A new report, Women’s Committees in Worker Organizations: Still Making a Difference, by Lois S. Gray and Maria Figueroa, concludes that labor organizations still have a need for women-centered programs and committees. Female union members and the labor unions themselves still gain significant benefits from maintaining internal organizations and programs for women. Gray and Figueroa collected data from both national and local unions, as well as alt labor groups. They found that such programs, even in female-dominant unions or those headed by women, increase women's union activism, develop leaders, expand collective bargaining and help address issues like sexual harassment and pay inequality.
In the evolution of women's departments and committees, there has been a continuing tension between the organizational imperatives by mostly male officials to build the union and secure support of the members (including women) and the women's drive to gain attention for their agenda of equality and recognition.
The report finds that only 17 national unions have formal women's programs and, in particular, lauds efforts by AFSCME, the Carpenters Union in New York City and the Unity Housecleaners Cooperative. The study is a combined project of The Worker Institute at Cornell University, the Berger-Marks Foundation and Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
The authors of the study addressed the challenges moving forward:
In order to achieve the goals of involving and activating women, it is essential to find and address their concerns. Grassroots initiation is characteristic of most programs; grassroots buy-in is essential to their success. Also necessary is the approval and organizational support of top officers. The key challenge is how to achieve both.
Read the full report.