EXPIRED: 09/11/09 – Crystal Lee Sutton, 68, made $2.65 hr folding towels at a plant in North Carolina & got fired for trying to unionize her coworkers. Now a nurse, she lost her recent battle alone, to brain cancer.
Sutton, formerly Crystal Lee Jordan, was fired from her job folding towels at the J.P. Stevens textile plant in her hometown of Roanoke Rapids, N.C. for trying to organize a union in the early 1970s. Her last action at the plant — writing the word “UNION” on a piece of cardboard and standing on her work table, leading her co-workers to turn off their machines in solidarity — was memorialized in the 1979 film “Norma Rae” by actress Sally Field. The police physically removed Sutton from the plant for her action.
But her efforts ultimately succeeded, as the Amalgamated Clothing Workers won the right to represent the plant’s employees on Aug. 28, 1974. Sutton later became a paid organizer for the union.
Several years ago, Sutton was diagnosed with meningioma, a type of cancer of the nervous system. While such cancers are typically slow-growing, Sutton’s was not — and she went two months without potentially life-saving medication because her insurance wouldn’t cover it initially. Though Sutton eventually received the medication, the cancer had already taken hold.
“Crystal Lee Sutton was a remarkable woman whose brave struggles have left a lasting impact on this country and without doubt, on me personally,” Field said in a statement. “Portraying Crystal Lee in ‘Norma Rae,’ however loosely based, not only elevated me as an actress, but as a human being.”