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AFT mourns Baltimore union leader Brenda Clayburn

A voice for all workers, an unflinching community activist, a pioneering organizer in the public sector, and a friend who could trip the light fantastic on the dance floor. Those were some of the memories offered by public officials and national union leaders at the sad news that Brenda Clayburn, president of the City Union of Baltimore, died on Jan. 27. She was 63.

Brenda Clayburn

Clayburn, a member of the AFT Public Employees program and policy council, was active in CUB from its beginnings. She was a leader in Local 800's quarter-century rise to become the primary bargaining union for Baltimore City and Baltimore City Public Schools employees. She worked for the Baltimore City Police Department for 28 years as an office supervisor before her external assignment to CUB in 1998.

"Brenda was active in the City Union of Baltimore from its inception, and she ably took over the reins of CUB and moved it forward when times were tough for public workers," remembers AFT secretary-treasurer Lorretta Johnson, former president of AFT-Maryland. "She represented the voice of municipal employees in the Baltimore Central Labor Council, in AFT-Maryland and at the national level, where she served for many years on the AFT Public Employees' program and policy council. But most important were her activism in community service and her advocacy not only for her own members, but for all workers.

"She will sorely be missed, not just by her family, but by the union she loved, the community she lived in, and by me as a friend."

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called Clayburn "a force to be reckoned with at the bargaining table" and "a kind-hearted public servant." The longtime AFT leader "was a strong advocate for the thousands of city employees she represented, and she cared deeply for their welfare. … I know that thousands of CUB members share a sincere debt of gratitude for her service."

Clayburn was one of the driving forces in creating an Indoor Air Quality Task Force at the AFT—focusing on a workplace problem she identified early in her local union and helped make a national AFT priority. The task force continues to this day, and meets annually for discussions with federal regulators.

Colleagues also remember Clayburn's human side, particularly when it came to the dance floor.

Jill Cohenour, chair of the division's PPC and president of the Montana Federation of Public Health and Human Services, recalled that Clayburn was never shy about sharing her human side with her trade union colleagues. "The lady could dance!" Cohenour said. "I remember her at the joint conference doing the electric slide. … She had a joy that really showed when she was 'getting down with her bad self.' "

Retiree Art Foeste, a former leader of the Wisconsin Professional Employees Council, also served with Clayburn on the division's PPC and remembers how she pulled him onto the dance floor at one recent meeting and graded his performance. "When we came off the dance floor, she laughed and pulled my head down and whispered in my ear, 'For an old, white guy, you sure can dance.' I think I became an honorary member of the City Union of Baltimore that night. I always felt that Brenda and I had something a little special, or maybe she just made everyone feel that way."

Messages of condolence may be sent to the City Union of Baltimore, 2117 N. Howard St., Baltimore, MD 21218. [Mike Rose, Jennifer Porcari]

February 7, 2013