Yesterday, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) lost a revered leader and tireless activist with the passing of International Secretary-Treasurer Oscar Owens after a brief illness.
Devoting more than 53 years of his life to the ATU, Owens maintained a fierce desire to continue serving the ATU up until his death. He leaves behind an extraordinary legacy of service and commitment to the ATU and the entire labor movement.
“Oscar was a beloved leader and a friend to our more than 200,000 members across the U.S. and Canada,” said ATU International President John A. Costa. “He helped lead our Union through some very turbulent and difficult times. Yet throughout his long tenure, Oscar was a savvy, stabilizing, and calm influence, unafraid to call out injustice and fight for a better life for our members, those they serve, and all working people.”
A U.S. Army veteran, Owens joined ATU Local 192-Oakland, CA, in 1966, as a bus operator for AC Transit. In 1973 he became a shop steward and rose to become its President and Business Agent. He then served the International for more than 37 years alongside six International Presidents, as a Special Organizer, an International Representative, an International Vice President, and International Secretary-Treasurer.
A founding member of the ATU Black Caucus, he was a strong voice in support of civil rights and the rightful place of African Americans within the leadership of the ATU and the entire labor movement.
“Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Oscar believed ‘The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress’,” Costa continued. “Affectionally known as ‘Double O,’ his signature call-to-arms, ‘Fired up and ready to go’ will echo in our Union forever.”
Owens is survived by his wife Betty, his beloved children, Damon, Shuron, DaShawn, Charity, eight grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.