“The event was really inspiring,” said Carol Rosenblatt, Executive Director of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW). Clark agreed. “It was inspirational and incredible to hear the stories of the award winners,” she added. “We had to dab our eyes a little bit.”
Other awards given out Nov. 13 included a new award for the Berger-Marks Foundation: the Kate Mullany Awards for Courageous Young Workers, named for a young laundry worker who led a successful strike in 1864 when she was just 19. These awards come with a $1000 prize. The inaugural Kate Mullany Winners were:
- Ellen Brackeen, who was fired for organizing her fellow T-Mobile customer service agents at a call center in Wichita, KS. Ellen risked her livelihood to speak up about fair pay, improving workplace conditions and respect on the job.
- Donyetta Hill, a former fast-food worker from Detroit who organized her coworkers to stage a walkout to protest the lack of raises. Donyetta highlighted the fact that many coworkers still made minimum wage after working there for more than five years.
- Yesica Mendez, age 21, who was fired from her Mount Kisco, NY grocery store job for trying to organize a union. She and her coworkers decided to picket the store six days a week to raise awareness of the injustice. Yesica eventually won her job back with retroactive pay.
Michelle Wyvill, a staffer in the Transportation Department of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) said she was especially impressed by the bravery of the Kate Mullany winners and how they saw beyond their own circumstances to change their workplaces. “To actually do that and care about the other employees there and what was happening to them? That’s huge,” Wyvill said.
The Berger-Marks Foundation also gave another $1000 award—the Edna Award of Distinction for social justice work—to two people for 2014:
- Victoria Alvarez, an organizer with the United Steelworkers union who has helped hundreds of Spanish-speaking workers organize a union; and
- Dessa Cosma-King, who helped to create the Economic Justice Alliance of Michigan and who now works as co-director of the Center for Progressive Leadership in Detroit.
To close the evening, Berger-Marks Chairperson Louise Walsh invoked the spirits of the foundation’s namesakes, who cared deeply about empowering women in labor and other forms of activist organizing. “Edna Berger and Gerald Marks no doubt are beaming down on us with pride tonight,” Walsh said. “What a wonderful and courageous group of young women activists!”