Sixth District International Representative Mary Harrigan retired effective June 1.
Initiated into St. Paul, Minn., Local 2047 in 1972, Sister Harrigan worked as an inspector at a Unisys manufacturing plant focused on Defense Department contracts. After serving on the safety committee and editing the local's newsletter, Harrigan was appointed chief steward in the 2,000-worker plant.
"I credit the IBEW with helping to complete my education," says Harrigan, who received the union's Founders' Scholarship to help pay for a B.A. degree in labor studies from the University of Minnesota. "It was a great and generous deal for me and I always encourage others to apply like I did."
In 1989, Harrigan was appointed to the Sixth District staff and began servicing locals representing manufacturing, broadcasting and railroad workers.
Looking back on her activities — from organizing campaigns to shop steward training to bargaining contracts — Harrigan says, "I've met so many amazing, devoted people in the membership and leadership of the Sixth District and the IBEW. This has been way more than just a job." The progressive leadership of her district, says Harrigan, is evident in its sponsorship of yearly women's conferences, the sole district in the IBEW to hold such a meeting. "The Sixth District staff is the best group of brothers anywhere," she says.
"This is a super exciting time to be part of the labor movement," says Harrigan, whose father was an activist in the postal workers union and the Democratic Farmer Labor Party. At the beginning of her union career, she says, members would come to meetings and ask questions about their own jobs and contracts. Today, members are concerned about a much broader scope of issues.
"It's no longer just the economics of the workplace," says Harrigan, who was an activist in the 1960s. "It's about social justice," linking the labor movement to struggles for full inclusion for all Americans, opposing discrimination based upon race, gender and sexual orientation.
Sister Harrigan, who traveled to Wisconsin last year to oppose Gov. Scott Walker's attacks on unions asks, "How often did we used to hear people outside of the labor movement talk about collective bargaining?" Now, she says, "There is an awakening of consciousness and a reaching out to youth."
"I hope to see my family and friends a lot more [in retirement] and travel," says Harrigan, who has already been to Europe, China, the Philippines and Argentina and hopes to go back to some of those countries and add new ones to her itinerary.