Yvonne Wheeler - Black In Labor

A committed labor, civil rights and community activist, Yvonne Wheeler has spent her life championing the rights of working people. Growing up as the daughter of a longtime union activist in Baton Rouge, Louisiana during the civil rights movement, at an early age she applied the principles of direct action and civil disobedience when because of the 1965 Desegregation Decree she was forced to attend desegregated Baton Rouge High School. The school district refused to provide school buses for Wheeler and her classmates, so she joined a group of African American students who marched on district offices, producing some arrests but compelled officials to provide the buses.

Wheeler attended Southern University before being married and going to work for South Central Bell (SBC), where she labored from 1978 to 1984. In the early 1990s she stood up to company management when all African American operators were disciplined after a customer complained about rude service by one “black operator.” Wheeler objected to the singling out of workers not because they were rude but because they were “black.” Management backed down after her challenge. 

She also challenged inept leadership at her local union and became a union steward and elected member of the executive board. Wheeler’s fearlessness in defending aggrieved union members and confronting abusive practices by management convinced her co-workers to elect her local union vice president from 1996 to 1999. She focused on organizing, legislation, and women’s equity.  In 1999 she became the first African American elected as president of the Communications Workers of American Local 9586.

In 1996, she became president of the Los Angeles Chapter and the President of the California State A. Philip Randolph Institute, an AFL-CIO sponsored group bridging the gap between the African American community and the labor movement through civil rights campaigns, voter registration, and job training. As Wheeler expanded her union, community, and civil rights work, Ophelia McFadden, Brenda Marsh-Mitchell and the late L.A. County labor leader Miguel Contreras became her friend and mentors. She managed a drive among African Americans to defeat former Gov. Pete Wilson’s anti-labor Proposition 226, dramatically increasing voter turnout.  

Holding dual roles as president of her local union and the A. Philip Randolph Institute Wheeler focused on mentoring African Americans into leadership positions within the labor movement. For five years she organized the A. Philip Randolph-AFL-CIO African American Organizing Institute with emphasis on recruitment, training and job placement of African Americans in union jobs. During the same time her local union won numerous awards for boosting COPE participation, organizing new workers, and embracing political activism. In 2002, she was recruited by the AFL-CIO as a national field representative. Her credits include crucial L.A.-area campaigns such as the longshore union lockout, supermarket strike/lockout, and helping to defeat Gov. Schwarzenegger’s 2005 special election initiatives. Wheeler was co-chair of the L.A. Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride in 2003, championing the plight of immigrant workers. That year she was lead AFL-CIO representative organizing the first annual International Human Rights Day, handling strategy, program, and logistics.  She led the 2008 campaign to elect President Obama in Las Vegas, Nevada for the AFL-CIO, and 2016 for Hillary Clinton. She has been the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions for her activism.

Yvonne Wheeler served as an AFL-CIO Senior Field Representative covering all Southern California. She also served as the California Area Director for AFSCME Western Region prior to serving in Washington, DC as the Special Assistant to the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) National Secretary-Treasurer. On April 25, 2014, she decided to reunite with her family and transferred back to California. Currently she is a National Representative for AFGE covering the states of California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii and a Vice President with the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.