Linda Chavez-Thompson (born August 3, 1944) is a second-generation Mexican American and union leader. She was elected the executive vice-president of the AFL-CIO in 1995 and served until September 21, 2007. She is also a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and a member of the board of trustees of United Way of America. She was the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor of Texas in the 2010 election.
Chavez-Thompson's place of birth is unclear[according to whom?]. Although she has been described by some sources as an "illegal immigrant", other references contend that she was born in Lorenzo in Crosby County in West Texas and reared in Lubbock. Her father was a sharecropper, and she was one of seven children. At the age of 10, she took a job hoeing cotton in the fields in Lorenzo for the summer. It was a job she worked at for the next nine years. She also picked cotton for several years. She dropped out of high school at age 16 to help support her family, and married at the age of 20. She gave birth to a daughter in 1964 and a son in 1976. She divorced her first husband in 1984 and the next year married Robert Thompson, the long-time president of the Amalgamated Transit Local 694 in San Antonio. He died in 1993 of complications of lung cancer.
In 1967, Chavez-Thompson became a secretary on the staff of the Construction Laborer's Local 1253 in Lubbock, TexasLaborers' International Union of North America. When a tornado struck the Lubbock area that year, she volunteered to coordinate the Texas AFL-CIO's relief efforts. She enjoyed the job so much, she became a staff organizer for the North Texas Laborers District Council. Her first organizing campaign was to help city workers in Lubbock form a union. They were successful.
Realizing that public sector organizing was what she enjoyed most, Chavez-Thompson joined the staff of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees as an International Representative in 1971. She then went to work for (AFSCME Local #2399) in San Antonio in 1973 as an assistant business agent. She was promoted to business agent, then was appointed executive director of Local 2399, AFSCME's San Antonio affiliate. She became a fixture on local TV and in local newspapers. In 1978, she opposed a wildcat strike by members of her local, knowing they would be fired for striking.
She was subsequently elected to the executive boards of the San Antonio Central Labor Council and the Texas AFL-CIO. She was elected a vice president of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement in 1986. She was first elected an international vice president of AFSCME in 1988. In 1993, Chavez-Thompson became the first Hispanic woman elected to the Executive Council of the AFL-CIO. On March 1, 1995, she was elected executive director of AFSCME Texas Council 42, a statewide council of the union based in Austin with 12,000 members in 21 unions.
Chavez-Thompson was elected executive vice-president of the AFL-CIO after John Sweeney ran for the presidency of the labor federation in 1995. The Sweeney campaign initially recruited Chavez-Thompson in May 1995 to serve as the AFL-CIO's secretary-treasurer. But a month later, Sweeney asked Richard Trumka to accept that position. Sweeney subsequently offered to create the post of executive vice-president and asked Chavez-Thompson to be his running mate for that position.
During the ensuing campaign, Sweeney complained that supporters of Thomas R. Donahue, unfairly criticized Chavez-Thompson's qualifications for office. Donahue admittedly opposed creation of the position, but Donahue's supporters went further and claimed that "Sweeney's proposal to create a new leadership office for council member Linda Chavez-Thompson smacks of tokenism."