Unions Are a Woman’s Best Friend

With National Women’s History Month behind us now, it’s still important to celebrate the great strides women have made over the past decades. It is equally important to remember how many women workers still don’t have the basic necessities they need to support themselves and their families. The labor movement views the struggle for women’s equality as a shared fight, especially considering women are the sole or primary breadwinners for 40% of families in the United States. Women of color, in particular, have a hard time getting good pay and benefits, and they make up a disproportionate share of low-wage workers.

Nearly 7 million women have a voice on the job due to their union membership, and women in unions are more likely than their nonunion peers to have access to paid sick leave and family leave. Collective bargaining through unions also narrows the pay gap between men and women significantly. A typical woman union member earns $222 a week more than a nonunion woman and is far more likely to have health and retirement security. This puts upward pressure on wages and benefits throughout industries that are predominately female, many of which traditionally pay low wages. Every worker deserves to have protections on the job, and it is the goal of the labor movement to ensure that happens.

Recently I was in Chicago for the AFL-CIO Next Up Young Worker Summit, and I was inspired by how many young women I saw around me. Hundreds of young women came from across the country eager to learn and grow as leaders in the labor movement and to stand up for the rights of all workers. They were facilitating workshops, speaking on panels and leading their union brothers and sisters at demonstrations around the city in solidarity with local workers. Erica Clemons, a young worker with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), provided a snapshot into why it is so important for labor to be active in the fight for women’s rights. She said, “I’m a young organizer. A person of color. A mother. These identities matter to me. It’s important for the labor movement to understand unique struggles.”

Erica started out as a cashier at her local Kroger grocery store in Atlanta. After becoming a member of UFCW, she advanced through hard work and determination from cashier to a spot in the selective UFCW Gold Internship Program in Ohio, an intensive organizer training. Erica excelled in the program, and the organizing director of UFCW Local 881 took notice and offered her a job on the local’s organizing team. Now Erica works to help workers organize in grocery stores just like the one where she started out. She helped organize and lead hundreds of Next Up participants in the demonstration at a Food 4 Less grocery store last week in Chicago, advocating for higher wages. And in her spare time, she serves on the AFL-CIO’s National Young Worker Advisory Council.

The work that Erica and thousands of other union women are doing across the country offers a good reminder that if we work and stand together, achieving gender equality is possible for women all across the United States.

This is a cross-post from MomsRising.org.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Black History Month Labor Profiles: A. Philip Randolph

Black History Month Labor Profiles: A. Philip Randolph

During Black History Month, we will be profiling past and present leaders in the intersecting movements to protect and expand the rights of African Americans and working families. We’ll highlight both important leaders of the past and those who are continuing the legacy of those strong leaders who laid the foundation for the present. Today, we take a look at A. Philip Randolph.

A. Philip Randolph was one of the greatest black labor leaders in America’s history and a key founder of the modern American civil rights movement. Randolph was born April 15, 1889, in Crescent City, Fla., and he grew up on the east side of Jacksonville.

He organized and led the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), the first predominantly African American labor union, and served as the organization’s first president. For the next 10 years, Randolph led an arduous campaign to organize the Pullman porters, which resulted in the certification of the BSCP as the exclusive collective bargaining agent of the Pullman porters in 1935.

Randolph called it the “first victory of Negro workers over a great industrial corporation.”

Click here to learn more about the battle to organize the sleeping car porters.

In the 1940s, Randolph was instrumental in leading the fight to end discrimination in defense plant jobs in World War II and the desegregation of the armed forces after the war.

Over the years his nonviolent protests and mass action efforts inspired the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Randolph was a key figure in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march, most widely known for King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, propelled the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. It was a combined effort by the civil rights and labor movements.

Moved by this success, Randolph and Bayard Rustin founded the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) in 1965 to continue the struggle for social, political and economic justice for all working Americans. APRI is an organization of black trade unionists that continues fighting today for racial equality and economic justice.

