Charles Hayes was born on February 17, 1918, in Cairo, Illinois and graduated from Cairo's Sumner High School in 1935. Always the leader, Charles Hayes first displayed his true calling while working as a machine operator in his hometown. Appalled by the working conditions and the meager salaries, Hayes helped to organize the United Packinghouse Workers of America. Later, this organization became prominent in union reform for women and minorities. Hayes remained involved with unions for fifty years and eventually became vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
In 1983, Hayes was invited to perform his most challenging role yet as a member of the House of Representatives, a seat previously occupied by Chicago Mayor Harold Washington. Hayes played a large roll in Washington's campaign by lobbying, organizing people and raising money through his union. During his career in Congress, Hayes made significant changes. He authored and introduced the School Improvement Act of 1987, which was later passed by the House. This act allocated millions of dollars to public schools across the country, allowing them to purchase much-needed textbooks, computers and supplies. He also introduced the Economic Bill of Rights, which outlined a plan for the equal distribution of national wealth.
Hayes also fought for civil rights outside the scope of his union work. The influential congressman was one of the founding members of Operation PUSH with Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. Also, Hayes worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s, in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. At Hayes' funeral, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. called Hayes a "forerunner, groundbreaker and pathfinder." Never losing sight of his original role as advocate for the workers, Hayes was a very active member in the Education and Labor Committee as well as the Small Business Committee until the time of his death in 1997.