President of Workers United Retirees
When you think of someone who is over 90 years old, you usually think of someone who is enjoying their retirement and living life at a slower pace. But that is NOT Katie Jordan. Unlike many of her fellow senior citizens, she keeps an active and busy schedule that would exhaust people a fraction of her age.
In the early 1960s, wanting a better life for her family, the single mother moved with her three children from Arkansas to Chicago during the height of the Civil Rights movement. In Chicago, Katie would find her life’s work as a leader in the labor movement and in the struggle for civil and women’s rights.
Katie took a job doing basic sewing and textile repair, even though she was an accomplished tailor. She said she wanted to make some money for Christmas presents.
At that time, she didn’t know what a union was, but she sure knew injustice when she saw it. She spoke up on behalf of her female co-workers, who were getting paid as “assistant fitters” instead of “fitters.” She challenged the contract and she and her female co-workers got both the correct pay and back pay, as well as seniority rights.
Within three years, she became the first African American woman fitter-tailor in the company. The Amalgamated Clothing Workers had organized the men’s department in the store; but Katie helped organize the women’s department and was quickly elected the first African American shop steward for the combined departments.
The local’s contract even contained a clause the members called a “Katie clause” that called for on-the-job training for employees for promotions before any outside hiring could be implemented, giving women and people of color opportunities for promotions.
Under Katie’s leadership, working conditions at the company improved and what had started as a temporary holiday job became a 23-year career. She later moved to another employer, where she continued her union activism and leadership before retiring in 1995.
Katie has been a member of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, now Workers United, for over 50 years. In addition to her first job as a shop steward, she also served as the first woman and African American to be elected president of her local. She served on the negotiating team for every contract. The local’s contract even contained a clause the members called a “Katie clause” that called for on-the-job training for employees for promotions before any outside hiring could be implemented, giving women and people of color opportunities for promotions.
Katie is a proud graduate of the Roosevelt University Labor Studies program and was the only female student in a class with 33 union brothers. She also studied at the AFL-CIO Midwest Women’s School and at the Regina Polk School Women’s Leadership School. She now serves on the Polk School Board of Directors.
She is President of Chicago Coalition for Labor Union Women (CLUW) and a member of CLUW’s National Executive Board. She is President/Coordinator for Workers United/SEIU International Retirees Association and represents the retirees on the Workers United General Executive Board.
Katie is Treasurer of the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans. She is on the Board of the Working Women’s History Project and the Illinois Labor History Society, which inducted her into their Hall of Honor in 2018.
She is a delegate to the Illinois AFL-CIO, active in the Chicago Chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), and a member of the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI).
As a tireless fighter against discrimination and for justice in the workplace and society, Katie Jordan has been a role model and inspiration to many women across the country, encouraging them to play an active role in their unions and in struggles for a better world.