Read Randolph’s full biography from APRI here.

We will continue with Black History Month labor profiles throughout the month. Don’t forget that you can win one of 100 Black History Month posters by texting the code “BLACK” (for Black History Month) to 235246.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Black History Month Labor Profiles: Augusta Thomas

During Black History Month, we will be profiling past and present leaders in the intersecting movements to protect and expand the rights of African Americans and working families. We’ll highlight both important leaders of the past and those who are continuing the legacy of those strong leaders who laid the foundation for the present. Today, we take a look at Augusta Thomas.

Augusta currently is AFGE’s national vice president for women and fair practices. She is a lifelong civil rights activist, honored labor leader and a loving mother and great-great-grandmother.

A native of Kentucky, she moved when she was 13-years-old to Atlanta, where she was a classmate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., known then as “Little Martin.” Moving back to Louisville, she graduated from Central Colored High School in Louisville and then attended Clark University in Atlanta and Homer G. Phillips School of Nursing in St. Louis.

Thomas joined AFGE in 1966, when she began her career as a nursing assistant at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Louisville. There, she continued her fight for equal rights and was active in the civil rights movement.

As leader in her local union, Thomas served as treasurer, secretary, chief steward, executive vice-president and president. In recognition of her work to promote racial equality and economic development, the commonwealth of Kentucky has declared April 4 as Augusta Thomas Day. AFGE’s 6th District also has developed the Augusta Thomas Humanitarian Award in her honor.

With great energy, dedication and hard work, Thomas keeps advocating for the rights of women, people of color, the LGBTQ community and working families. She serves as an inspiration to many of us in these movements.

We will continue with Black History Month labor profiles throughout the month. Don’t forget that you can win one of 100 Black History Month posters by texting the code “BLACK” (for Black History Month) to 235246.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW. Co-authored by Kevin Banatte

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Black History Month Labor Profiles: Bayard Rustin

Black History Month Labor Profiles: Bayard Rustin

During Black History Month, we will be profiling past and present leaders in the intersecting movements to protect and expand the rights of African Americans and working families. We’ll highlight both important leaders of the past and those who are continuing the legacy of those strong leaders who laid the foundation for the present. First up, we take a look at Bayard Rustin.

Rustin served the trade union and civil rights movements as a brilliant theorist, tactician and organizer. In the face of his accomplishments, Rustin was silenced, threatened, arrested, beaten and fired from leadership positions because he was an openly gay man in a severely homophobic era. He conceived the coalition of liberal, labor and religious leaders who supported passage of the civil rights and anti-poverty legislation of the 1960s and, as the first executive director of the AFL-CIO’s A. Philip Randolph Institute, he worked closely with the labor movement to ensure African American workers’ rightful place in the House of Labor.

One of Rustin’s most notable moments came when he was tapped to organize the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, an event for which he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Organized during a two-month period, Rustin helped create what would be the largest protest in America’s history at that point. Rustin has been referred to as the “most important civil rights leader you’ve never heard of” and a key mentor of Martin Luther King Jr.

The manual that was handed out by Rustin and other leaders of the march made it clear that economic and workers’ rights were an integral part of the fight for civil rights for African Americans. The list of demands central to the march included a massive job training and placement program with a living wage, a national minimum wage that gave all Americans a decent standard of living an expanded Fair Labor Standards Act and a federal Fair Employment Practices Act that would prohibit discrimination not only by the government, but by employers and unions, too.

“We are all one. And if we don’t know it, we will learn it the hard way.” —Bayard Rustin

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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At First, These Images Look Like A Bunch Of Lazy Workers. But Then, You See They’re Actually Heroes

The 1936 sit down strike at GM’s Flint, Mich., plant was a pivotal event in the establishment of workers’ rights and power in the United States and the growth of theUAWThis installment of Upworthy’s mini-series on labor history examines the strike that it calls a turning point and game changer for workers and their unions. Read it here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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