Boston Tradeswomen’s Network

Remembering Karen O’Donnell


—by Susan Eisenberg

Karen was in the fourth class of women in Local 103 IBEW/Boston, beginning her apprenticeship in 1981. She worked for eight years in construction, before becoming an electrician for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), a job from which she retired this past summer. I don’t think there was ever an organization or meeting that impacted tradeswomen where you couldn’t find Karen taking notes and speaking up. Her electrical training and deep concern for the environment combined to make her one of the earliest proponents of solar energy in the IBEW.

She was a founding member of the Boston Tradeswomen’s Network and the Massachusetts Tradeswomen’s Association and recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW).

Karen died Nov 20, 2014, at 60, from brain cancer. During her two-year illness she had an incredible circle of support from her union sisters and brothers in Local 103, at the MBTA, and across the country.

Please feel welcome to add your remembrances and Comments.


from Carol Rosenblatt, Executive Director, CLUW:  It is with a heavy heart that we wish a fond farewell to Karen O’Donnell, a CLUW stalwart and an original and refreshing women’s advocate in the labor movement.

I met Sister O’Donnell shortly after I began to work for the Coalition of Labor Union Women as its Executive Director almost 15 years ago. Karen was an outspoken sister who was unafraid of

addressing issues in which she believed, that were always progressive and frequently centered on the concerns of women in the trades.

She was a member of IBEW and served for many years as a delegate to CLUW’s National Executive Board and was active in its Non-Traditional Jobs committee. She was dependable and responsible, but even after she no longer served in the delegate capacity she would attend as an observer, somehow managing to do so on her own funds, sharing a room when she could find one.

goodbyeShe served as CLUW’s representative on the board of Tradeswomen Now and Tomorrow and brought their issues to CLUW’s attention at our national meetings. When CLUW held its meetings in the Washington DC area Karen would invite her parents to attend as they lived in the area and I had the pleasure to meet them also. She had an aura of ‘flower child” in her attire and always had affixed a stream of buttons in support of various causes (all good in my opinion) too.

At CLUW’s last convention Karen although by this time ill, was present and in the traditional opening of the parade of banners of unions, represented IBEW, with her walker to assist. At that convention she was presented with a special (well-deserved) award recognizing her commitment. Her dedication to CLUW was unwavering, as was her dedication to the labor movement.

Karen, I am glad Kerry Karen and Me3I had the opportunity to know you and CLUW cherishes your memory. Rest in peace, dear sister.

from Sara Driscoll:  Karen could always be counted on to take the side of the least of those among us. She had a keen eye and a warm heart and a delightful laugh. We will miss her and her dedication to the fight for justice and equity.