Kathy Andrade, a longtime garment union activist in New York City and a native of El Salvador who pushed the labor movement to embrace immigrants rather than view them as threatening the livelihoods of American-born workers, died July 2 in Manhattan. She was 88.
The cause was cardiac arrest, her husband, Jorge Colon, said.
From the early 1960s to 1995, Andrade was director of education for Local 23-25 of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, a large and influential chapter in New York. But the title alone hardly conveyed her effect on her union, which represents men and women in the sewing trades. She embodied the boots-on-the-ground activism and intuitive people skills that helped the union thrive, helping countless immigrant garment workers navigate the path to citizenship, learn to speak English and even broaden their skills by teaching them how to make jewelry.
“She was like the Godfather,” Ana Ramirez, a relative who as a child would visit Andrade at work in Manhattan’s garment district. “There would be a line of people outside her office, just waiting to get help.”
When Andrade started with the ILGWU, many organized labor officials saw immigrants, whether living in the country with legal permission or not, as jeopardizing the job prospects and higher wages of union members, labor historian Rachel Bernstein said in an interview.