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How to Make the Building Trades Work for Women

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The building trades unions are some of the most powerful in the labor movement. Because their members are well-paid, their dues are often higher than in other unions, giving them more resources to influence change. They also hold a certain cultural cachet, exemplifying what many people (wrongly) think the working class looks like: white men in hard hats. But this cachet is also part of the problem: These unions have been under fire for how white and male-dominated they are. Only 6% of the construction workforce is Black and, as of 2018, only 3% of workers in the construction industry were women.

While building trades unions are working to address these issues, tradeswomen say that making construction unions more accessible—and comfortable—for women is going to be a long process. They say it will require material improvements, like widespread maternity leave protections, as well as cultural shifts, like working to end sexual harassment. 

Ash Fritzsche is in year four of an apprenticeship program with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 98 in Philadelphia. She was working at a restaurant when some of her regular customers encouraged her to begin an apprenticeship in the building trades so she could have more job security and higher pay than in the food industry. Apprenticeships are not easy programs to get into: Fritzsche told In These Times that in her year, more than 1,000 people applied, but only fewer than 100 were accepted into this five-year program. Workers who complete apprenticeship programs are taught their craft while they work, earning a living while they complete the educational requirements and gain experience as electricians. To be accepted, workers must take an aptitude test and have an interview, which Fritzsche described as “killer, with seven guys at a roundtable asking you questions, it was so intimidating.” She struggled with knowing how to dress as a woman trying to break into the construction industry, having perused Reddit articles geared only towards men.

Fritzsche says her local accepted 10 women her year, contrasting with around three in years prior. She believes that allowing in more women helped with retention: “It allowed us to develop community. In previous years, at least one woman wouldn’t make it, but so far all 10 of us are still in and thriving and totally ambitious.” 

At Local 98, apprentices start out making 30% of what journeymen make, which for her was $18 per hour. Raises are applied every 1,000 to 2,000 hours, and health insurance kicks in after a couple of months. Fritzsche is in the final year of her five-year apprenticeship and now makes $38 per hour, the most money she’s ever made. She told In These Times that she’ll get another raise in October, “and I know it. It’s not like if I show up early for work and I do this or that, I might get it. It’s an automatic, earned raise, which is the way it should be.” For women workers who may face gender discrimination (including lower pay, fewer benefits and fewer opportunities to advance) at work, unions can and do even the playing field. 

Local 98 is working to recruit more women, and recently hosted a “Women in Construction” camp to teach more than 30 high-school aged young women about what union electrical work is like. But there is still work to be done. Because the building trades are so male-dominated, their unions are tailored to their members, who are primarily men. While benefits for unionized building trades workers are generous and desirable, most lack any kind of paid family leave—in our society, parental caretaking still falls primarily on women. This means that women may not see the building trades as a suitable career for them if they want to have a family. 

But the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) is working hard to change this: In May, the union introduced a maternity leave program. According to Jessica Podhola, the director of communications and government affairs at District Council 3 at IUPAT in the Kansas City area, members have to belong to their local district council’s health and welfare fund, and to have worked 100 hours immediately before the benefit is applied to be eligible for it. The program includes wage replacement of 67% or $800 per week, and if members cannot work during pregnancy, they can receive up to six months of paid leave. For postpartum leave, workers receive either paid time off for six or eight weeks (if they had a C-section).

Podhola told In These Times that this maternity leave program is “a beginning, but it’s a strong beginning.” Others, meanwhile, are picking up the baton. According to Fritzsche, Local 98 is also working on this issue: She told In These Times that the local recently extended the cap on disability from $300 to $500 dollars a week, and it made an automatic disability clause for women in their 9th month of pregnancy and for the first six weeks postpartum (or eight weeks if they had a C-section). IBEW Local 48 in Oregon, meanwhile, introduced a new maternity leave program in January 2020, which offered workers 13 weeks of paid leave prior to birth and 13 weeks of paid leave after birth, which doubled the union’s previous benefit.

Podhola serves on IUPAT’s national women’s committee, which was built to develop policies to propel the union forward in protecting its women members. The committee has subcommittees on maternity leave, diversity and inclusion, recruitment, and marketing and retention. But along with the structural barriers for women in the trades, there’s also a cultural component that is difficult to fight: sexual harassment and other instances of sexism at work. Kelly Ireland, a plumber in Local 690 in Philadelphia, says “you walk through job sites and see graffiti about women. They say it’s a joke, but how many decades have we asked you to stop joking?” 

Unions are working on this, too. Ireland told In These Times that she knew of a man kicked off a job site for catcalling; the foreman fired him on the spot. And in addition to its new maternity leave policy, the IUPAT women’s committee is working on rolling out a sexual harassment training through their apprenticeship program. 

Podhola told In These Times that “changing the culture in construction is a long-term project. We are not going to be able to get it done overnight, but we can begin to create safer work spaces and frameworks for our sisters to address issues as they come up, and to begin laying the foundation for members regardless of gender about what is acceptable and what is not on a modern construction site.” 

Fritzsche’s experience has been similar during her apprenticeship. “You just watch some women burn out with the baloney they have to deal with. At the same time, the guys are incredible friends and mentors. I have so many male mentors. If you can work past issues around gender, you will have access to a wonderful world of friends, teachers, and mentors.”

