Women Politicans, Activities Launch Economic Initiative, Similar to AFL-CIO Policy, Action Plan

WASHINGTON—Saying the nation cannot wait any longer to make women economic equals, a group of prominent woman politicians and activists re-launched a comprehensive women’s economic initiative with a Sept. 18 symposium in D.C.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., influential Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., top Obama White House advisor Valerie Jarrett, a speaker from the Service Employees and other allies declared the start of a grass-roots national campaign to enact the “Fair Shot: A Plan For Women And Families To Get Ahead.”

That campaign, said Center for American Progress executive director Neera Tamden, recognizes the only way to move issues through a gridlocked Congress is to shove lawmakers with mobilized popular support, just as Latinos have for comprehensive immigration reform.  The center sponsored the Sept. 18 rollout.

Pelosi, the keynote speaker, unveiled a Democratic women’s economic agenda last month, with support of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, among others.  In both, the campaign goes far beyond concentration on reproductive rights to embrace pay equity, good jobs and a just economy – just as the AFL-CIO convention did.

Another key similarity between the convention’s decision and Pelosi’s plan is that a top woman’s rights group, the National Organization for Women, will play a leading role.  NOW President Terry O’Neill did so at the convention in Los Angeles, where she strongly linked women and unionists on common issues.  There, AFL-CIO delegates approved the federation’s women’s initiative, which “will demand, over and over again, shared prosperity for all.  Nothing less.”

“Over the next four years,” the federation resolution adds – in language that Pelosi could herself use – “a core set of values will drive the labor movement’s agenda and define our strategy for women’s equality.”  It then lays out the action plan for them.

Equal pay for equal work leads those values.  Fifty years after Congress approved the Equal Pay Act, women’s median income is still only 77 cents for every dollar of a man’s median income.  For union women, it’s closer to 90 cents.  “Two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women, and women are the majority in the lowest-paying occupations,” the resolution adds.  “Those are problems for all of us.”

The resolution pledged unions to “continue the fight to raise the minimum wage and close the wage gap,” along with greater job training and educational opportunities
for women – especially in sectors, such as construction, which are traditionally male – and “to make wage and benefit standards more transparent.”

The fed also tied work and family together in the resolution by reaffirming its support for Social Security and promising to campaign for paid sick leave, paid family and medical leave, creating “affordable and available quality child care,” again backing reproductive choice and urging “fair (work) schedules alongside a fair wage.”

The fed also intends to push more women workers into its leadership ranks, where they are still underrepresented.   Seven of the 55 AFL-CIO Executive Council members are women, as is one of the three top officers, Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler.

Two members – Randi Weingarten of the Teachers and Diann Woodward of the School Administrators – are union presidents.  Another, Rose Ann DeMoro, is executive director of National Nurses United.  NNU’s four female co-presidents are not council members.  A fourth of the seven, Veda Shook, heads CWA’s Flight Attendants sector.

“Women workers will be front and center of our effort to grow the labor movement, revitalize democracy, respond to the global economic crisis and build durable community partnerships,” the fed adds.  It also says the partnerships with other progressive groups, including women’s groups, are necessary for the equality crusade.
O’Neill’s NOW will be one of those key progressive groups partnering with the fed.

“At the national, state and local levels, our federations will integrate women’s issues in every key strategy” the resolution declares.  “Women should be engaged at all levels in strategy, outreach and implementation of political, organizing and issue campaigns, particularly those that have particular…relevance to women workers.”

And the fed said its public policy and legislative efforts “will prioritize issues such as equal pay, paid family and medical leave and workforce development.”  The fed’s political campaigns “will include issues such as paid sick days as a measure of commitment to labor’s priorities.”

In Los Angeles, O’Neill spoke frequently and passionately about the common and shared interests of women and unions in economic improvement and equality.

“In 2012, the ‘war on women’ became the notorious.  It’s also the war on women’s economic life,” she told a press conference during the convention.  “Two-thirds of minimum-wage workers are women and half of women workers are the sole or essential supporters of their families.

“So if a woman worker gets laid off, the family has to make a choice between food and rent,” and the labor movement gets that, she said.  She also pointed out that union foes targeted female-dominated unions.  “Scott Walker’s law went after women’s unions — teachers, health care workers, government workers – and left the police and fire fighters alone,” O’Neill said, referring to the Right Wing GOP Wisconsin governor’s 2011 law killing collective bargaining for most state and local government workers.