Walter JohnsonWalter Johnson
Labor Leader

San Francisco State University

The story of San Francisco labor over the last half of the 20th century has in major ways been shaped by Walter Johnson. Since taking on his first leadership post in 1957 as head of his local—a post to which he would be elected 11 times—Mr. Johnson has combined pragmatism and idealism in his tireless efforts to improve the lives of working women and men, while advancing larger societal goals: equity, nondiscrimination, peace and justice.

When he was elected in 1985 to the top leadership post for San Francisco labor—Secretary-Treasurer of the San Francisco Labor Council—the San Francisco Chronicle announced: “Hard-Working Idealist Takes Key S.F. Labor Position Today.” Mr. Johnson declared that he would seek to restore labor as “the conscience of the city.” He demonstrated that on the very day of his election by participating with scores of other Bay Area labor leaders and clergy members in an anti-apartheid sit-in, a protest that made headlines throughout the Bay Area. So effective and respected was Mr. Johnson that he was repeatedly reelected to lead the Labor Council, a post he held for almost 20
years until his retirement.

Throughout the course of his career, he fought for the rights of those who most needed advocates, including women, people of color, and gays and lesbians. Among his key victories was the winning of a behind-the-counter job at Woolworth’s for an African American woman—a Bay Area first.

Extremely active in the community, Mr. Johnson was a founding member and chair of the Labor Foundation, helping to create the San Francisco State University Labor Archives & Research Center (LARC). He remains a member of the Center’s advisory board. He also has served numerous terms on the San Francisco State President’s Advisory Board.

In recognition of his commitment to equity, fairness and rights for all, and his support of education, the Board of Trustees of the California State University and San Francisco State University are proud to confer on Walter Johnson the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.