Carl James Williams began his career in California’s Lawndale School District in 1994 as a noon duty staff person. A year later, Williams moved into a special education classroom as an instructional assistant. Five years after that, he transitioned to night custodian, and he finally landed in his current role after being promoted to senior day custodian, a position he has held for more than a decade.
In 2008, Williams was elected president of the Lawndale Federation of Classified Employees, and in 2020 was elected as an AFT vice president. In addition to serving as an AFT vice president, Williams also represents classified employees as president of the California Federation of Teachers Council of Classified Employees.
Williams has always been an avid learner. A few years ago, he decided to take a class or two in labor studies to help him be a more effective president, but he enjoyed his classes so much that he ended up completing an entire course of study and now holds a labor studies certification from Los Angeles Trade Technical College.
Williams is proud of the organizing work the Lawndale Federation of Classified Employees has done. Under his leadership, the local has more than doubled, with new paraprofessionals and school support staff who are excited and eager to support students and build their profession. Williams’ dedication and tenacity has shown through during the COVID-19 pandemic. The onset of the pandemic brought with it the threat of layoffs for over 70 percent of Lawndale Federation’s membership. Transforming despair into hope, Williams got to work organizing. Over the span of two weeks, he mobilized members, engaged community allies and negotiated with the district to ensure not a single member was laid off due to the pandemic.
Within the national AFT, Williams is a member of the Racial Equity Task Force. The task force was formed shortly after the killing of Trayvon Martin. “This was my first real introduction to the AFT. When I was asked to join this committee, it made me feel like my union didn’t just care about me as a worker, the AFT cared about me as a Black man—not just as a worker but as a human being.”
Williams is the devoted husband to his wife Yolanda, who together have raised three biological children and have been foster parents to 70 foster children. If you ever have the opportunity to speak with Williams, he will quickly tell you that he and his wife don’t like to use the “F-word” in their household. They made no distinction between kids living under their roof and now enjoy relationships with more grandchildren than can easily fit in a small school bus.