John Nave is a long-time union member who believes in the power of unions to get things done for workers, especially African American workers. He clearly sees how a strong union benefits Black workers, that’s why he’s working hard to bring “his” community back to the union.

In a time when union jobs are decreasing and the once strong union voting block has become splintered, Nave is working to get more Black union workers actively engaged with their unions, not just to benefit the union, but to benefit the African-American workers.

Although unions may not have originally thrown open their doors to Black workers, once the country began to integrate, union membership helped bolster both African-American income and job security.

At one point, nearly one-third of all Black workers in the United States were employed in a union job. So the loss of union jobs and strength is a loss to both African-American workers and the African-American community.

“The union is its membership and the strength of the union is its members,” says Nave who is nearing the end of his first year as executive vice-president of the AFL-CIO of Kansas. The AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in America, is made up of fifty-six national and international unions representing more than 12 million active and retired workers.

Nave’s position, is full-time with the union and places his among the highest ranking members of the organization in Kansas. He gained this position by working his way up through the union ranks, but sadly he says too few African Americans in Kansas are involved in union leadership.

“I can go into other parts of the country and I can see our people involved,” comments Nave.

Nave grew up in St. Joseph, MO and remembers his grandparents, who worked at the meat packing plant, talking about the importance of the union. He first joined the union in 1989 when he work at United Parcel Service. From the Teamsters, he moved to the United Steel Workers Local 307 when he began working at Goodyear. There he was a union rep for six years and served as chairman of the Committee on Political Education for three years.

Nave’s extensive political history began in the early nineties working on campaigns of individuals pursuing local and state offices. He personally ran for and earned a seat on the Topeka City Council, and served from 2003-2007.

The United Steelworkers International Political Department utilized John’s experience in working on campaigns, and taped him to work on several political campaigns they had interest in across the United States. Their goal was to get “union-friendly” candidates elected.

Unions are still very politically active, working hard to get legislation favorable to workers passed on a state and national level. As executive vice-president, Nave spends time lobbying in the Topeka Capitol for, or against, all kinds of issues the union feels have an effect on workers. 

It’s a particularly tough job in Kansas, where union concerns aren’t often supported by those in office and his largest competitor, the Kansas Chamber, has “heavy pockets.”

“We’re fighting every day for working families,” says Nave. “And I thank God every day that I’ve been put in a position where I can help our Black community.”

Where ever he goes for the union, he encourages union participation for all workers, not just African Americans.

“If you don’t like what’s going on with the union, get in there and work hard to change it,” he says.

Nave says: Vote and vote for union friendly candidates

Join your union, and Get actively involved in your union.

Since 1996, Bonita has served as as Editor-in-Chief of The Community Voice newspaper. As the owner, she has guided the Wichita-based publication’s growth in reach across the state of Kansas and into...

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