Fifteen Minutes of Feminism

Fifteen Minutes of Feminism: Fighting For Women Workers (with Rep. Rosa DeLauro)


October 30, 2023

With Guests:

  • Rep. Rosa DeLauro has represented Connecticut’s 3rd congressional district since 1991. She previously served as the first Executive Director of EMILY’s List, Executive Director of Countdown ’87, the national campaign that successfully stopped U.S. military aid to the Nicaraguan Contras; and as Chief of Staff to U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd.

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In this Episode:

People are mobilizing for labor rights—with major strikes taking place across industries from entertainment to healthcare and more. In this episode, we’re talking about why it’s important to fight for women workers—looking at the past, examining the present, and putting a focus on the future.  We examine what’s at stake, including childcare, equal pay, and more.

Background reading:


00:00:00 Michele Goodwin:

Welcome to Fifteen Minutes of Feminism, part of our On the Issues with Michele Goodwin at Ms. Magazine platform. As you know, we report, rebel, and we tell it just like it is and we count the minutes in our own feminist terms. We dive right in on this show and so joining me in this episode is Representative Rosa DeLauro and she has a lot to say about equality in our economy. We talk about why there are workers that are striking today, and what it takes to bridge equality, to amplify equality in our marketplace, in our economy, in our society. 

But as you know, in this platform, we examine the past as we think about the future and so she starts off this interview with telling me a bit about how her parents inspired the activist that she is, and about how she observed her mother working in a factory, a garment factory, and it is really quite moving. So, audience please sit back and take a listen to Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and this important interview that we do about women and equality in the workplace.

00:00:12 Michele Goodwin:

Representative DeLauro, I am so pleased that you are able to join us for our Fifteen Minutes of Feminism podcast. You have been an outspoken leader with regard to the importance of women’s equality. Women’s equality with regard to pay, women’s equality under law and everything that comes with it and in doing so you’re a real a pioneer in doing so. And so, I want to know, you know, what has motivated that in you? Why has that been so important as part of your leadership legacy?

00:00:50 Representative Rosa DeLauro:

Yeah. Well, you know, Michele I think it’s probably true of you and probably true of most people who serve in these positions here. It’s not that I’ve been blessed to be able to spend, you know, over 30 years in the House of Representatives, and it’s not my experience in the House of Representatives that is what motivates me, lets me take up, you know pushes me to pursue issues that I, you know, deeply care about or even votes that I take. But it really is about for me, and I’ve said this many, many times, that it was growing up in an Italian Catholic household, which is where your values are formed, where your, it’s your own family experience out of which comes, you know, the issues that you care about. 

And let me be specific, you know, my mother worked in the old sweatshops in the city of New Haven, Connecticut. She was a garment worker and if you, she would have me meet her every day after school and so we would go home together. And I would, you know, walk up this enormous flight of wooden stairs, very dark, very, very dingy, you know open the door to the deafening din of power sewing machines. And you don’t adjust the power, it goes on and then it goes off at the end of the day. So, all day long you are, you know you are hearing.

00:02:34 Michele Goodwin:

It’s the constancy and these women hearing this, and this was your mother’s experience and you saw it. 

00:02:40 Representative Rosa DeLauro:

I did. And my mother and I saw many immigrant women, they were mostly immigrant women, and they were hunched over a sewing machine and they worked piecework, you only got paid by the piece. And so, you worked as hard and as fast as you could because that determined what your pay was, what you were going to be taking home. You may or may not know this, but in those big industrial machines they move quickly that oftentimes the women would get the needle in their fingers. So, what do you do? You pull away, you wrap your hand up. So, God help you if you got a drop of blood on the garment. 

00:03:29 Michele Goodwin:

This is what I was just thinking, right, what happens to you when you’re working with these big machines, you know, probably no breaks or very limited breaks, you get stabbed by the needle and make sure that you don’t get that on the garment.

00:03:45 Representative Rosa DeLauro:

Right, because then you don’t get paid. And nobody goes to a clinic. Nobody went for a tetanus shot, you know, that was there. And my mother there was a method to her madness here, in having me be there, and I didn’t really realize this until, you know, many, many, many years later, that she would just say Rosa take the opportunity for an education, so that you don’t have to do this. Now, my mother was a garment worker, my mother fought for better wages for women, she fought for women and for equality, and for me the issues of equal pay for equal work. 

