hard on them that they couldn't get the official time. Even though I had made my complaint you have a window there of opportunity. Once Parker said, "Well, you need to make your complaint." He had me to file a complaint to the union official as well as EEOC. That's what pulled me into EEOC because of my own personal complaint. Once I got that satisfied then I became—. The union said, "You've had more dealings with them. You were successful so we'll make you our representative to EEOC." Basically, I had to—because the union president's supervisor limited his time that he could talk to me. I ended up having to learn union procedures on my own to fight my own situation.
SARAH THUESEN:
Were the union leaders white or black?
MARY MOORE:
At that time they were about fifty fifty. In fact, it might have been more white than black mainly because the hospital was mostly white at that time. You only had a few blacks there that was brave enough—. We were already being discriminated against, the handful that was there, by having to work the late shifts all the time. One set of rules were for whites. One set of rules were for blacks. The majority of the people that spearheaded it was white. In fact, one of our most dedicated union workers lost his job, basically because he had won several major union complaints and was just set up by management. In fact, they promoted one of our most dedicated union stewards to be over our laboratory. They did that because they figure Linda knew the union rules and regulation. She knew where the weak points were. She learned those weak points from this guy who was her best friend, one of our union officials. They figured if they could break his back it would break the union. When they fired him on drummed up charges she called him to her office on day because a mediator—he was supposed to have an arbitration case. The arbitrator supposedly called her office to find him. When he couldn't find him he was going to return the call to her office. He went to the office, was standing in the door when I saw him on the phone. By the time I got back, went on my break came back ten minutes later; they said he attacked the supervisor. I said, "Well that's not true. He talked on that telephone in the doorway." That was one of the weakness of the union was that. Anytime a manager say that you attack them they would believe the manager over you. As far as that manager was concerned she was still our chief tech when I retired. I never went into an office with her, never. She used to would stand and cry in front of the laboratory. "Mary doesn't trust me. She refused to go and talk to me in my office." I wouldn't do it. I've seen what you've done to your best friend. If you want to speak to me you are going to have to speak to me in the middle of the laboratory, I mean the dead center of the laboratory, so people could see you from every department. Every department was just separated by a glass wall. It would help at night that you could see what—. The one or two of you that were in the laboratory could see each other.
SARAH THUESEN:
Were race relations pretty—? How would you characterize race relations?
MARY MOORE:
Race relations, when I retired—.
SARAH THUESEN:
I was thinking actually, first of all, within the union in its early days.
MARY MOORE:
Within the union in the early days race relations were fairly okay. You had a few whites that felt that the union was for whites only. To give you an example we had an asbestos case that went on for several years. One of the union officials that signed on to that asbestos case was white, extremely racist. When the government finally settled the case he was the one that they called in to negotiate the settlement for VA employees. He went in and got a settlement only for white males that worked in engineering. The government, being the way that they were, they knew that that wasn't right. They accepted that as the settlement for our asbestos case. They knew that a handful of white men working in the engineering department were not the only ones that had been exposed to asbestos. They took that and closed that case out. When I left we were still trying to reopen that case. For the most part, most of them—. I tell you this. One reason we had many whites that accepted blacks real well was that a lot of those white men especially were people from up North. Met their wives either in the military or while they were on duty at one of the military bases in the South and married and moved south. Even with the white females, many of them were whites that were not from the South. They were the ones who were more union minded. Alabama's a right-to-work state. They fight tooth and nails to keep union activity down in this state. Those people came in and as they migrated south they were the ones that were some of the spearhead—. Richard Jefferson was the young man that they fired because of his union activity. He was one of first people, came from Pennsylvania or somewhere up north. He came from a union city where they had plants and things. His parents were union members. When Richard came, whichever place he came from up north, he was just union oriented. He was one of the people that spearheaded the VA getting a union.
SARAH THUESEN:
I'm curious, when you were involved with the union in the early '70s, did you see this as an extension as your civil rights activism or by that time did you think the Civil Rights Movement was over?
MARY MOORE:
The Civil Rights Movement will never be over. I always told them, because I was a child of the '60s, that my union involvement was because of injustice, didn't matter who it was being done to. The Movement had taught us that any injustice, if it's happening to you, if I don't speak up about it, eventually it's going to come to me. You got to realize even in the workplace you had racial issues. You had issues with females because many of the managers were male. There were women-oriented issues also that you had to fight. The union to me was just one of the categories that came under the Civil Rights Movement. Even though the union is what helped motivate the Civil Rights Movement when you look at A. Philip Randolph in his battle with the porters on the railroad train, the trains, and things of that nature. That was a part of the Movement together. Even now, as an elected official, I try to explain to people that rather than being a politician I'm a community activist that's really fighting for people to have the best quality of life they can. Even though my concentration, most times, is centered around blacks, because I see the hands of the clock being turned back and many of our black elected officials have just painted themselves in this closed room where they can't see it. They just say, "Well, oh it's because of this. It's because of that." They've adopted some of the theories that were put out during Jim Crow era.