Writer Susan Holleran, 66; Focused on Workers' Rights

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 20, 2007

Susan Ellen Holleran, 66, a labor journalist and longtime union activist who championed economic justice and the rights of women and workers, died of cancer Dec. 15 at the Capital Hospice in Arlington.

Ms. Holleran wrote about union members, directed a labor social service agency, organized the first national conference on pay equity and was a shop steward for the staff union at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Her most recent job was as assistant editor in the public affairs department of AFSCME, where she covered news from the union affiliates in 15 states and wrote about topics of national interest for the union magazine. She worked there from 1982 until 2005.

The International Labor Communications Association gave her its 2005 Max Steinbock Award for her article "Health Care on Life Support," which examined the country's health-care crisis through the eyes of two workers on strike at the University of Minnesota who could not afford the school's health-care premiums.

Ms. Holleran was a founding member of the Coalition of Labor Union Women in 1974 and was elected to its first national executive board. She held a number of regional positions with the organization and in retirement continued to volunteer at the national office, writing articles about role models and working on its cervical cancer prevention project. The organization gave her its Clara Day Award in October.

Ms. Holleran testified in 2006 in support of the human papillomavirus vaccine before the Food and Drug Administration's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee meeting.

She was born in Philadelphia to parents who were both trade unionists and moved as a youngster with her family to Washington, where her father, who had been a steelworker, went to work at the Department of Labor.

After graduating from Ursuline Academy in Ohio, she taught primary grades in the early 1960s at St. Agnes School in Arlington and St. Michael the Archangel Catholic School in Silver Spring. She also worked briefly at Catholic University.

She was founding director of the United Labor Agency, a labor social service organization that specializes in referral services and programs for area union members and their families. She also coordinated the first national conference on pay equity that resulted in the founding of the National Committee on Pay Equity in 1979.

She served as a steward for the United Staff Union, which represents AFSCME's professional staff.

In 1980, she and Jehane Dyllan wrote "Silkwood," a one-woman play based on the life of Karen Silkwood, a safety and health activist with the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers International Union. When Dyllan performed the play in Silver Spring before its national tour, a review in The Washington Post called it "good theater, with a tautly written script."

Ms. Holleran was also a member of the D.C. Labor Chorus. In 2003, she appeared in the jazz opera "Forgotten: Murder at the Ford Rouge Plant."

Her husband of 11 years, Daniel Brewster, died in 2001.

Survivors include a sister, Mary Beth Clark of Silver Spring; and a brother, Thomas Holleran of North East, Md.

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