Clarence Pittman Jr., head of Miami longshoremen’s union, dies at 80

 
 
Clarence Pittman, Jr.
Clarence Pittman, Jr.

ldixon@MiamiHerald.com

Clarence Pittman Jr., who dedicated his life to service and for more than 30 years advocated for his fellow workers as president of the oldest black labor union in the state, died Thursday of complications from heart disease.

He was 80.

Colleagues from his days as president of the International Longshoremen's Association Local #1416 lauded him for his professionalism and said he was a gentle, decisive leader, who did not have to speak loudly to be effective.

“He had a soft, gentle way of approaching problems and always came up with a resolution,” said Lovette McGill, president of the A. Phillip Randolph Institute’s Miami-Dade chapter.

Mike D. Payne, who worked with him for about eight years as vice president of the ILA Ports Council of Florida, described Pittman as the “grandfather” of the African-American longshoremen workers and as a mentor.

“He never hesitated to pass the torch to me, he always pushed me out front,” Payne said. “I’ll be eternally grateful for the opportunity he gave me in that regard.”

Payne said that Pittman always stressed where he had come from to reach his position.

“He would mention that he didn’t get there overnight,” Payne said. “A lot of times you can get spoiled if you haven’t had the experience of working outside of a protected entity.”

Pittman joined the ILA Local #1416 in 1957 and served in multiple capacities during his time with the union. He was vice president of the ILA’s South Atlantic and Gulf Coast District and 1st vice president emeritus of the A. Phillip Randolph Institute’s Miami-Dade chapter.

“The ILA has lost one of its most valuable and truly legendary officers in Clarence Pittman, Jr.,” Harold Daggett, president of the ILA, said in a statement. “He was a champion to the rank and file members of the ILA in South Florida whom he represented with honor and dignity for some many years and he was a personal inspiration to me for his leadership qualities.”

He became president of Local #1416 in 1982, as only the third president in the union’s 77-year history. The ILA provides job opportunities for thousands of local workers at the PortMiami loading and unloading cruise ships.

“He was proud of the fact that South Florida is and was the cruise capital of the world; he fought hard to make sure we maintained that statement,” said Payne, adding that Pittman was crucial in helping to make sure workers with criminal records were still given a chance to work on the ports.

In his final years of leadership, as his health declined, Payne said that he, and even Pittman, recognized he may have over-extended his service to the union.

“He stayed longer than a lot of people would have wanted him to,” Payne said. “Some of his effectiveness might have waned in these last few years, but he was still committed to the union.”

The union will host a fish fry dinner Tuesday evening at the union hall at 816 NW Second Ave. in Overtown. The viewing will take place from 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday at the DoubleTree Miami Airport & Convention Center at 711 NW Seventh St. Pittman’s funeral services will take place at 11 a.m. Thursday also at the DoubleTree.

He is survived by his wife and executive secretary of the union, Gwendolyn Pittman, six children, two nephews and 14 grandchildren.

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