The contributions of black members to the success of the Teamsters Union are numerous, varied and as old as the union itself. This month, the Teamsters Union spotlights some of those contributions.
As a black worker, Joe Nero faced challenges his white co-workers did not face. He was called on to prove his skill level and worth as an employee in ways that whites on the job were not. Nero faced all the challenges successfully and won the friendship and respect of his peers, black and white.
In 1941, Nero became a member of Local 272. He believed his membership in the union and the support of fellow members helped him get through the hard times.
Born on October 15, 1900, in Elmo, Texas, as a young man Nero was employed by the Southwestern Life Company in Dallas, where he worked his way up to the position of lead elevator starter. This was a major accomplishment, as he was the first African American to be named to a position of that responsibility level in the region.
When his father became the first African American to be granted a plumbing license in the city, he joined in to help create a successful family business. But when Joe’s father was ready to turn the business over to his sons, Joe decided he still wanted some adventure. So, in 1931, the business went to his brother and Joe went to New York City.
Settling in Harlem, he worked as a mechanic for a small trucking company, which was purchased by Hertz Rental Car Corporation in 1941. A good friend at work convinced Nero to join the Teamsters—the union that represented the Hertz workers.
Nero was always very active in the union and the community. In 1960, he became part of the New York City Police Department Community Council, and was well-known and respected in his Harlem neighborhood, where he lived until 1999.
Failing eyesight prompted life changes, but Nero refused to give up his independence. He became active in a program mentoring young school children and participated in a variety of other activities. He was honored by civic organizations of all types for lifetime achievements and even had a day named after him in the Texas county of his birth.
Nero loved to tell of his experiences with the Teamsters and could hold children and adults alike spellbound with his stories of the old days. He was very proud to be a member of a union that did so much to help all working people.
"We all became like family, watching out for each other," Nero often said. "Being in the Teamsters meant the difference between a good life and a tough one. Still does."