Dear Sisters and Brothers,
On Sunday evening, December 2nd, I learned that our friend and leader Kim Patterson passed away. It’s still hard for me to believe. Only a few days ago, I spoke with her. Kim said that her doctors told her that she was out of options, but that she was not giving up the fight. That grit and determination, with an accompanying grace and hope, illustrate her spirit that we came to know and love throughout the union over her decades of service to our labor movement.
Kim began her career as a secretary and medical transcriptionist at Canonsburg Hospital, where she worked for 17 years. As a young working woman, she saw the importance of solidarity between workers. She got involved and made her union, then called District 1199P, strong and effective. In 1989, Kim took a leave from the hospital to campaign for the affiliation of 1199P with SEIU. For Kim, it made intuitive sense. At Canonsburg, hospital workers had to work together across departments and professions in order to have power. In the same, way, she campaigned to unite healthcare workers across Pennsylvania and the country into one big union.
Kim returned to Canonsburg Hospital, where in 1991, she helped to lead the Canonsburg Hospital strike. The strike, known across the labor movement as “Canonsburg USA,” became an epic battle pitting the organized working class of southwestern Pennsylvania against the hospital in their attempt to permanently replace all of the striking workers. The strike raged on for 149 days, with massive rallies, sit-ins, and hundreds of arrests for civil disobedience, until elected leaders mediated a successful resolution of the strike and a return to work for the strikers. Throughout the struggle, Kim was in the center of the action: on the picket line, rallying with steel workers and mine workers, getting arrested in protest actions, wearing the iconic camouflage t-shirt of the Canonsburg 1199ers.
In 1996, Kim came to work full time for our union as an organizer. She helped nurses and healthcare workers from the Poconos to Altoona to Washington County and everywhere in between form their own unions.
She quickly moved through the leadership ranks of the union, starting as the Coordinator of the Pennsylvania’s State Nurses Unit, where she built and led the statewide program uniting State-employed nurses who guard our public health and care for those with mental health challenges and intellectual disabilities across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In 2000 Kim was elected as a District Vice-President, then Executive Vice-President, as she led negotiations for thousands of Pennsylvania healthcare workers, helping them win fair wages, health and retirement security, respect on the job, and improved care for their patients. In 2008 she was elected Secretary-Treasurer, the second ranking officer of the statewide union, overseeing its finances and administration as the union doubled in size.
In 2016, after 38 years as a member and leader in the union, Kim was forced to retire so that she could focus on her family and deal with pancreatic cancer. This was to be her final battle.
Kim’s commitment to the principles of the union were matched by great personal warmth and decency. Since her death, I’ve been moved by the number of union member leaders and staff, especially women, who have offered their own testimony of how much Kim meant to them as an example of what a union leader can be. She showed that an ordinary hospital worker and single mom could be an extraordinary force for change. She led the way to create a union that stood up for women and organized against domestic violence and sexual harassment. She opposed racism, homophobia, and transphobia, not just because of her ethics and politics but because of her instinctive empathy with everyone who struggles to realize their full potential against social injustice. She offered generous friendship to countless union members and labor activists.
Kim encouraged us, supported us, comforted us, challenged us, and inspired us to keep up the fight. She took the courage and vision of “Canonsburg USA” and spread it to healthcare workers across Pennsylvania. That legacy will endure. So long as nurses and caregivers get together to fight for their rights, Kim Patterson will be with us.
Here are some details about her funeral services:
- Friends will be received Thursday, December 6th, 2-4 and 6-8pm, at the Sollon Funeral and Cremation Services, LTD, 30 East College Street, Canonsburg,
- Departing prayers will be recited in the funeral home, Friday, December 7th, at 9:30 am, followed by a Mass of Christian burial, in St. Patrick Church (317 W Pike St, Canonsburg, PA 15317), at 10 am.
- The family kindly suggests memorial contributions be made to the National Pancreatic Cancer Foundation, www.npcf.org, or the American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org, in Kim Patterson’s name.
- Please visit www.sollon.com to leave online condolences.
Yours in Solidarity,
President, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania