James A. Williams began his apprenticeship with Glaziers, Architectural Metal and Glass Workers Local Union 252, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after graduating from Northeast Catholic High School in 1968. In 1969 he enlisted in the Army, serving as an Infantryman in Vietnam. He was awarded two Bronze Stars, the Army Commendation Medal, and an Air Medal, as well as the Combat Infantry Badge. Returning home in 1971, he completed his apprenticeship and worked as a journeyman glazier. In 1975, he was elected president and business manager of Local Union 252. In these capacities, he also served as co-chairman of their Pension, Annuity, Health & Welfare and Vacation Funds. He served on numerous boards, including the Philadelphia Private Industry Council.
In August of 1994, he was elected the allied region general vice president of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades – a labor organization with 140,000 construction industry members in the United States and Canada. He held this position until September 1995, when he was appointed general secretary-treasurer-elect of the IUPAT. In August 1999, he was elected general secretary-treasurer. As general secretary-treasurer, he held the position of trustee on several pension funds, including the IUPAT Industry Pension Fund, the IUPAT Local Union and District Council Pension Fund, and the IUPAT General Officers, Staff and Employees Retirement and Pension Fund. In 1985 Governor Casey appointed Mr. Williams as a commonwealth trustee to Temple University, a position he held for 13 years.
In April 2003, Mr. Williams was unanimously elected general president by the union’s General Executive Board. That same year, he was appointed to the AFL-CIO’s Executive Council, where he continues to serve on the finance, human rights, and political committees. In 2004, the general president took the unprecedented step of completing his college degree. He received his bachelor’s degree with four members of his executive board and 18 other IUPAT members from across the U.S. and Canada. Mr. William’s senior thesis, “Confessions of a Union Leader,” is a case study that has been used in IUPAT leadership training. In 2004, he was unanimously reelected to the office of general president and now served on the AFL-CIO Committee.
The general president is well respected by union and legislative leaders from coast to coast for his strong political acumen. He attributes his keen sense of politics to his youth when he was a regular participant in Philadelphia ward politics. Mr. Williams repeatedly serves as a sounding board for candidates running for office, be it for the city council or the presidency. On June 8, 2005, Mr. Williams was elected as a member of the Board of Trustees of the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust and the Advisory Board of the AFL-CIO Building Investment Trust.
He retired as general president on April 1, 2013.