According to Podhola, “Some of these guys have been doing this for 30 years and they’ve only worked with a woman a handful of times. It’s going to be a generational shift.” To make this shift happen, more women need to enter the trades. But it can be a vicious cycle: Women don’t see enough tradeswomen, so don’t see themselves as potential tradeswomen. 

Ireland, who grew up with a union plumber for a father, never even considered a future in the trades until she had her own family—mostly because she never saw women like her doing the work. “If I was young and saw women in the trades, I would have gone into ironwork, climb skyscrapers.” 

All of the tradeswomen who spoke to In These Times mentioned access as the largest barrier to bringing more women into the building trades: Women need to hear about these great jobs, understand that they’re just as welcome as men, and be given the confidence and tools both to apply and to stick it out when it gets difficult. Podhola says that “it’s on the onus of labor to market, recruit, and retain as many women as possible.” 

Workers say other solutions outside of marketing and recruitment could include more local women’s committees that prioritize and work directly on issues that affect women workers, putting more women on interview committees so women who apply for apprenticeships see themselves in their union and, of course, quotas and affirmative action for apprenticeships.

But ultimately, tradeswomen want other women to know that they belong in the trades. Fritzsche told In These Times that “women make great tradespeople. We are really good at this work and we deserve this work. A woman invented the circular saw. A woman invented the modern band saw. During World War II, we filled factories, we took over all the trades. We are tradespeople just as much as men are.”

About the Author: Mindy Isser works in the labor movement and lives in Philadelphia.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on August 30, 2021. Reprinted with permission.


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Women in the Workplace: Advancing Your Career Post-Pandemic

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Economic conditions during the pandemic took an especially difficult toll on women, with nearly 2.2 million females leaving the workforce between February and October 2020, according to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center.

Of course, this difficult environment doesn’t mean women should shy away from asserting their rights in the workplace or pursuing better opportunities. In fact, it means just the opposite. It’s more vital than ever that women speak up against discriminatory practices and for equal pay and equal opportunities for advancement.

As the pandemic eases, many employees are likely to return to an office environment in the coming months, although there’s some disconnect between leaders (who tend to prefer more office time) and workers (who have become accustomed to working from home).

With all this in mind, the question arises of how best to advance your career as a woman post-pandemic. Here are some ideas to consider.

Support union efforts.

Women have long lagged behind men in terms of union membership, which is a key mechanism for promoting wage equality

Indeed, research indicates that unions help narrow the wage gap between men and women in the workplace. In 2016, for instance, women working in unions received 94 cents on the dollar compared with unionized men. Alternatively, non-union women were paid just 78 cents on the dollar, compared with their non-union male counterparts.

And yet, as of 2020, men continued to have a higher union membership rate (11%) than women (10.5%), with the overall rate at 10.8% — barely half of what it was in 1983 — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The conclusion: Joining unions where they exist and advocating for unions where they don’t can help women narrow the wage gap and advance their careers.

Actively fight stereotypes. 

Women in the workplace are often characterized unfairly and, as a result, burdened with unrealistic expectations that go beyond those placed on their male counterparts — all while receiving less pay. 

Stereotypes are rampant and need to be continually challenged, both with evidence and active pushback against sexism. For example, the pervasive myth that men are better than math was debunked by a study in which women who focused on identifying themselves as being enrolled at an exclusive private college did as well as men on math tests. Other key research put to rest a different fable: that men are better at negotiating than women.

Not surprisingly, it is societal prejudices – not a lack of ability – that tends to hold women back. These stereotypes persist, and need to be confronted at every turn. 

Be willing to change jobs.

According to the research, changing jobs frequently can benefit you financially and allow you to advance your career more quickly. 

Staying in the same job might get you an annual cost-of-living raise, say 3%. But moving to a different position can give you a lot bigger boost: an average increase of 10% to 20%. In fact, if you stay at the same company for an average of more than two years, you’ll earn at least 50% less over your lifetime than you would have if you’d changed jobs.

Getting that new job or embarking on a new career path might require you to step out of your comfort zone and learn new skills, but it will be worth it.

Enhance your skill set.

Speaking of enhancing your skill set, continuing education is always helpful, and it doesn’t have to mean going back to school for an advanced degree. Many short-term seminars and virtual opportunities are available, too.

With tech skills especially in demand, look for marketable proficiencies in areas that translate well to multiple positions, such as familiarity with an array of commonly used software (such as Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint, etc.). Familiarity with grant writing and internet marketing, particularly search engine optimization (SEO) can help you advance, as well.

Look for training opportunities, both in person and virtually, and once you’ve mastered a skill, update your physical and online resumes to reflect your expertise.

Find your tribe, and network.

Thanks to the internet, professionals looking to advance their careers can network across far greater geographic distances than ever before. Take advantage of sites like Alignable and LinkedIn, as well as your personal network on social media, to forge alliances with others on your career path. This will allow you to share tips and ideas that have brought you success and learn the same from others. 

Furthermore, you should stay in touch with former supervisors and co-workers who can advocate for you in your quest for a new position, if and when the time comes. If your list of trusted colleagues includes a potential mentor, be sure to pursue that relationship. According to three decades of research, mentorship leads to higher pay, faster advancement, and greater career satisfaction for mentees. 