A safe workplace for women and for men. Caring deeply about collective bargaining and unions, which I believe brought men and women to the middle class in this country, the strength of collective bargaining. And the issues surrounding this piece is, you know, what motivates what I do in the legislation that I put forth on education. The daughter of immigrants who could truly only dare to dream that their daughter would sit in the United States Congress. 

00:05:05 Michele Goodwin:

Look at that, and to think about when you mention the subtle work of your mother with having you show up, not necessarily understanding it at the time the message that she was conveying to you, but that being so incredibly important. You know it also brings to mind right now across the country we’ve got folks, workers, who are demanding better wages. What’s been your sense of what’s been taking shape? It’s been autoworkers, it’s been people in Hollywood, what do you make of this? 

00:05:40 Representative Rosa DeLauro:

No, I think we are seeing a resurgence of the trade union movement, of unions—when you’re taking a look at Amazon, you’re looking at some of the other areas. And I say resurgence, because unions have fallen on very difficult times, but I believe that that’s where we look at, and that is what made gains for workers for men, and particularly women, are paid more in a union job than in other jobs. So, that is a benefit and it is job security, its healthcare benefits, it is about your workplace. And so, you know, I think, and I applaud what’s happening in the union movement that people are beginning to understand that the relevance that unions play in their lives, in their economic security and that’s what this is about. You know my father once said to me get an education, you’ll be able to make 10,000 dollars a year…

00:06:50 Michele Goodwin:

Imagine that, right? Imagine that, right, yes. 

00:06:53 Representative Rosa DeLauro:

Yeah, you think about it. So, again it’s about workers, it’s about women, it is about equality, but is also about, you know, education and making sure that when I’m looking at some of my Republican colleagues and the Appropriations Bill that’s coming up, in the Education Subcommittee, and it cuts you know 80 percent of Title I programs. Translate that for people and that means over 220,000, 240,000 teachers will be jettisoned. So, that, you know no social emotional learning, no community schools, you know, and they’re going after a route for men, for women, for youngsters to be able to get an education, to be able to realize dreams and aspirations and to have economic security in their lives. 

00:07:56 Michele Goodwin:

Well, you’ve played such an important role in lifting up the concerns with regard to education, labor, more since being in Congress. You had a long legacy, long-serving legacy. I think our listeners would want to know what inspired you to run for office in the first place. Was it these kinds of concerns that got you motivated to say I’m going to put my name in, I’m going to put my hat in and I’m going to do this?

00:08:23 Representative Rosa DeLauro:

Well, I never started—thinking about it. I mentioned my Mom, both my parents were involved in local politics, and what they didn’t do was they didn’t write omnibus legislation. Their job was to be advocates for their community and they translated that into helping people get a job. With regard to my father he was the city court interpreter, so the Italian immigrants who came, he could help them navigate the system. It was, they worked to try to help a government work for people. So, I watched this, you know, really all of my life. I campaigned with them, I you know schlepped from door to door with them and did all of that, but I never thought about, you know I didn’t think about myself running for office as well. 

It was only, you know, you know later on. And my mother served on the city council in New Haven for 35 years. The longest serving member, not the longest serving woman, the longest serving member. And my dad served for a shorter period of time because it was a nonpaying job at the time and he was trying to send his daughter to school, so he had to have a paying job. But that experience led me to working on behalf of candidates for local office, for mayor, for city council, for state representative, state senators and ultimately I wound up managing the campaign, by the way the first woman manager of a statewide campaign, for Chris Dodd who was running for the United States Senate. And reelected, Senator Dodd he brought me to Washington as his chief of staff, where there were very, five women, five or six women who were chiefs of staff to a United States Senator, and even then, I’ll just tell you that I, you know I…

00:10:17 Michele Goodwin:

That’s like five percent. 

00:10:19 Representative Rosa DeLauro:

I worked for someone and I gave him advice, but he made the final decisions on what he wanted to do. I was asked to run early on when I got to Washington, but I had just started with the Senator and I said I need, I need to know more. Women always believe they need to know everything before they run for office.

00:10:40 Michele Goodwin:

That’s true. Women want to know from A to Z, one to a hundred.

00:10:46 Representative Rosa DeLauro:

So, but then the position became open because the person who was sitting was deciding to run for governor. So, yeah, I had to make a decision, am I going to do this or not because these opportunities don’t come along all the time. So, I said yes I’m going to run for the seat. I had no legislative experience. I had never myself run for office, for any office, I helped others and so it was a steep learning curve. Was I scared? Out of my mind. I said what have I undertaken here? So, but then I won the election by the skin of my teeth, 52, 48 that first election, an ugly, ugly, awful election. Someone who was really, you know I was married to someone Jewish, he started to refer to me as Mrs. Greenberg. You know, oh, it was really, it was very ugly, you know, that I was for abortion in the delivery room, you know, all that, but we won 52, 48. 

