“The strength and power of Kate Mullany is going to be needed now — because we in the labor movement are in the fight of our lives,” said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee. “We’re going to need to channel her.”
Magee was invoking the spirit of legendary union leader Kate Mullany, who in 1864 organized her women co-workers into the Collar Laundry Union and later led them in a successful strike for better working conditions.
The NYSUT president was honored Dec. 12 as a recipient of the American Labor Studies Center’s highest honor, the Kate Mullany medal. Magee was recognized for her fierce advocacy as a leading labor voice in New York State.
Referencing an increasingly threatening climate for organized labor, Magee said, “We can’t go back to the dark times of just fighting for the middle class to survive. We need to lean on history and the successes we have had as a labor union and as women.”
In thanking the ALSC, Magee said: “This is not my award. On behalf of the officers, I accept it for NYSUT.”
Congressman Paul D. Tonko was honored with the Mullany medal for his leadership at the national level, and consul general of Ireland Barbara Jones was recognized for her work internationally.
Noting his track record as a friend of public education and a feminist, Tonko shared his pride in the award, saying: “It reminds me of the power of history. This recognizes the contributions of immigrants, the pursuit of the American dream, and their fight for justice, both social and economic.”
He added: “Let us continue to remember that we are a nation of immigrants. An immigrant’s heart pounds in my chest.”
Jones noted that she was channeling Mullany and her fellow garment workers by wearing a green dress and a hand-woven Irish scarf for the awards ceremony.
Jones endorsed Magee’s vision of labor: “We are strengthened one for another. We make each other better.”
Mullany “changed the narrative of workers’ rights,” Jones said, through leadership that embodied Irish values of caring for and lifting up her co-workers.
Hailey Hansen, a student at Tamarac Secondary School in Brittonkill, received the ALSC’s Walt Wheeler American History Prize for her acclaimed documentary, “Kate Mullany: Labor Activist.”
“I was really inspired by what she did,” Hansen said. “I just decided to go with it, and I am honored to be presented with this award.”
NYSUT is a strong supporter of the campaign to restore Kate Mullany’s home as an educational landmark. Designated a national historic site, the house at 350 Eighth Street in Troy is in the final stages of restoration.