March is Women’s History Month, a time to honor women’s contributions in American history, as well as an opportunity to reflect on progress made toward gender equity.
Patricia Ann Ford made history in her 31 active years with SEIU. In the early 70s, as a 24-year-old rank & file clerical hospital worker in her native Oakland, CA, she helped lead a successful effort that gave birth to SEIU Local 616. Five years later, she became that local’s first African American woman to be elected president.
Ford went on to become the first African American, as well as the second woman, to hold SEIU international office — elected Executive Vice President of SEIU in 1996. It was in this capacity that she authored several resolutions that laid the foundation for SEIU’s social justice program, as well as strengthened SEIU-led civil and human rights caucuses tackling such issues as immigrant rights and driving while black and brown. And it was in this key role that she called for the redoubling of SEIU’s fight for social and economic justice, repeatedly.
“As I have said before, fighting for social justice must be a union priority,” she stressed in her 2004 SEIU Convention farewell speech. “We cannot improve the lives of our members at work if we ignore the problems they face at home, in their communities and abroad. Many of us have struggled against injustice and discrimination that was based on the color of our skin, or where we came from, or who we love and marry, or our legal status.”
For three extraordinary decades, Ford was a union activist, an organizer, a negotiator, a leader – but always as an advocate for working people.