Burnish your reputation.

Prospective employers look at a range of factors in considering new hires, including your employment history (this is an instance where changing jobs too frequently can hurt you) and even your credit rating.

You can combat any negatives in your employment record by seeking out positive recommendations from past employers and colleagues. This proactive step helps ensure that nothing in your past can undermine your goals. You should also carefully curate your social media accounts, as many employers will check public posts and photos before they offer you a position. 

Although they can’t get access to your credit score, employers may view your credit history in an attempt to learn how responsible you are, especially if you’re being considered for a financial position. If you’re thinking of applying for a new role, it’s worthwhile to check your report yourself and to take the steps to build or rebuild your credit. Then employers won’t be able to use that as an excuse to pass you by. 

These are just some of the ways you can advocate for yourself and advance your career in the post-pandemic world. Other opportunities are available, too. Be on the lookout for ways to move forward in boldness and confidence, so nothing can hold you back.

This blog is printed with permission.

About the author: Molly Barnes is a full-time digital nomad. She works remotely, travels constantly, and explores different cities across the U.S. She started her site, www.digitalnomadlife.org as a resource for travelers, nomads, and remote workers. Molly writes resources that help office and remote workers alike reach their personal and professional goals of becoming more successful. Follow along with her and her boyfriend Jacob on their blog as they pursue a nomadic lifestyle while freelancing and traveling across the country. 


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What is the Broken Rung?

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The corporate ladder is a popularized metaphor in the workforce. The ability to progress up the chain of command at a company to secure a prosperous future through hard work. However, what’s lesser-known, but more important, is that this staple corporate ladder has a broken rung.

The very first step up from entry-level fragments parity in the workplace. According to McKinsey’s report on Women in the Workplace, it found that women held only 38% of entry-level managerial positions while men held 62% in 2019.

The disparities in job mobility are not just a pattern within McKinsey’s report, but for each of the six years McKinsey has released the report, it’s a trend that has remained. Women are less likely to get promoted from entry-level positions. This is the broken rung that is stifling so many young women’s careers.

So, how can we hurdle over this broken rung? The answer doesn’t lie in corporate resolution. Companies move at a turtle-pace when implementing social change, instead, it’s up to us as women to empower ourselves to overcome this gender barrier and advance beyond this bias.

There are a few ways we can do this, the first of which is finding a mentor. Having a mentor increased your odds of getting a promotion by five times. It’s essential to have an advocate when it comes time to make a decision about promotions and likely that person will be your mentor. So, get your networking cap on and start sending those well-polished introductions!

Along with finding a mentor, making continuous learning a hallmark of your professional life will make you stand out against other candidates. With a rising number of women attending business school, you can get a degree online or simply read an industry book. Find whatever method works best for you to learn something new, but make it a priority as continuous learning will set you apart.

Along with connecting and learning, make yourself visible at your company. It’s easy to mouse in the corner during your first few months at a company, but you actually want to do the opposite. Reach out to senior-level employees, host happy hours, send an interesting article to the CEO, publish LinkedIn content on your company, or find another creative way to connect with everyone in your company. This not only will make you more comfortable by knowing the people you work with but when people know you and the work you do, they’ll be able to attest you’re the best person for a promotion when the time comes.

Lastly, but most importantly, always advocate for yourself. This means that if you see bias in the workplace call it out. If you get passed up for a promotion you know you deserve, take it up with your manager. As women, especially young women in the workplace, it’s easy to accept the fate decision-makers hand to us. However, when that fate is tainted with bias we cannot just accept it, we need to question the reasoning and unearth any wrongful bias.

While it’s ideal to think that the corporate ladder is an equal climb for every member who attempts it, that’s not the case. For women, it’s especially hard to get over that first, broken rung because of gender bias. However, with an empowered attitude, a firmness in self-worth, and supportive network women can overcome this broken rung.

About the Author: Lily Crager is a content market specialist writing for GreatBusinessSchools a site that gives business students a portal that tells them everything they need to know before they commit to a business education.


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Women of color suffer as coronavirus takes existing economic inequalities and doubles down on them

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The coronavirus economy is crushing women, people of color, and especially women of color. While the economy added 661,000 jobs between August and September, 865,000 women dropped out of the paid workforce. White women have recovered 61% of the jobs they lost in the early months of the pandemic, while Black women have recovered just 39%. As of a September 30 report in The Washington Post, less than 45% of mothers of children aged six to 12 have gotten back jobs they lost, while fathers of children in that age group have seen employment rebound 70%. Workers with college degrees have gotten back 55% of lost jobs, while for workers with high school degrees it’s less than 40%.

The devastation to state and local government jobs—particularly in education—and to the childcare industry has hit women particularly hard, putting many out of work—and then, in turn, women in other industries feel the squeeze because their kids are at home and household labor and childcare fall disproportionately on them.

Unemployment actually rose among Latinas in the most recent jobs report, going from 10.5% to 11%, and Latinas accounted for 324,000 of the women dropping out of the workforce. Though unemployment among Black women is just as high, at 11.1%, only 58,000 Black women dropped out.

