Press Release

Remembering Labor Economist William Spriggs

The AFL-CIO is deeply saddened to announce the passing of our beloved chief economist, William Spriggs. Bill’s service to working people in the United States and around the world, and to our nation whom he served as assistant secretary of labor, will live on in the minds and hearts of those he taught, led and inspired. The labor movement extends our deepest sympathies to his wife, Jennifer, and his son, William, and join them in mourning our brother Bill Spriggs.

“The AFL-CIO is deeply saddened by the passing of our Chief Economist William Spriggs, and our thoughts are with his family and loved ones during this extremely difficult time,” said AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler. “A dedicated labor advocate, professor and champion for working people, he leaves behind a lasting legacy. Bill believed in economic justice, he knew that for too long, low-income and minority communities had been forgotten and neglected by our financial system. And it was his mission to strive for a fairer, more equitable economy. A groundbreaking researcher and policy expert, he was respected and admired by everyone who had the privilege to know him. Bill had an impact everywhere he served. The entire labor movement is grateful for his groundbreaking efforts, and he will be truly missed.”

“Bill was a trailblazer, a visionary and a friend,” said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond. “His passion and pursuit of racial and economic justice were unmatched and will be greatly missed by all of us in the labor movement. And while we are all incredibly saddened by his loss, we are also filled with hope because we know he imparted his wisdom and values to his students and generations of economists to come. We send our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones and hope they can take comfort in knowing just how much he meant to so many.” 

Bill Spriggs was above all a man of intellectual rigor and courage. He knew where he got that courage from—to know Bill was to know his grandfather, the sailor from Madagascar cast ashore in segregated Virginia, and his father, the Tuskegee Airman, and his family members, who worked in the auto plants of Flint, Michigan. He was the conscience of the labor movement. 

Bill was a longtime professor and former chair of the Economics Department at Howard University, and a fierce advocate for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. He served as the chair of the Economic Policy Working Group for the Trade Union Advisory Committee at the

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).He mentored generations of economics graduate students, sharing with them his conviction that good economics and social justice were inseparable. No one knew better the intimate details of how the numbers that define our labor markets are constructed—their intricacies and limitations. Bill cared about economics as a profession—and demanded the economics profession address issues of racial and economic justice. In his Open Letter to the Economics Profession, published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis following the murder of George Floyd, Bill stated:

“I hope we will not chase endlessly for the right instrument to identify some narrow policy goal that on the margin might lift wages by 2 percent, all else equal, but again ask the big questions about understanding the institutions that created our massive inequality.”

He went into rooms of power and privilege no one else could go—to the Federal Reserve’s meeting at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to the OECD in Paris—and he spoke truth to power. He knew about fairness, economic security and safety on the job—what these things meant to working people—and he fought for them the first moment he set foot at the AFL-CIO. He never failed to remind whomever he was talking to that the majority of America’s working people were people of color and women, and that economic, racial and gender justice are deeply intertwined. 

All those who worked with Bill, though, will miss most of all, his infectious smile and his laughter. He was a happy warrior, a man at peace with himself but not with injustice. His legacy is all around us in the places his voice was heard, from the Federal Reserve to the American Economic Association to the AFL-CIO itself. Working people will lift up the banner of racial and economic justice that he bore so long and carry it forward in his name.

Contact: Liz Vlock, 202-637-5018