Why We March: Fair Jobs are a Feminist Issue

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In March of 1969, 400 hospital workers—primarily black women—decided they couldn’t take it anymore. Tired of racist treatment, poverty wages, stagnant job positions and other abuses, the workers went on strike. This brave move brought Charleston, South Carolina to a standstill for three months. With their action, Charleston’s hospital workers carried the message to our nation that all struggles against injustice—civil rights for African-Americans, women’s rights, fair wages, the fight for good healthcare–are part of the same fight for justice and freedom.

via 1199SEIU

The spirit of these courageous women in Charleston serves as an inspiration for 1199SEIU’s commitment to social justice, quality healthcare and good jobs for all. These tenets are part of a larger working peoples’ struggle for access to the promises of the American Dream. As a union that is majority women of color and immigrants, we believe in this dream for everyone—regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or class.

The female-dominated healthcare workforce is particularly vulnerable to abuses of power and discrimination. Members of our union experience the intersection of women’s inequality and unfair treatment in the workplace every day.

Poor women have more difficulty advancing because they face stagnant wages, sky-rocketing childcare costs and jobs that don’t provide maternity leave. Homecare workers, who in the New York City area are largely Latina, West Indian and Asian women, work hard every day feeding, clothing and caring for our elderly and disabled community members in the comfort of their own homes.

Yet, many of these women barely make ends meet and depend on government assistance in order to provide for themselves and their families. They’re among millions of women who depend on the Affordable Care for their healthcare. If President Obama’s signature program is repealed without a replacement, their flimsy safety net will fall out from under them. 1199 homecare workers have healthcare through our union, but that, unfortunately, doesn’t solve the healthcare crisis for all of those non-union homecare workers out there.

These workers’ lives illustrate why the right to organize a union is key to protecting women’s rights. With a collective voice, women can, without fear of reprisal, stand up to a harassing or abusive manager. A woman can find her voice by becoming a union delegate, and standing up for quality care, fairness on the job and respect for herself and her co-workers. She can advance her career with no-cost continuing education. If she is a parent she can benefit from childcare help.

The union movement gives women choice, autonomy, financial stability and the ability to take care of ourselves. These are the cornerstones of building true equality in any society.

via 1199SEIU

1199SEIU women understand that our shared fight goes beyond our individual workplaces. In order to build the greatest voice and fight against injustice, all women and all people of conscience need to join together. Our male members understand supporting their women colleagues advance human rights for everyone. There isn’t a moment that the need for all of us to come together is more crucial than right now. That is why we are joining the Women’s March on Washington, and encourage everyone to do the same.

The March’s organizers recognize that women have different experiences based on their class, race or life experience, but that doesn’t mean we can’t recognize our shared fight. This spirit of inclusivity and collective power is the same one that 1199SEIU brings to the bargaining table, when workers of all backgrounds unite together in their shared need for a fair, viable workplace in which they can provide the best quality of care to their patients.

Right now, we don’t have a choice but to come together. The most offensive voices toward women, minorities, people with disabilities and immigrants now have a national platform. The far-right is moving swiftly to undo much of the progress we made under President Obama, including: repealing ACA without a viable replacement plan, leaving tens of millions of people in danger of losing the healthcare they depend on, and de-funding Planned Parenthood, which provides consistent healthcare services to millions of underserved people. Many of the people who depend on ACA and Planned Parenthood are society’s most marginalized—poor women of color, including transgender women, people with disabilities, the under-employed or unemployed. Taking away their safety net is a human rights violation and a detriment to public health. We vow to fight it.

But we have reason to hope. We can come together rather than letting those in power divide us.

Those of us in the labor movement have seen what ordinary working people can accomplish when they stand together against a rich and powerful boss. Many of these workers are scared to stand up against injustice on their own, but when they unite, they no longer have reason to be afraid. They often face union-busting bosses who illegally try to intimidate them out of forming a union, illegal firings, and contract negotiations that drag on for months. But when they unite and fight hard, they are able to win a better future for themselves in their families. And so can we, even though the hill is steep.

In their struggle, the Charleston hospital workers remind us we have no choice but to fight. See you at the Women’s March.


Yvonne Armstrong is the Senior Executive Vice President of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.