By SHERI GASSAWAY
The recent Women’s Labor History Brunch, sponsored by the St. Louis Chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, is being hailed a huge success.
About 150 people attended the event, which was held March 19 to coincide with Women’s History Month at the CWA Local 6300 Union Hall in West St. Louis County. It featured several speakers, music by union musicians and a brunch catered by Maggie O’Brien’s.
Male and female members from a wide variety of unions were in attendance as well as representatives from several labor organizations, including the St. Louis Labor Council, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Missouri Women in Trades and the Alliance of Retired Americans.
St. Louis Chapter CLUW President Sonja Gholston-Byrd said she was thrilled with the event’s turnout. “This was on my bucket list – to see all of these sisters in one room. Together, we’re sisters on a mission, and the women in this room are on fire.”
I AM A FEMINIST
Gholston-Byrd was quick to give a “shout out” to the brothers in the room as well and then introduced Pat White, president of the St. Louis Labor Council. White said he is often asked to speak at events and always shares the fact his mother and father both worked in unions as have many of his relatives.
“But a little known fact is that I grew up in a family where I had five sisters and no brothers. I was molded by the women in my life so I’m almost like a sister – kind of,” he joked. “I am a feminist, I can tell you that.”
All kidding aside, White noted the many contributions that women have made in unions dating back to the early 1900s and said those achievements need to be recognition. He also applauded CLUW’s efforts to increase voter registrations and its work on inclusion, medical awareness when it comes to breast and cervical cancer and pay equality.
“As union members, we work in one of only industries where there is equal pay, and you should be proud of that,” he said. “But across the country, it’s not like that. It’s not acceptable, and hopefully, it’s something we can change.”
A MESSAGE FROM CLUW NATIONAL PRESIDENT CONNIE LEAK
Connie Leak, the CLUW national president, was scheduled to be the guest speaker for the event, but was unable to attend. Michele Newby, who was instrumental in resurrecting the Greater Kansas City CLUW Chapter and in the same year, was elected to the CLUW National Officers Council, spoke on Leak’s behalf.
Newby read a statement from Leak in which Leak congratulated the St. Louis Chapter of CLUW on its success and support of unions and its dedication to protecting workers and advocating women’s rights.
In her statement, Leak called upon CLUW members to get involved with the upcoming election. She said that the AFL-CIO has deemed Missouri as one of the key states in the 2016 elections. Her statement read in part:
“We hope to get your commitment to be part of this important electoral campaign.
We must do more than just sign our name in support of a piece of legislation. We must mobilize and show up to events. Show them that CLUW is a force to be reckoned with. That’s means participating in get out and vote campaigns including phone banking, setting up booths and door-to-door canvassing.”
NEWBY: FUTURE OF LABOR MOVEMENT ON OUR SHOULDERS
In addition to her roles with CLUW, Newby is a 17-year veteran of the Kansas City Missouri Fire Department and a full-time business agent for the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 42.
Newby said CLUW has given her the opportunity to have a national leadership position and an inclusive environment in which she could learn and flourish – even more so than her local or national union.
She said there are more women in the workplace today than ever before and that “the number of women joining unions is higher than our male counterparts.” She said CLUW has been preparing for this moment since its inception.
“The future of the Labor Movement falls on our shoulders,” Newby said. “We need to educate union women on our history – where we’ve come from, where we need to go and more importantly, how we are going to there.”
Newby challenged each CLUW member to recruit other women to join the group and to spread the word about the organization’s goals.
“We must lift up another sister and offer support and guidance,” she said. “If we are going to keep this Labor movement alive, we must commit to unite.”
Formed in 1974, CLUW is America’s only national organization for union women. The goals of the group, which is endorsed by the AFL-CIO, are to promote affirmative action in the workplace; to strengthen the role of women in unions; to help with organization efforts for women who are not in unions; and to increase the involvement of women in the political and legislative process.
CLUW has been active in the St. Louis Labor Movement for more than 40 years. Its members have engaged in the fight to defeat “right to work for less” and paycheck “protection” (deception), joined CATE, the coalition to expose sex and labor trafficking here and abroad, and stood with the Fast Food Organizing Drive for $15 an hour and a Union.
For more information on the organization or to join, visit cluw.org or contact Marcia Kline at firstname.lastname@example.org or 314-805-6774.