AFSCME Ohio Council 8 marks the passing of beloved union leader Marie Clark on January 2, 2020. A Columbus native, Clark was born on July 28, 1915. She was 104 years of age.
As one of Ohio’s foremost African American female labor leaders, Clark dedicated her life to working for equal rights in the workplace and the community as a member of the United Auto Workers and AFSCME.
In 1946, Clark began work at the Columbus plant of Curtiss-Wright, at that time the largest aircraft manufacturer in the United States. She immediately joined the United Auto Workers union, which represented the plant’s workers.
Over the next 22 years she worked her way up from assembler to aircraft mechanic. She also became a proven and effective union leader and the first African American woman elected to the executive board of UAW Local 927.
Always an activist, her first job action at the plant was to address the disparity in men’s and women’s locker rooms. While men had large round sinks where dozens of men could wash at one time, women had only a couple of regular sinks and a long waiting line at the end of each shift.
Marie used that time standing in line with her co-workers to organize them. Using their power as UAW members, they won equal locker room facilities.
In 1969, Clark decided to move on and began a 23-year career with the City of Columbus, working first for the city treasurer and then for the city auditor’s office.
When AFSCME Local 1632’s sanitation workers went on strike later that year, she supported the job action but could not be a part of the union. After the strike, Clark set about organizing her co-workers and building the union.
Clark went on to become a key union leader serving on the union’s executive board and numerous negotiating committees. In 1980, she was elected to be the union’s Secretary-Treasurer, an office she held for 12 years. During that time, the union kept growing and today represents over 2,000 city workers. Clark retired in 1992.
“When we say we are standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, we’re talking about people like Marie Clark,” said AFSCME Ohio Council 8 President R. Sean Grayson. “She knew the power of solidarity and was a great believer in direct action. Her accomplishments should inspire us all.”
Her outstanding contributions to the labor movement were recognized in 1985, when Governor Richard Celeste inducted Marie Clark into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame.
She was also awarded top honors by the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists in 1987 and worked extensively with the Coalition of Labor Union Women.
In retirement, Clark served as the political action coordinator of Ohio AFSCME Retiree Chapter 1184 Sub-Chapter 108.