This may be just the tip of the iceberg, though. A study published by Lean In “found that one in four women are considering downsizing their careers or leaving the workforce as a result of the damage wrought by COVID-19,” The 19th reported. “It’s the first time in six years of research that the annual study has found evidence of women intending to leave their jobs at higher rates than men.”

In an unequal economy and an unequal society, go figure. The new burdens of a crisis fall hardest on the people already struggling. This is a challenge to the United States and, in particular, to Democrats should they win big in November: What are we going to do to fix this?

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on October 5, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


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Women will lose big if state and local governments can’t close coronavirus budget gaps

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The United States is on track to lose millions of jobs if the federal government doesn’t help state and local governments fill in budget shortfalls. Some of the jobs will be in the private sector as governments drop contracts and as public workers curtail their spending, but it’s a guarantee that government workers will be hard hit. And like so much else about the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, that means increased inequality.

The National Women’s Law Center details the damage women, and especially women of color, have already experienced and face if things don’t get better. Already, women are 63% of the 1.5 million state and local government jobs lost between February and May. That’s in line with the six in 10 workers in state and local governments who are women. These aren’t the jobs of last resort, either. They’re jobs that do better by women than the private sector, reducing inequality.

“In 2018, women instate and local government jobs had a median wage of almost $7,000 more per year than women in private sector jobs,” the NWLC notes. “For Black women and Latinas, the difference was even more pronounced, with the typical salary for a Black woman working in state or local government exceeding the typical salary for a Black woman working in the private sector by $10,000 per year, and the typical salary for a Latina working in state or local government exceeding the typical salary for a Latina working in the private sector by $15,000 per year.”

That narrows the wage gap, with Black women coming 17 cents an hour closer to white, non-Hispanic men than they do in the private sector. Across all women in state and local government, the wage gap narrows by 3 cents an hour. That’s added to women working for state and local governments being much more likely to have health coverage. And it’s a significant source of good jobs for women of color: One in seven Black women in the workforce is in state or local government.

If the federal government doesn’t help state and local governments close budget shortfalls, the economic crisis across the country will deepen and settle in, making for a longer and harder recovery. “This is not an abstract concern—the historically slow recovery in state and local spending following the Great Recession by itself delayed a recovery in unemployment to pre-crisis levels by four full years,” according to the Economic Policy Institute.

And it won’t be rich white men—or even mostly non-rich white men—who pay the price.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on July 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


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Immigrant women workers on the front lines of meatpacking COVID-19 outbreaks speak out

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Coverage of COVID-19 outbreaks in North Carolina poultry processing plants began with an online tip, but soon multiple workers came forward—risking their livelihoods—to talk about the unsafe working conditions they faced inside the plants. All of them were women.

One of those women is Luz. The 38-year-old immigrant from Mexico has spent the last four years working at the Mountaire Farms poultry processing plant in Lumber Bridge, North Carolina. Luz, who is not using her real name, said she estimates nearly 50% of the plant’s workforce are women—some are pregnant, some are elderly, some have preexisting health conditions, and almost all of them are the caretakers and breadwinners in their families. If they get sick, it causes a ripple effect in their homes, in their extended families, and in their communities. 

The number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in rural central North Carolina, home to poultry processing plants owned by companies like Mountaire, Tyson Foods, and Pilgrim’s Pride. Nationally, North Carolina leads the number of COVID-19 outbreaks at meatpacking plants, ranking third in the country for the highest number of meatpacking workers who have contracted COVID-19. As of May 20, Enlace Latino NC’s Victoria Bouloubasis reported that there are 26 outbreaks at plants across the state and more than 2,000 workers have been infected. Three poultry workers are known to have died in North Carolina: Adelfo Ruiz Calvo, a 65-year-old Mexican immigrant and Siler City resident who worked at the Pilgrim’s Pride poultry processing plant in Sanford; an unnamed Butterball worker in Duplin County; and Byakubire Mkogabwe, a 71-year-old Congolese immigrant and High Point resident who worked at Tyson Foods in Wilkesboro. 

Dr. David Wohl, a professor of medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill and an infectious disease specialist, told Prism he was seeing a “huge” proportion of Latino community members tied to processing plants test positive for COVID-19. As more people get sick, women like Luz continue to speak out. 

In a conversation with Prism May 22, Luz told Prism what she and other poultry plant workers are up against. Here she is, in her own words, which have been condensed and edited:

I work at the Mountaire processing plant in Lumber Bridge, North Carolina. I have various jobs assigned to me every day. I debone chicken, but sometimes I cut wings or breasts. I work with probably 3,000 people at the plant. We have people who work on different shifts on the line and people who work on the cleaning crew. There are a lot of us, and I’m speaking out today because measures weren’t taken to protect us. The company does not care about our health.

A lot of our workers have immune deficiencies because they are older. Some are pregnant, and others have chronic health problems. From the beginning [of the pandemic], [Mountaire officials] told us that they were not going to close the doors of the plant and that we had no excuse to stop doing our work. They even gave us all letters expressing to authorities that we are essential workers and that we were free to move around and travel to work. [Mountaire] only focused on the need of the company to keep producing. They never considered us as workers. We had to work side-by-side, elbow-to-elbow with no real protection.

