Connect with us

Labor & Economy

Eddie Reed: The Passing of a Labor Hero




Eddie Reed on the job.

At a time when public sector workers and their unions are under constant attack, the heroic work of women and men who serve other people as a mission in life is often overlooked. The labor movement and Los Angeles lost a giant among these heroes with the recent passing of Eddie Reed. “Mr. Reed,” as I would always call him, lived the very definition of a public servant. For 34 years he helped the children and families of Los Angeles as a bus driver with the Los Angeles Unified School District.

“Bus driver,” however, is too narrow a description of the man and his mission. Mr. Reed was a leader who fought on behalf of a group of workers who were historically forgotten or marginalized whenever major decisions were made in the school district. He was a mentor to students, parents and employees, constantly reminding all of us that we have an obligation to serve those who have less or who struggle to find justice.

It was fitting, then, that in 2009 he was elected President of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 99. A union comprised of hard-working adults who serve our children’s meals, help them with their school work, clean their classrooms and ensure safe passage to and from school was a perfect match for Mr. Reed’s Southern-honed love and compassion for people.

I met Mr. Reed during my brief stint as an organizer with transportation workers. It was a privilege to ride in his SUV around Los Angeles, as he talked to his colleagues about their concerns on the job or explained why they must see the union as a vehicle for positive change. No matter the race or political beliefs of his audience, Mr. Reed’s message of building unity and power for unionized workers never wavered.

Even when he engaged with the broader community, I saw opponents of the union movement succumb to his ability to make everyone feel important and heard. Although I was an experienced organizer, I marveled at Mr. Reed’s ability to win over skeptics and win over a hostile room. Over time, I came to see him as a model organizer, sometimes forgetting that he had additional duties as president of a growing local.

Eddie Reed’s importance to the labor movement went even further than his service to his beloved Local 99 and its members. Mr. Reed was one of the few African-American local leaders at a time when both African-American labor leadership and membership struggled to maintain their past influence. Mr. Reed also represented a diverse group of service employees who are growing in their voice and political power on a myriad of local and national issues

Although our formal working relationship ended years ago, I always maintained a connection to Mr. Reed. His integrity, optimism, kindness and consistency are rare and refreshing values at a time when so many in America are pessimistic and harsh about themselves and others. I find it appropriate that the last time we spoke was days before Father’s Day. I sent him a message that expressed my gratitude for his personal example of fatherhood. Not only as a father (and husband) to his nuclear family, but as a father and shining example to the hundreds of people whom he encouraged to fight for a voice at the worksite and within the community. SEIU Local 99, the broader labor movement and the people of Los Angeles are better for the life lived by Mr. Eddie Reed.

We will miss you greatly.

Continue Reading




Top Stories