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Southern Labor Archives: Voices of Labor Oral History Project: Y

Interviews with labor leaders from Georgia and across the South.

Yarbrough, Thomas "Tommy"

Thomas "Tommy" Yarbrough

Interviewed by: Norman Slawsky; September 15, 2005
Transcript info: 49 pages, Compact Disc also available
Accession No: L2005-19

Biographical Information:

Thomas Yarbrough, the oldest of 6 children, was born in Washington County, Georgia on November 17, 1935.  His mother and father were sharecroppers who grew cotton, peanuts, corn, oats and wheat.  In 1951, because he “had to have a better way of life,” Yarbrough left his family’s farm to find work in Augusta.  Around 1955, he began an apprenticeship with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1579 and later worked at the Savannah River Site (SRS) until he was drafted in to the Army in 1958.  Spending 2 years in the military in Texas, Yarbrough returned to Georgia to work at the SRS.  After several years of traveling for the IBEW, he returned to Georgia in 1974.  In 1979, Yarbrough was elected to the position of business manager for IBEW Local 1579.  He has remained in that position since that time and will retire in mid-2006.


Going into some detail about his early life, Yarbrough recalls the difficulties of working with his parents on a plantation in Washington County.  He then discusses his move to Augusta to begin working at a cotton mill and his starting an apprenticeship program with the IBEW.  He further discusses his training as an electrician, his time in the Army and his travels as a journeyman.  He states that he became involved in the union because of its efforts in securing good wages and working conditions for workers; a safe working environment, in his opinion, is the most important thing unions have helped achieve.  Yarbrough goes on to talk about his rise to the position of business manager of IBEW Local 1579.  In 1979, urged by co-workers upon the retirement of the incumbent, he ran for and won the position.  In his more than 26 years as business manager, Yarbrough says, he has worked with other labor leaders, such as Edgar West and W.J. Usery, on negotiations with Westinghouse and the Department of Energy, among others.  His work on the Council of Industrial Relations and his being among the first business managers to sign reciprocal agreements were, in his opinion, his most significant contributions to labor.  While he expresses some fear over the outlook of unions in general, he has hope that measures like the Code of Excellence will help secure organized labor’s future.

Unions Represented: International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)

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