AmNews and BLA salute heroes of labor

JASMIN K. WILLIAMS Special to the AmNews | 9/21/2012, 3:31 p.m.

Additionally, he currently serves as a board member of the Children's Defense Fund, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the A. Philip Randolph Institute. Along with Kathleen Sebelius, United States secretary of Health & Human Services, Gresham serves as a member of the Partnership for Quality Care. In 2010, he was appointed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to the Medicaid Redesign Team.

"The members of 1199 know President Barack Obama is the leader we need standing with us for the next four years," Gresham said. "That's why the union is working hard on his re-election. With President Obama's continued leadership, we know that America is moving forward, that we are on the right path and that our country's best days are still to come."

Roberts is the executive director of District Council 37, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, and has a long, proud history as a unionist.

She grew up in the tenements of Chicago's South Side and became a nurse's aide. In 1959, she joined the hospital local of AFSCME's District Council 34, becoming a shop steward and officer. She was hired as a staff rep by AFSCME District Council 19 in Chicago, spearheaded the creation of five locals and led an organizing drive in four Chicago mental hospitals. In 1965, Roberts moved to New York from Chicago to build up DC 37's Hospitals Division. She led the union's campaign to organize thousands of city hospital workers in 1966.

Roberts was associate director of DC 37 from 1967 to 1981 under Victor Gotbaum. She played a major role in organizing new members and establishing an array of benefits, including the largest union-based adult education program in the U.S. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Roberts brought thousands of workers in federally funded jobs into the union. During her 17-year tenure with DC 37, the union's ranks skyrocketed from 30,000 to 120,000.

Roberts was first elected DC 37 executive director in 2002. She was the union's first female executive director. She was re-elected in 2004 and 2007.

On Jan. 26, 2010, Roberts was overwhelmingly re-elected for a fourth term as executive director. She was named one of the 25 most influential Black women in business by the Network Journal in 2010.

This former New York state commissioner of labor was called "probably the most powerful Black person in American labor" by Essence magazine, and in 2007 was named by the New York Post as one of the 30 Most Influential Black New Yorkers.

Roberts holds a doctorate in humane letters from the College of New Rochelle.