Dodd asked me then to come. When I did he came to be chief of staff, when I came to be chief of staff for Dodd, there again, I had been to Washington on my class trip, you know, I didn’t know what the hell was going on here. When I got elected and I sat in a room listening to people talk about the budget committee and the appropriations committee I said, oh, my God I have made the worst mistake of my life. I had no legislative background, so again a steep learning curve, but you know you dig deep, you know. And you know the gentleman who did that orientation was then on the budget committee, and then chair of appropriations committee and I said to myself that day I don’t know how I will ever speak to this individual. I don’t know how I’ll do it and you come full circle. 

I’ve had the opportunity to chair the appropriations committee, and now to be ranking member and when we take back the House to run for chair again. So, you know, I didn’t come with a plan or a design to run for office. The circumstances and the environment that I was in moved me in this direction. 

00:13:12 Michele Goodwin:

Of course, you know, we’re talking about a period of time too that coincides with the confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas, the backlash against Anita Hill for speaking out about her work conditions, and we see this influx of women coming into Congress and running for various offices, you know, and you’re a part of that spirit of change. You know, it reminds me that probably at around the time in which you came into Congress was also the need for women to demand bathrooms and other things that needed to change around that time, which people find surprising these days. 

00:13:55 Representative Rosa DeLauro:

There were none. It was only many years later that now there is a women’s bathroom off the floor of the House. It was, oh, you had to go downstairs, upstairs, wherever it was, but it was, you know, and that’s recent, but there are other things that are unbelievable. Women and minorities were not part of the clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health. They tested men and extrapolated the information. Mindless, mindless and it was only…

00:14:28 Michele Goodwin:

You can’t make it up.

00:14:29 Representative Rosa DeLauro:

No, you can’t make it up. This is only 30 years ago, not that long ago, but it was the women of the House, and Democratic women and Republican women, who said no, no. And we now have women and minorities who are part of the clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health. We have a Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor, though, my Republican colleagues in the labor legislation want to eliminate the Women’s Bureau, you know. So, it’s we’ve won some battles, but in some instances we are fighting some of the same battles here. 

00:15:10 Michele Goodwin:

So, I want to turn before letting you go, and listeners we’re here with Representative Rosa DeLauro, who is just amazing, has been a pioneer, has been so stalwart, one of the fiercest fighters for gender and sex equality, for equal pay, for education and so much more, as you’ve just heard. There is a lot of talk right now about the Equal Rights Amendment and getting the Equal Rights Amendment over the line in Congress. What do you think it’s going to take?

00:15:43 Representative Rosa DeLauro:

Well, look, you know I think we have to move at it, we have to work at it, we have to see if we can get, you know it’s certainly not going to happen in the environment that we’re currently in, in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. It’s got to, you know elections have consequences, so we have to have you know, you know a different makeup of the House to be able to get it through. So, parts of it, you know, we have looked at. We’re fighting the equal pay piece with the Paycheck Fairness Bill. We passed that in the House, but we can’t get in the Senate. I think that it’s going to be tough. It will be tough to do, but I think it is well worth the fight to move in this direction. And you know if not now, then when are we going to try, you know, to do this? 

It’s got overwhelming support from organizations and so forth, but it’s going to be a tough fight. So, we have legislation to be able to extend the ratification deadline, so there is no excuse to not move forward, and that’s what we’re trying to move at. In the meantime, let’s think about this, we’ve got the Paycheck Fairness Bill that says men and women in the same job deserve the same pay. That only exists, in fact, in the Congress and it only exists in the military, except in the instance of combat pay because women are not in combat, so that gets extra pay, but basically Congress and the military men and women in the same job get the same pay. We need to move at paid family and medical leave, because that affects all families, but it affects women because they’re the caregivers in most instances. So, that your kid gets sick you’ve got to be able to take time off to take care of your kid. If you get sick you have to be able to take that time off. 