They only started providing protective equipment about a month ago, very late into the pandemic, because of the outbreak happening at the plant in Siler City. Now we have a plastic, transparent shield on top of our helmets and there are hand sanitizer dispensers around the plant and the cleaning crew does deep cleaning in the bathrooms and common areas.

When our first workers started to get sick and started to miss work, Mountaire encouraged us to keep working. They offered us bonuses if we didn’t miss any work for the months of April and May. But a lot of people started to miss work, and the company wouldn’t tell us if they decided to stay home or they contracted the virus. Honestly, we don’t know how big the outbreak is. We don’t know the number of people we work with who are sick with the virus. They don’t tell us this information. We feel very vulnerable. We know people can get sick and be asymptomatic and then infect their families.

I do feel very vulnerable. Every day I wake up and I go to work and I feel scared. I use my protective equipment and I take my own protective measures. I do all of the things I’m supposed to, but you know what? I always think about my co-workers who are hired by contractors [and are not considered employees of Mountaire]. I think about them because they don’t have access to the nursing station like we do, they don’t have access to doctors or health care. They don’t make the money we make. They do not have medical or economic support.

None of us know who has or has not been exposed to the virus. [Mountaire officials] evade us at all costs. They don’t give us any answers. We ask: Are people I work with sick with the virus? We are told they can’t tell us or they don’t know. They tell us to ask the main office, but the women at the front desk there are very impolite, especially to Hispanic people. When we ask them questions about the virus, they tell us human resources is too busy for our questions and to come back later.

I don’t know a lot about how testing [for the coronavirus] works. Workers don’t know if the cost is high or if we can get tested without symptoms. I have heard from my friends who got sick that when you go to a hospital, if you tell them you work at the poultry processing plant, they test you immediately. This is because all of the outbreaks these plants have had. Some workers have gone to get tested and now they are afraid of receiving a bill. We don’t know if they will actually get a bill or not. We are not certain about a lot of things.

In my community, I haven’t seen information in English or Spanish with details about testing. Mountaire doesn’t provide us with this kind of information. All they have done is give us the letters that say we are essential workers, but they don’t give us any information about testing. I wish they would test all of us workers. If that day would come, we would feel calmer and safer.

At my plant I would say there are an equal amount of men and women working, but it is women raising our voices. The reason is because many of us are the head of households. We take care of the family, we take care of the children, and we are the breadwinners. We have to protect children, we have to protect our family and our community. Many of my coworkers are women with little children. Schools are closed and there is no place for the children to go. With all of this going on, with all of this stress, Mountaire is forcing us to work on Saturdays. We can’t afford to be vulnerable and exposed at work. This is why so many women who work in plants are speaking out.

I know six coworkers who have been sick with COVID-19. One of them is my close friend. She is an African American woman who is seven months pregnant and tested positive for COVID-19. She hasn’t come back to work. She sent me a message to tell me she contracted the virus. The rest of the people I know who got sick are Latinos. Everyone shared their symptoms and the experience they had so that we can be aware of what to look for.

It hurts me when I read articles where [company officials] blame Latinos and African Americans for our living conditions and say we are responsible for outbreaks in our communities. I’ve read articles where they blame Chinese people for the outbreak. These types of attitudes are very sorry. They are ridiculous. I’m not interested in blame; I’m interested in solutions. I feel very proud to be Mexican. I’m proud of my roots and I’m proud of my family. It’s important to have an extended family that is there for you, that can support you, that can act as a shoulder to rely on. That kind of support is not something to blame; it’s the support our communities need right now to feel safe.

It has been very sad to witness the deaths of so many Latinos [during the pandemic]. In many areas, like here in North Carolina, the majority of the people getting the virus are Latinos. It’s not because we are a dirty or inferior race. The reason is because we have to go to work. We have to provide for our families. We don’t have insurance. That’s the reason why we are exposed and why African Americans are exposed to the virus. There is a huge imbalance in this society and we don’t have any support.

Everyone always says America is wonderful; it’s a country where people have freedom. They say you are free here. But this doesn’t feel like being free. So much racism exists behind a curtain. For me, a very big problem is that people don’t see [immigrant workers] as human beings. We are just employees or just labor. I want people to really see us and care for us; I want people to think about us.

This blog originally appeared at The Daily Kos on June 1, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tina Vasquez is a gender justice reporter. She covers issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community, the fight for reproductive rights, and more.


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Women’s History Month Profiles: Alice Paul

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For Women’s History Month, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various women who were, and some who still are, leaders and activists working at the intersection of civil and labor rights. Today, we are looking at Alice Paul.

Alice Paul was born in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, in 1885, the daughter of Quaker parents. Her religious upbringing taught her a belief in gender equality and instilled in her a desire to work for the betterment of the whole society. Her mother, Tacie, was a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and often took Alice to meetings.

Paul attended Swarthmore College and was taught by some of the leading female academics of the day. Her experiences in college emboldened her not only in student activism, but beyond the college campus when she graduated in 1905. After graduation, she went to Birmingham, England, to study social work at the Woodbrooke Settlement. There she spent time with Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, the leaders of a militant suffragette faction that was focused on action, not just words. Paul participated in Pankhurst’s political actions, including hunger strikes and other tactics. Paul spent time in prison, but noticed the impact the actions taken by the Pankhursts and their followers led to success, and she believed it was necessary to bring these tactics back to the United States.

