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Women take center stage at 2018 convention

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WSLC’s Dodson, #MeToo panel of Union Sisters among Wednesday’s highlights

 

(July 19, 2018) — Wednesday was about the women.

Day 2 of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO 2018 Constitutional Convention highlighted some of the struggles women face in the workplace and within their unions. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, renewed attention is being placed on addressing sexual harassment and the hundreds of union delegates in attendance at the Wenatchee Convention Center heard some of poignant, troubling stories from within their own ranks about its prevalence and its affect on their Sisters in the labor movement.

But the day began with a rousing call to action from the woman who serves as Secretary Treasurer of the WSLC, Lynne Dodson. Like Monday’s convention speakers, she described some of the attacks unions are facing from the Supreme Court and from right-wing politicians.

“We face real challenges right now. Relentless attacks by corporations and billionaires for whom no amount of profit is enough,” Dodson said. “But Sisters and Brothers, Friends — the labor movement was born for times like this.”

She reminded delegates about labor’s historical struggles — from the immigrant women in the Bread and Roses strike, to the autoworkers in Flint, to the sanitation workers in Memphis, and others — and said they stood up to powerful forces then, just as we will today.

“We will not be stopped,” Dodson said. “We will respond to the challenges we face today as our predecessors responded then. We will organize and fight. We know how to do it. It takes committed leaders like you to stand up and build a more just nation. We know how to fight, and we know how to win.”

Later Wednesday morning, a panel of women from the delegates’ ranks read disturbing stories anonymously submitted by some of their Union Sisters about the sexual harassment they had experienced on the job and, sometimes, within their union. Reading the stories were Terri Myette of IAM 751-F, Maddy Shumate of Teamsters 117, Monica Bryant of UFCW 21, Katie Garrow of MLK Labor, and Nicole Reedy of IBEW 77.

Katie Garrow, Monica Bryant, and Rosalinda Guillen.

Afterward, Rosalinda Guillen of Community to Community challenged everyone in the room, particularly the men, to take action to end this.

“What are we going to do as labor to hold each other accountable for ensuring that women are not being sexually harassed?” Guillen asked. “There has to be a discussion about how men identify a sexually offensive comment or behavior. And if you don’t identify it that way, but a woman does, we need to ask, ‘Why?'”

One of the ways that trade unionists can change things for the better for their Union Sisters is simply by talking about it. Earlier Wednesday morning at the Women’s Committee breakfast, Elise Bryant, President of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, urged attendees to start conversations with their fellow union members. She urged all to ask their peers three things:

  1. What are the greatest challenges that women in the labor movement are facing today?
  2. How can we be more effective at lifting up women leaders?
  3. How can we identify and encourage allies who want to help with this work?

Also Wednesday, the Women’s Committee award the 2018 Elsie Schrader Award for activism on behalf of women in the labor movement to Kamaria Hightower. A former member of the WSLC staff, Hightower was the founder of the Washington Young Emerging Labor Leaders (WA YELL). She later served as Communications Director of MLK Labor and is now Press Secretary for Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan.

“Kamaria changed everything for us and I mean everything,” gushed MLK Labor leader Nicole Grant, who presented the award. “She created a vibrant, powerful social media voice for workers where there was none. She took our brand and totally modernized it. Her editorial voice on the issues and candidates we care about were so powerful that it propelled her into her current position (with the mayor’s office).”


Other highlights from Wednesday’s plenary session included:

► One of the ways that corporate America undermines working families is by treating their health and well-being as a commodity, rather than a right. Mark Dudzig of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer told delegates that the union movement is in the best position to change that by demanding “expanded and improved Medicare for all.”

“This is not rocket science,” he said. “Every other industrialized nation in the world has figured this out. What we need is power (because) the medical-industrial complex stands in the way.”

► The Mother Jones Awards were presented by the WSLC Economic Development and Transportation Committee to the individual and organization that best exemplify the tradition of “Mother” Mary Jones’ immortal statement, “Mourn the dead, but fight like hell for the living.”

UAW 4121’s Judy Twedt (left) and Sam Sumpter accept the Mother Jones Award.

The organizational Mother Jones Award was shared by two unions that represent workers at the University of Washington: UAW Local 4121, which narrowly averted a strike and won a new contract for academic student employees while also welcoming more than 1,100 postdoctoral researchers into their ranks, and Washington Federation of State Employees Local 3488, which is fighting an ongoing battle to protect the jobs of UW Medicine’s laundry workers from being contracted out.

The individual Mother Jones Award went to IBEW Local 77 President Rick Johnson who thanked delegates by saying, “There is no greater honor than to be honored by your peers.”

► A clean energy panel discussed Initiative 1631 and the need to address climate change while ensuring that good jobs are created and low-income families are protected. The panel included Stephanie Celt of the Washington Blue Green Alliance, Kyong Berry of UFCW 21, Kim Powe of Front and Centered, and former refinery worker and USW leader Steve Garey.

► Convention delegates showed their solidarity with nurses and medical staff at Confluence Health’s Central Washington Hospital as hundreds rallied outside the Wenatchee hospital to urge management to put patients before profits and settle a fair contract now with UFCW Local 21.


The WSLC’s 2018 Convention will conclude Thursday following action on resolutions and supplemental political endorsements. The results of that work will soon be posted at www.wslc.org.

 

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