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Lillian Roberts honored by AFSCME tribute at international convention

Stephon Johnson | 7/24/2014, 3:56 p.m.
The president of New York City’s largest municipal employee union was honored via a tribute video in Chicago last week.
Lillian Roberts speaks after receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the AFSCME convention in Chicago Tuesday, July 15. (Tessa Berg photo)

The president of New York City’s largest municipal employee union was honored via a tribute video in Chicago last week.

At the 41st annual International Convention of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Chicago’s McCormick Convention Center, AFSCME President Lee Saunders presented District Council 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her work in the labor movement, work that spans more than six decades.

In the video tribute, Roberts received praised from the likes of former New York City Comptroller John Liu, former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, current New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former AFSCME President Gerald McEntree, and Reps. Charlie Rangel and Carolyn Maloney.

“Lillian can be sweet and nice all the time ... except when she’s negotiating for workers,” said Rangel in the video tribute. “She’s tough.”

“She’s used to carry a brick in her pocketbook when she went around organizing,” said Council 37 Executive Director Henry Bayer in the video.

The video also championed Roberts’ accomplishments as the first African-American woman to serve on the AFSCME board and the first African-American woman to serve as executive director of DC 37.

“She’s a fighter,” said Maloney. “She gets things done.”

The video also discussed Roberts’ roots in Chicago and how her life path brought her to the fight for labor rights.

But that’s not all that went on at the McCormick Convention Center. The convention, which brought out 4,000 AFSCME delegates and alternates, held programs on subjects ranging from building political and legislative power, fighting against anti-union sentiment, efforts to grow the union through external organizing, building power with allies and the challenge to turn all that they learned at the convention into positive action.

Delegates at the convention also highlighted campaigns by Vermont home care providers, New Orleans taxicab drivers and Chicago’s licensed cab drivers to organizing with AFSCME and build power. Last Wednesday, some of the delegates joined those cab drivers in a rally in Chicago’s streets. The convention also featured speeches from U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and Ramogi Huma, founder and president of the National College Players Association, who recently won the National Labor Relations Board’s approval for football players at Northwestern University to be recognized as a union.