Upon returning to the U.S., Paul enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania and followed in her mother’s footsteps in joining NAWSA. She quickly became the leader of NAWSA’s Congressional Committee, which was focused on a federal suffrage amendment. In 1912, Paul and friends organized a women’s march to coincide with Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. When that event commenced the following March, Paul and her suffragists were so prominent that male onlookers insulted and assaulted the women marchers as the police looked on. But afterward, Paul and her fellow suffragists made headlines across the country.

Soon, Paul and several allies found themselves at odds with NAWSA’s leadership and they broke off and formed the National Woman’s Party (NWP). The NWP engaged in more active efforts to advocate for suffrage, including protesting the president during World War I, a serious break from prior protocol. The suffragists were painted as unpatriotic and were arrested or attacked by angry mobs. The threats of violence and imprisonment did not dissuade Paul or the other suffragists, even when the threats of imprisonment were carried out. Suffragists in prison were not passive, they engaged in hunger strikes and many came to support the cause of women’s suffrage because of the treatment of Paul and others.

Not long after Paul was released from prison, Congress passed the 19th Amendment and sent it to the states for ratification. It soon passed, after a 72-year-long battle. Afterward, many suffragists left public life as much of the movement had been focused solely on winning the vote. But many activists, like Paul, saw suffrage as the beginning, not the end goal. In 1923, on the 75th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention that launched the women’s rights movement, Paul began work on what she called the “Lucretia Mott Amendment,” in honor of one of the key Seneca Falls activists. The Mott amendment was the beginning of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) that is still being fought for nearly a century later. The ERA was introduced in every session of Congress beginning in 1923 up until 1972, when it finally passed Congress. Beginning in 1943, the ERA was rewritten and popularly called the “Alice Paul Amendment.” 

Paul continued to work on ratification of the ERA for the rest of her life. She also became a strong proponent for women’s rights internationally. She was a founder of the World Woman’s Party, which worked to make sure gender equality was included in the United Nations Charter. She also led numerous legislative victories in the United States, such as adding a sexual discrimination clause to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Paul died in 1977 in Moorestown, New Jersey, only a few miles from her birthplace. The years in between were marked by the efforts of an incredible woman whose efforts and agenda still dominate the civil rights sphere in 2020. We are working on continuing the legacy left by Paul and so many other women who fought to change the country, and the world, into a better place for everyone.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on February 4, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.


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Building Power And Raising Voices Of Rural Women

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Here in North Carolina, like many other rural areas around the country, reactionary forces have used trends like the decline of jobs, infrastructure, and public services to consolidate power, advance racist and misogynist narratives, and erode public confidence in the power of government to work for the common good.

The impact is real: every day, people in rural areas of North Carolina get sicker, die sooner, and have less access to what they need to thrive than their counterparts in the rest of the state.

Women in rural communities are most affected by these crises. And we are uniquely positioned to be a key part of the solutions.

For rural women in Appalachia, life is a juggling act of caring for family, friends, and community. The many different roles that rural women play in their communities and organizing spaces can be woven together like the quilts that have been beautifully crafted by the women before us. For as long as I can remember, my Nana and Granny and Mimi and all the women in my life have been the pillars that hold up their loved ones and hold folks together — raising the children, keeping everyone fed and clean, and carrying the traditions of our history.

In the past decade, the right wing capitalized on a void in North Carolina left by the lack of progressive investment in rural and small-town communities. Where progressive organizing might have offered working-class residents of rural counties opportunities for engagement, white supremacist and neo-Confederate groups stepped in. Today, progressive community organizing led by rural women is emerging as a tool to keep one another alive through times of desperation and struggle.

Down Home North Carolina, part of the People’s Action network and a founding member of the Rural Women’s Collaborative: Uniting Across Race and Place for Racial and Economic Justice, is organizing working people to grow democracy and improve the quality of life, so that our grandbabies inherit a state that is healthy and just. We are shifting what’s possible in rural America by building the feminist leadership of rural women and promoting values of inclusion in communal life, interdependence, care for the elderly, love of earth and humanity, dignity of all work, and protection of the vulnerable.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. What I have noticed from the rural women in my life is that they come together as a village to care for one another. They know what it means to be stronger united, to put their brains and bodies together to do what needs to be done to keep moving forward with all the weight that they are carrying.

In the 1970s, the women of Harlan County catalyzed the multi-gender, multi-racial solidarity and civil action that won recognition for striking coal miners. In the 1960s, it was Ollie Combs, a rural woman, who laid her body on the line in front of a bulldozer to save the foundation of her family’s livelihood and led to the first stripmining legislation. It was rural women like Judy Bonds who risked everything to pioneer the fight against mountaintop removal.

Today in Down Home Alamance County, the story of our rural women looks like Robin Jordan, who lost her daughter in 2018 because she didn’t have access to the healthcare that she desperately needed. Robin fights to protect families across North Carolina from experiencing the loss that she had to go through, while she — like many rural women I know — raises her granddaughter.

