Across the nation, throughout the month of March, there will be various celebrations to mark the accomplishments of women in America. Due to COVID-19, some of those celebrations may be scaled back or done by means other than in-person events, but, nonetheless, the spirit and sentiment expressed will not be diminished. Local 237 also has a tradition of recognizing the contributions of women in our society, especially among our own members. Our last, pre-
COVID event was extra-special because we paid tribute to a woman known by the world, who was also one of our own. Marie Colvin.
Marie Colvin was a war correspondent. She wrote about innocent women and children caught in the crossfire of civil war. Her bravery was legendary. A movie, “A Private War,” told the real-life story of Marie Colvin, portrayed by
Rosamund Pike, that depicted her life behind enemy lines covering stories of human suffering that many did not want told, in dangerous locations, where few would dare to go. It was actually a sentence in one of the movie’s reviews that caused us to wonder about a possible link to Teamsters Local 237. Our research paid off because we discovered that fresh out of college, she was hired by Local 237 to write our newsletter. Marie Colvin was a Teamster! Her family told us that she wore our lapel pin proudly. One could easily imagine her today, condemning the bombing of a children’s hospital in Ukraine—if she were still alive. Marie’s journalistic diligence caused her to lose her eye at the hands of Sri Lankan terrorists in 2001, then her life, at age 56 in 2012, killed by a senior Syrian military officer to silence her.
And as proud as we are of Marie, there are several other Teamster women who have done remarkable things on different battlegrounds. For example: in March of 2010, Local 237 sued New York City on behalf of our 5,000 School Safety Agents, 70% of whom were women, mostly African Americans and Latinas. Many were single mothers. Their annual salary was about $7,000 less than their counterparts, with similar titles, working in other city agencies. Most of them were male. Some called this just a coincidence. I called it discrimination! School Safety Agents have a tough job to do. They help to protect other peoples’ children. All they wanted was to put bread on the table for their own children. So I called a meeting of School Safety Agents to tell them about my plan to sue the city. I told them that we needed some volunteers to sign the papers and be the official plaintiffs. Of the 25 women in the room, 22 left. But three remained: Patricia Williams, Bernice Christopher and the late Corinthians Andrews. And for four years, these three gave testimony after testimony. They refused any settlement that did not include retirees. They took days off from work. They took time away from being with their families. They came to our many rallies. And at those rallies, we felt pretty much alone.Yes, we did have support from several elected officials, but our constant allies who were always there for us boiled down to two people: Hazel Dukes, president of the NYS NAACP and Sonia Ossorio, president of the NYC Chapter of NOW. I remember the day of the judge’s final ruling. Pat, Bernice and Corinthians came into the courthouse and knelt in prayer before they took their seats. Perhaps there was a little divine intervention, but with the help of Hazel and Sonia, a historic settlement was reached.
Clearly, throughout our nation, for Women’s History Month, there is no shortage of extraordinary, trailblazing women to honor for their contributions and personal sacrifices that resulted in life-changing conditions benefitting all of us. Throughout the pandemic as well as the most recent effort to diminish the role of School Safety Agents in our public schools, so many of our women members were an integral part of our union’s overall efforts to keep the city functioning and schools safe. For us, it is not difficult to identify women who should be honored during Women’s History Month. We are especially blessed to have among our own members, and our friends, women who care about others and want everyone else to care too. That’s who they are. That’s their legacy. And we take pride in knowing them. Thank you, Marie, Pat, Bernice, Corinthians, Hazel, Sonia and so many others who are the personification of our better angels.
Gregory Floyd is president of Teamsters Local 237 and vice president at-large on the general board of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.