AFSCME Council 8 Leader Marie Clarke, who dedicated her life to working for equal rights in the workplace, is celebrating her 100th birth day this month.
As one of Ohio’s foremost Black female labor leaders, Marie began work as a mechanic in 1946, at the Columbus plant of Curtiss-Wright, which at the time was the largest aircraft manufacturer in the United States.
As a single mother, she was one of thousands of women who went to work in the factories while the men left to serve in the military. After the men returned, Marie was one of the few minority women to keep her job.
As a factory worker she helped organize and recruit members into the United Auto W
orkers union. One of her first job actions was to address the disparity in washroom conditions.
The men’s washroom had large round sinks where dozens of men could wash at one time, and then be on their way home. However, the women’s locker room had just a couple of regular sinks, and always had a long line at the end of the shift.
Marie used that time standing in line to organize the women to join the union. As UAW members they successfully persuaded the union to push management to provide equal washroom facilities.
By the end of her 22-year aircraft career, she was the first African American woman to be elected to the executive board of UAW Local 927.
The union survived the company’s transition from Curtiss-Wright to North American Rockwell, but Marie decided to move on.
In 1969, Marie began a 23-year clerical career at Columbus City Hall – and brought her union activism with her.However, she found that only sanitation workers were in the union members. When the AFSCME Local 1632 went on strike later that year, she supported the sanitation workers, but could not be a part of the union, or participant in the picket lines.
After the strike, Marie set about organizing her co-workers and building the union. She went on to become a proven and effective union leader.
Marie was the “go-to” person on many issues and was appointed to a series of ever more responsible union posts. She was then elected to serve on the AFSCME Local 1632 Executive Board.
In 1980, she was elected the union’s Secretary- Treasurer, an office she held for 12 years. During that time the union kept growing and today represents more than 2,000 city workers.
“When we say we are standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, we’re talking about people like Marie Clarke. She knew the power of solidarity and was a great believer in direct action. Her accomplishments should inspire us all. We wish her a happy 100th birth
day,” said Ohio Council 8 President John A. Lyall.
Her outstanding contributions to Ohio and the labor movement were recognized in 1985 when Governor Richard Celeste inducted Marie Clarke into the Ohio Woman’s Hall of Fame. She has also been honored by the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the Coalition of Labor Union Women.