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Mary-Erin Crook has long career as labor organizer

Faculty Association Board Member Mary-Erin Crook, a teacher for almost two decades, brings a unique perspective to the FA from her former career as a labor organizer with a major industrial
workers’ union.

“I have been in unions all my adult life, since I was in college in Massachusetts,” Crook said. Not just as a member and activist, as she is today, but for 14 years she worked on the staff of the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers union.

UE is an independent union (not affiliated with the AFL-CIO) with more than 35,000 members who work in factories related to the union’s traditional jurisdictions — electrical manufacturing, metalworking and plastics.

According to its website, UE members work as plastic injection molders, tool and die makers, sheet metal workers, truck drivers, and custodians. But, they also include teachers, speech pathologists
and nurses; clerical workers, graduate instructors, and day care workers.

Crook was a field organizer for the UE. “I represented members at grievance meetings, arbitrations and negotiations,” she said. But she also did organizing work. “I visited factories that didn’t have unions and met with the workers and tried to build organizations in their shops. I also worked with other independent unions to get them to affiliate with us.”

Her work as an organizer often included handing out leaflets at factory gates, and visiting with individual workers at their homes.

She started her union work in Massachusetts after graduation. “In the 1980s, it was a time when whole communities were getting devastated by de-industrialization, so it was a really terrible time for the economy,” Crook said.

She moved to Southern California in the 1990s and continued working for the UE in Orange County, Los Angeles and the Bay Area until 1995.

“The similarities between organizing and teaching – setting goals, building a community, motivating
a group – are remarkable,” Crook said.

Although she is the FA’s resident expert on local electoral politics, Crook says this is not her primary interest. “I have the same distaste for electoral politics as most people do – I am not a political operative,” she said.

Crook explained that she is more concerned with social justice issues than electoral politics. “But [social justice] issues are affected by politics – so that’s why I’m interested in politics. The District is a political organization and it is controlled by the state so it is essential to pay attention to electoral politics because it impacts our work and working conditions.”

One of her enduring social justice passions has been health care. “I believe health care is a fundamental right,” she said. “Everyone should have it and it should be affordable. I’m not happy with the current system in this country and I’ve worked on this issue since the early 1990s, before even Hillary Clinton was involved with it while Bill was president.”

Crook believes the profit should be taken out of health care. “We do this with public education; there is no profit in [education] because it’s a fundamental right. So why don’t we have a similar system for health care? Health care is also a fundamental right.”

Despite her professed aversion, Crook has been involved in local politics.

She worked on the campaign of author Hoyt Hillsman who defeated former Pasadena Mayor Bill Thompson in his bid for reelection to the PACCD Board of Trustees last year. She also volunteered for Bernie Sanders’ campaign in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and currently has a sign for state Senate candidate Anthony Portantino in her yard.

For the past 17 years, Crook has been devoted to her second career as an ESL instructor at PCC. “My favorite part of the job is the students – they are from all over the world and they teach me new
things every semester,” she said.

Crook is now in her second term on the FA board, and has been an alternate on the Academic Senate where she represents the ESL and Languages division.

For recreation, Crook enjoys downhill and cross-country skiing. A favorite location is Mammoth Mountain, “because it is so easy to get to,” she said.

When she lived in Massachusetts, Crook owned a BMW R60/6 motorcycle and used to enjoy riding it in the countryside. “Not in winter, of course, but in summer it was so much fun,” she said.

Crook and her husband live in Pasadena. Their daughter is currently a student at Boston University. “Most of my family still lives back there, and my daughter really wanted to go there to study and she’s making the most of it,” she said.

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