Kay Tillow

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Kay Tillow

Kay Tillow is a Kentucky activist.


Kay Tillow, a veteran union activist from Louisville, is executive director of the Nurses Professional Organization. She and the NPO have spent 21 years battling to organize nurses who work for Louisville-based Norton Healthcare, Kentucky’s largest health care system. Says Tillow:

“The [National Labor Relations Board] has ruled in our favor time and again. But management has continued to threaten and intimidate nurses who want the union and we’ve never gotten recognition.”

Well past retirement age, Tillow has been a union organizer for going on 40 years.

Born in Paducah, Ky., and reared in nearby Metropolis, Ill., she started helping right wrongs when she was a student at the University of Illinois. In 1963, Tillow took time out from classes to join the fight for equal rights for African Americans. She traveled south and signed up with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Those were interesting times. The year before, I studied in Ghana where I met W.E.B. Du Bois. I confess I didn’t know he was an American who had helped found the NAACP.

Tillow had joined the NAACP at her alma mater. “The civil rights movement was just starting, the freedom riders. It inspired a lot of us.”

She fell in love and married Walter Tillow, another civil rights worker. The couple ultimately became union activists.

A lot of the injustice African Americans were suffering was economic injustice. Unions have always fought economic injustice. So it made sense for us to work within the union movement.

The Tillows became organizers for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE) and Local 1199 of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees. They won some organizing drives, and lost others. “But we never quit.”

Although she’s not a nurse, Tillow joined the NPO when it was affiliated with the Machinists (IAM). The National Nurses United (NNU) is NPO’s current affiliation. She also represents the NPO on the All Unions Committee for Single Payer Health Care, for which she is still campaigning. As she puts it: “Jesus healed and he did it for free.”[1]


While working with the Appalachian Committee for Full Employment circa 1964, she met Walter Tillow at the Highlander Folk School. She worked very closely with Anne Braden and Carl Braden at the time.[2]


Founder member of Coalition of Labor Union Women. Led the chapter in Pittsburgh.


In 2009 Kay Tillow, Labor Organizer, Louisville, KY served on the board of directors of Healthcare-Now! .[3]

Kentucky Alliance honor

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II’s keynote speech at the 10th annual Unity Dinner at Louisville Gardens Sept. 29 2007, bore the title, “Mobilizing Action to Challenge the Current Wave of Racism & Political Repression.”

Barber is "a prominent mobilizer/organizer of mass action, especially in his adopted home state of North Carolina".

The Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression organized the dinner, which was catered by Expressions of You, an African-American caterer, and included various musical selections by area artists.

Honorees at the event included Kay Tillow, called by the program a “relentless activist for social change,” Tillow is the state coordinator of Kentuckians for Single Payer Health Care and a leader in the movement seeking health care for all.

U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a 2002 Unity Dinner speaker and sponsor of H.R. 676, the leading single-payer bill currently before the U.S. House of Representatives, said in a statement in the Unity Dinner program:

“Kay Tillow is one of the most historically important advocates for single payer universal health care in the history of the United States. She has been able to garner the endorsements of 21 state AFL-CIO organizations, and over 300 national and local labor organizations to support HR 676…. It is an honor and a privilege to know Kay Tillow.
History will show that [her efforts were] one of the most important factors in why universal health care was achieved in this country.” .[4]

Communist Party tribute

In July 2007, the Communist Party USA paper Peoples World published a tribute "We salute Joyce Wheeler" to retiring Baltimore public school teacher and Communist Party member Joyce Wheeler. Kay Tillow and Walter Tillow signed the tribute page. Most of the more than 100 signatories were identified Party members.[5]

Labor Campaign for Single Payer

In March 2009 the Labor Campaign for Single Payer Conference was held in Washington DC. Attendees included Anne Feeney, Kay Tillow and Walter Tillow, Jerry Tucker, Donna DeWitt, David Newby, Donna Smith, Tim Carpenter from Progressive Democrats of America, Dr. Margaret Flowers, John Conyers.[6]

Kentucky Social Forum


Steve Pavey August 2, 2009; with Fredando Farmer Fredo Jackson, Christi H. Ketchum, Stephanie Guilloud, Tashia Bradley, Monica Hernandez, Pam McMichael, Doanta Davis, Andrew Kang Bartlett, Fran Tobin, Angelyn Rudd, Mary Brydon-Miller, Rochelle Arms, Chris Hartman, Erin Michelle Howard, Erica Smiley, Tanya Bernice Turner, Shannon Garth-Rhodes, Carol Kraemer, Shameka Parrish-Wright, Khalilah Veneable Collins, Christy Pardew, Esteban Bartlett, Josh Jennings, Jardana Peacock, Carla Wallace, Dave Newton, Gabriela Alcalde, Janet Jenkins Tucker, David Lott, Kay Tillow, Jackie Floyd, David Horvath, David O'Brien Suetholz, Ellen Braune and Judi Jennings.

CCDS meeting

Approximately 28 labor activists, activists for single payer health care, gay rights, an end to mountain top removal, voter rights for ex- felons, students for socialism, and campaigners against racism and war in Afghanistan came together on Saturday, September 19 2009, in Louisville to share information and action plans at the semi-annual Midwest Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism meeting.

Kay Tillow, Kentuckians for Single Payer Healthcare, reported on the fact that despite mainstream media stories to the contrary, the single payer health care movement is as strong as it has ever been. She reported returning from the national convention of the AFL-CIO that a single payer system is broadly supported within the labor movement. International unions, state AFL-CIOs, local labor councils, and individual locals have publicly endorsed HR 676. She distributed data provided by Physicians for a National Health Program (http://www.PNHP.org) that compared a single payer amendment to HR 3200 as proposed by House democrats. It pointed out that with a single-payer system everyone in the United States would be automatically covered, while the more limited bill would leave 20 million uninsured, and tens of millions underinsured. HR 676 would also cover everyone who needs health care in the United States with no exceptions for undocumented workers. [7]

Contact for Yarmuth

In 2013 Progressive Democrats of America assigned activists to deliver their material to every US Congressman. Kay Tillow was assigned as the contact for Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth.[8]

Healthcare call-in

On May 15th, 2013 a national call-in was convened to promote Rep. John Conyers' bill H.R. 676, that would establish a non-profit, universal, single-payer health care program, an improved "Medicare for All" act.

Participants were;

Lobbying Yarmuth


Kay Tillow, February 21, 2017;

With Michael Gasser, Medical Student, Mallika Sabharwal, President of U of L Students for a National Health Program, Rina Perlin, Medical Student at Congressman John Yarmuths Office