In Down Home Jackson County, the rural women’s story looks like Kellie Smith, who still has her waitress apron tied around her waist from working her 8th shift trying to catch up on rent after relentlessly searching for jobs in a depleted market for months, but who shows up anyways because there’s nothing left to lose and “we can’t afford to keep sitting around not doing anything.”

The story looks like Carrie McBane, who despite facing the views against her as an “outsider” for the brown hue of her skin, still pushes against the struggle to communicate with her neighbors and to build bridges across her community because “we are all stronger when we work together.”

In Down Home Haywood County, the story of rural women is painted by Natasha Bright, who brings her two kids with her to organizing meetings after spending a whole day working full-time to support her family and her husband, who is a veteran. Natasha, who doesn’t have health care for herself, fights for her community because “no one is going to fight for us.”

Building on these legacies, our Radical Hope Fund grant has allowed us to invest in the feminist leadership of a multiracial cohort of rural women to lead transformative campaigns bridging urban and rural communities across race and gender, while restoring democracy, confronting corporate abuse, and helping build models of community control of the economy.

Rural women have served as the educators, healthcare givers, nurturers, and fighters for our community for generations. Now the women of Down Home are carrying forward this torch.

This piece is part of the NoVo Foundation’s Radical Hope Blog Series, a platform for social justice movement leaders from around the world to share learning and insights, hear what’s working and what’s not, build solidarity, and spark opportunities for collaboration. Amid daily headlines of division, this blog series is intended to serve as an active and dynamic beacon of hope, possibility, connection, and healing.This piece was published by the AFL-CIO on December 4, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 


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‘It’s terrifying’: Why women’s hockey players are risking their careers for this boycott

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Women’s hockey players are fed up with being told to be grateful for the scraps of professional leagues they’ve been given, so they’re taking a stand. Last Thursday, more than 200 of the best women’s hockey players in the world announced they would not suit up for any North American professional women’s hockey teams this season until there’s a league in place with the resources and support deserving of the best athletes on the planet.

“We are fortunate to be ambassadors of this game that we revere so deeply and yet, more than ever, we understand the responsibility that comes with that ambassadorship: To leave this game in better shape than when we entered it,” the women said in a statement.

“We cannot make a sustainable living playing in the current state of the professional game. Having no health insurance and making as low as $2,000 a season means players can’t adequately train and prepare to play at the highest level.”

Up until a few weeks ago, there were two professional hockey options for women in North America. But on March 31, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL), abruptly announced it was closing its doors after 12 years due to an “unsustainable” business model. The CWHL, which operated as a nonprofit, began paying its players stipends between $2,000 and $10,000 in 2017. It officially folded on May 1.

Currently, the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) is the only viable professional women’s hockey league in North America. It operates under the same $100,000 salary cap as the CWHL did, and pays players a minimum of $2,500. But since it launched in 2015, the NWHL has faced criticism from the media and players for a lack of transparency when it comes to finances — it does not disclose its budget or revenue, and only some of its investors are known to the public. This has led to a lack of trust between the NWHL and many elite players in he sport.

Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Latmoureux-Davidson, members of USWNT and twin sisters, carefully told ThinkProgress that the players were not boycotting the NWHL specifically, but rather were refusing to play in any North American professional women’s hockey league. However, considering the only existing league in North America is the NWHL, that seems to be just a matter of semantics.

“The league that exists right now is not sustainable, it doesn’t have our best long-term interests in mind,” said Lamoureux-Morando.

Liz Knox, a former CWHL goalie and co-chair of the CWHL Players Association (CWHLPA), told ThinkProgress that after the shock of her league folding, she immediately began hearing from colleagues who weren’t ready to give up on their professional dreams. They wanted to stick together and fight for a better future.

“What we want, what we’ve always wanted, is to have a sustainable league, something to be proud of,” Knox said. “Billions goes into global hockey. We don’t have pennies.”

Soon, Knox got a call from U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) stars Hilary Knight and Kendall Coyne Schofield, who made a suggestion: What if everyone joined together and took a stance, and said, we’re not playing? Knox was excited by the idea, and immediately reached out to members of the CWHLPA.

“The resounding answer was yes,” she said.

Conversations about a sit-out actually began back at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, according to Lamoureux-Morando and Lamoureux-Davidson. However, after the CWHL unexpectedly closed its doors, the discussions escalated quickly. The players were already intimately aware of the power of a boycott.

Two years ago, the USWNT threatened to skip the world championships if USA Hockey did not provide them with an improved contract. At the time, the women’s national team players were only earning $6,000 every four years of an Olympic cycle, and were provided with far inferior travel accommodations and benefits than their male counterparts. That boycott was a success; USA Hockey ended up offering them a contract that included a base salary of approximately $70,000, and the boycott ended just in time for the world championships on home soil.

That boycott certainly provided an infrastructure of solidarity, communication, and messaging that can be built on this time. But this current movement — which is being referenced by the hashtag #ForTheGame on social media — is much more complex. It’s much bigger, because it includes players from all over the world, and it doesn’t yet have a concrete set of demands. Rather, players are taking a leap of faith hoping a net appears.

