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LEGACY: Leon Lynch looked for the union label

Leon Lynch was a union man through and through. Organized labor and trade unionism were his life’s passion for nearly his entire working career.

Leon Lynch was a union man through and through. Organized labor and trade unionism were his life’s passion for nearly his entire working career. For more than 47 years, he reveled in standing up for working people, advocating for men and women who might otherwise not have had a chance at a fair, living wage.

Mr. Lynch, the first African American to ever serve among the most senior ranks of any labor union in the country, died Friday (May 6) at the Methodist Hospice Residence after a bout with prostate cancer. He was 76.

In his career, Mr. Lynch was a negotiator who didn’t shy away from hoisting a sign, wielding a microphone, and picketing when times called for it.  He was a firm believer in the balance between management profits, secure employment opportunities and a safe environment for every worker.

A former International Vice President of the United Steelworkers (USW), AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations), Mr. Lynch looked for the union label and encouraged everyone around him to do the same.

Mr. Lynch is the namesake of the Leon Lynch Learning Center in East Chicago, Ind. The center serves USW Local 1011 members and offers a career development program to prepare steelworkers for opportunities outside the employment of the steel mill, rounding out their skill sets and equipping them to meet the demands of today’s job market. Some 56 years ago, Mr. Lynch started working at the Youngstown Sheet & Tube mill in East Chicago, and that’s where he became a member of the United Steelworkers – joining Local 1011.

In 1968, he launched a full-time career with the union that would last for more than four decades.  His first position was as a staff representative, and he was promoted to international representative a few years later.

Mr. Lynch’s first assignment was to work with Local 7655, which represented employees of the Carrier air conditioner plant in Memphis. Although the wounds Memphis suffered following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on April 4, 1968, were still raw, he became known as a leader who could conciliate black and white workers. When the local built its first union hall, its members put a sign in front that read, “Leon Lynch Union Hall.”

At its 1976 convention, the Steelworkers created the position of Vice President for Human Affairs and Mr. Lynch was appointed, subsequently being elected and re-elected for six terms until he retired from the union in 2006. He was national chairman of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, an executive committee member of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and a leader in the U.S. struggle against South African apartheid.

Mr. Lynch was elected to the AFL-CIO Executive Council in 1995. Active in many political and human rights organizations, he was a member of the executive committee of the Democratic National Committee, president of the Workers Defense League, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, and a member of the Labor Roundtable of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators.  He was appointed by President Clinton to the Advisory Council on Unemployment Compensation in 1994, and to the Air Traffic Service Board of the Federal Aviation Administration in 2000. on which he served until 2008.

A receipient of many awards, in March 2009, during the Southern Regional Meeting of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, which was held in Memphis, he was among those recognized in a resolution from the Memphis City Council.

Mr. Lynch is survived by his wife, Doris Tindal-Lynch of Bullhead City, Ariz.; his two brothers, James W. Lynch (Shirley) of Navarre, Fla., and Vincent K. Lynch (Karen) of Macon, Ga.; and his four daughters, Tina Lynch and Tammy Dunn (David) of Pittsburgh, Pa.; Sheila Champlin (Michael) of Germantown; and Maxine Lynch of Alexandria, Va.

He also leaves five grandchildren – Austin, Brice, Sullivan and Isabella Dunn and Paige Champlin.

Mr. Lynch will be buried in Fern Oak Cemetery in Griffith, Ind.


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