On September 7-10, the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) completed our 16th Biennial Convention, where we recommitted ourselves to those priorities that are so critical to working women and their families. The highest priority at our founding convention 37 years ago and now is JOBS! But when we talk about jobs we mean decent jobs at union wages, with union negotiated benefits and at union negotiated salaries: Jobs that will support a decent standard of life for women and their families.
Today labor and women are the focus of the twin attacks by the right wing that are committed to taking back our hard-won rights–whether in the form of reproductive rights or our right to a voice in the workplace through the collective bargaining process.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “There are only two ways to bring about protection for workers…. legislation and unionization.”
Yet, throughout the country, in state after state, public employees, nurses, teachers, librarians, social workers, firefighters, etc. are under a right-wing assault to destroy their way of life by eliminating collective bargaining and other rights under the guise of fiscal responsibility. This is a smokescreen for an all-out attack on the right to form unions and to bargain collectively for a better life for oneself and one’s family.
Women in particular are suffering under this onslaught.
- Overall, according to a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) women are 52 percent of the state public sector workforce and 61 percent of employees working in local government. Public sector unions like the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have a majority of female membership (52 percent and 60 percent respectively) and the outcome of the assault on public employees will have an enormous impact on these workers.
- Women are in the majority in a number of professions represented in the public sector, for example, around 80 percent of teachers in public schools are women and 95 percent of nurses are women.
- Overall the typical full-time woman worker does not earn as much as a man in any state. However, according to a December 2008 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) unionized women workers were found to earn, on average, 11.2 percent more than their non-union peers.
- Today, nearly 6.9 million working women are union members and over 7.7 million are represented by unions [PDF]. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2010 7.6 million public sector employees belonged to a union with 7.1 million union workers in the private sector.
- In 2007 women made up 45 percent of union members and if they continue to grow at the rate of the last 25 years, women will be the majority of the unionized workforce by 2020.
- A recent study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that for the years 2004-2007 unionized women were much more likely to have health insurance (75.4 percent) and a pension (75.8 percent) than women workers who were not in unions (50.9 percent for health insurance, 43 percent for pensions)
- Unions increase workers access to childcare by creating childcare centers in the workplace, lobbying for childcare subsidies and providing workers with childcare benefits through collective bargaining agreements.
- Unions provide workers with job security when they need to respond to family care emergencies.
- Unions give workers the right to alternative work arrangements such as flexible hours and telecommuting which allows workers to balance family and childcare needs.
- Union members receive 14 percent more paid time off than non-union employees.
A collectively bargained voice for workers is a way for women to secure a decent life for themselves and their families.
So as reactionary elements in the United States hope to dismantle our rights, labor and women join hands to fight back–and fight back we will, and win we must!