While most players are willing to take this risk, #ForTheGame doesn’t have unanimous support. In an interview with The Ice Garden, NWHL Player’s Association (NWHLPA) director Anya Battaglino said that none of the #ForTheGame organizers called her to talk about this movement, and expressed frustration that this was slowing — or at least fragmenting — the progress that women’s hockey was making. To her, it makes sense to fight for the improvement of the league that’s already in place, rather than asking for something that doesn’t exist.

The players behind #ForTheGame don’t believe that the NWHL holds the keys to a viable future for the sport. Rather, many want to see the National Hockey League (NHL) to put legitimate resources into a professional women’s hockey league.

“If you look at the history of women’s sports, the successful leagues are attached and linked to an already existing league,” said Lamoureux-Davidson, pointing to the WNBA, which is supported by the NBA, and the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), which is supported by U.S. Soccer. “We’re confident that can happen in women’s hockey, too.”

The NHL has expressed reluctance to get involved in women’s professional hockey, in part because it didn’t want to chose sides between the NWHL and CWHL, and also because it didn’t want to “look like a bully” by putting the independent leagues out of business. But to some, those were convenient excuses, not legitimate reasons.

Last season, the NHL gave $50,000 annual contributions to each women’s league. When the CWHL folded, the NHL upped its contribution to the NWHL to $100,000. To the NHL, flush with cash, that’s a laughable amount of money. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman makes around $10 million per year. In the 2017-18 season, NHL revenue was about $4.86 billion. The average value of an NHL team is $630 million. The average team makes $25 million in profit, according to Forbes. The salary cap this season was $79.5 million.

“The [NHL] has never been healthier,” Bettman said last year.

But #ForTheGame isn’t just looking to the NHL to step up. It’s also hoping that U.S. and Canadian hockey federations — which benefit immensely from the success of their women’s national teams — support a pro women’s league, too.

“USA Hockey, they say hockey is for everyone, that they’re trying to make hockey more diverse and include everyone and show everyone that they can play the game,” said Lamoureux-Morando. “By making women’s hockey more visible from a year-to-year basis, you’re going to inspire girls to put skates on, you’re going to have more people playing the sport, and then you’re going to have more fans. In that scenario, everyone wins.”

It seems simple when broken down like that, but nobody is fooling themselves into believing that the path forward is going to be easy. Knox, who works as a contractor during the day and is training to be a firefighter at night, isn’t one of the players who has a national team contract to keep her in the sport. She knows that by the time the league she wants is established, the sport might have passed her by. After all, there are more than 200 players involved in this boycott, and it’s unrealistic to think that any new league would have that many roster spots right out of the gate.

“It’s terrifying, honestly,” Knox said.

“That’s what’s so powerful: This many women saying, ‘I might never play again, but I want the next generation to have something better,’” said Lamoureux-Davidson.

Of course, it helps to have words of encouragement from legends such as Billie Jean King, one of the founding members of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). King spoke to the players leading the organizing and made sure a message was passed along to the entire group: “Change is hard. If you’re looking for the right time to make change, it’s never going to happen.”

Knox said that there have been plenty of moments of doubt over the past few weeks, but that’s why she’s grateful to be part of a team. There’s always another player in the group text sending words of encouragement; they take turns lifting one another up and recognizing the big picture.

And since the boycott went public, she’s been getting plenty of strength from outside her circle, too. On Friday, the father of a young girl that Knox coaches reached out to her. “He said, ‘You’ve taught my daughter so much on the ice, but that all pales in comparison to what you taught her yesterday.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on May 6, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Lindsay Gibbs covers sports for ThinkProgress.


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Today’s Working Women Honor Their Courageous Foremothers

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Nearly two centuries ago, a group of women and girls — some as young as 12 — decided they’d had enough. Laboring in the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, they faced exhausting 14-hour days, abusive supervisors and dangerous working conditions. When threatened with a pay cut, they finally put their foot down.

The mill workers organized, went on strike and formed America’s first union of working women. They shocked their bosses, captured the attention of a young nation and blazed a trail for the nascent labor movement that would follow.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, working women are proudly living up to that example—organizing, taking to the streets and running for office in unprecedented numbers. It is a reminder that the movements for worker and women’s rights always have been interwoven.

But even as we rally together, our opponents are proving to be as relentless as ever. It’s been 184 years since that first strike in Lowell, and our rights still are being threatened by the rich and powerful. The Janus v. AFSCME case currently before the Supreme Court is one of the most egregious examples.

Janus is specifically designed to undermine public-sector unions’ ability to advocate for working people and negotiate fair contracts. More than that, it is a direct attack on working women. The right to organize and bargain together is our single best ticket to equal pay, paid time off and protection from harassment and discrimination.

Women of color would be particularly hurt by a bad decision in this case. Some 1.5 million public employees are African-American women, more than 17 percent of the public-sector workforce. Weaker collective bargaining rights would leave these workers with even less of a voice on the job.

This only would add insult to injury as black women already face a double pay gap based on race and gender, earning only 67 cents on the dollar compared to white men.

This is a moment for working women to take our fight to the next level. For generations, in the face of powerful opposition, we have stood up for the idea that protecting the dignity and rights of working people is a cause in which everyone has a stake.

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on March 19, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Liz Shuler is secretary-treasurer of the 12.5 million-member AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States.


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