And Senator Dodd did family and medical leave, and I was working with him at that time, and we got it passed after years, Bill Clinton signed that into law. Now it needs to be paid because it works, but people can’t take 12 weeks off. Look, I was sick with ovarian cancer, I was out of work for two months, more than two or three months, no one said I couldn’t get paid. When my mom was in her 103rd year, in the last six weeks of her life, I spent every day with her, no one said I shouldn’t get paid for that. That should be true for all women. Childcare. And we’re working on getting substantial funding for childcare, because women cannot go to work without childcare. So, while we are…

00:18:52 Michele Goodwin:

That’s such an important issue childcare and it is so incredibly expensive, it’s cost prohibitive. It makes it really difficult for women to be able to work and also for mom’s who are in school to be able to finish school when it’s so expensive. 

00:19:07 Representative Rosa DeLauro:

Yeah. And in Connecticut the average cost is 15 to $18,000 per child for childcare. And you know during the pandemic women were pushed out of the workforce, they didn’t opt out, and because they didn’t have a job, their kids were not in school and there was nothing, nothing there for them. So, childcare, paid family and medical leave, equal pay, paid sick days. Most people in the United States do not get one single paid sick day. It’s incredible. 

00:19:40 Michele Goodwin:

That is incredible. That is absolutely incredible. 

00:19:43 Representative Rosa DeLauro:

While we pursue these pieces of legislation we pursue the extension and the view to, you know, to ratify the ERA.

00:19:55 Michele Goodwin:

So, my last question for you, and I really appreciate your time today, is what’s the silver lining? We always ask our guests in times that can be so hard, so dark, so much happening in the world, so much pain, so much suffering that is taking shape, what can one look too in terms of a silver lining?

00:20:18 Representative Rosa DeLauro:

Well, look, I look to this institution, and you may think that that’s crazy given the madness abounding here at the moment without a Speaker of the House and so forth, but the Congress’s greatest strength is its potential. It doesn’t do what you want it do every day, some days it does exactly the opposite of what you do. However, when I spoke to you about my folks said how do you make government? They try to make government work for people. This was local, okay. This is about making government work for people today. Historically, the United States has done this. They did it with Medicare, Medicaid, Equal Rights, a GI Bill, the ability of the sons and daughters of working families to be able to get a college education, healthcare, the Affordable Care Act. 

And so, what we need to do is to look at, if you will, and we can look at, utilizing the strength of this institution to make change in people’s life. And I’ll give you the most recent example for me, something I’ve worked on for, now, almost 20 years that’s the Child Tax Credit. And 18 years before it became part of the American Rescue Plan, it has worked the way no other federal program has worked in lifting kids out of poverty. So, we have that potential, that’s a silver lining. We need to, you know, push the edge of the envelope on what happens here, so that this institution does what it was intended to do. It needs to be an advocate for people to transform people’s lives. 

At the moment, we are stymied in where we are, but the environment changes and elections have consequences. And we look for that new opportunity for this institution to work at making, giving people the economic security that they need and giving people the ability to realize their dreams and their aspirations. 

00:22:41 Michele Goodwin:

Representative Rosa DeLauro, I thank you so very much for joining me for our Ms. Magazine podcast On the Issues and Fifteen Minutes of Feminism. Thank you so very much. We are so grateful to have you in leadership.

00:22:57 Representative Rosa DeLauro:

And thank you to Ms. for your pioneering efforts and all that you have done. I have this right here on my desk. 

00:23:06 Michele Goodwin:

I love that. I love that, that’s fabulous.

00:23:11 Representative Rosa DeLauro:

…a couple of weeks ago, it’s fabulous, thank you. Thank you so much, Michele. 

00:23:40.4 Michele Goodwin:

Guests and listeners, that’s it for today’s episode of On the Issues with Michele Goodwin at Ms. magazine. I want to thank each of you for tuning in for the full story and engaging with us. We hope you’ll join us again for our next episode where you know we’ll be reporting, rebelling, and telling it just like it is.

For more information about what we discussed today, head to and be sure to subscribe. And if you believe, as we do, that women’s voices matter, that equality for all persons cannot be delayed, and that rebuilding America and being unbought and unbossed and reclaiming our time are important, then be sure to rate, review, and subscribe to On the Issues with Michele Goodwin at Ms. Magazine in Apple Podcast, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Google Podcast, Stitcher, wherever it is that you receive your podcast.

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This has been your host, Michele Goodwin reporting, rebelling, and telling it just like it is. On the Issues with Michele Goodwin is a Ms. magazine joint production. Michele Goodwin and Kathy Spillar are our executive producers. Our producers for this episode are Roxy Szal, Oliver Haug, and also Allison Whelan. Our social media content producer is Sophia Panigrahi. The creative vision behind our work includes art and design by Brandi Phipps, editing by Will Alvarez and Natalie Holland, and music by Chris J. Lee.