Aurora Bihler urges CLUW members to start conversations to provoke positive change for women in their unions
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Ironworkers Local 396’s Aurora Bihler provided a heartfelt address at the May 4 Coalition of Labor Union Women rally, focusing on the needs of working women, held in front of the AFL-CIO building in Washington. The rally was part of the 2018 CLUW Women’s Leadership Conference. Here is her speech in its entirety.)
“Good afternoon. My name is Aurora Bihler, and I’m a Journeyman Ironworker from Local 396 in St. Louis. I am so happy to be here, and I’m honored to be able to speak with my union sisters and brothers.
“Safety in the building trades is often talked about but hardly includes women in the trades. Ill-fitting safety equipment can lead to more injuries than protecting us from harm. Trying to find the right size gloves so they don’t get caught in a drill and have a finger ripped out is a problem we face every day.
“Getting told that 3XL is the only size the contractor will order for high visibility safety vests, and you have to wear it or get a three-day suspension, happens all the time. Being told it’s too much trouble to order a small safety harness and just try on this large one or go ‘sit in the truck’ is a life-threatening issue.
“We need to stand up and gain support from our fellow union sisters and our brother members. It just takes ‘That One Guy’ to help a sister member out when her voice isn’t heard. We need ‘That One Guy’ who will get us properly fitting gloves and who doesn’t think it’s an issue to order a small harness.
“But what I want to talk about is hope. A small history lesson: In the 1940s in St. Louis, the March on Washington Movement with the help of the United Electrical Workers, organized the Small Arms Plant run by U.S. Cartridge Company.
“Sixty percent of the 35,000 workers were women. Local 825 fought for gender and racial integration, wage equality, giving women the opportunity to train for any job in the plant instead of ‘women’s jobs’ and established daytime nurseries for the war workers’ children.
“Tradeswomen deserve to be heard. Listen to their stories. Hear their trials about what it’s like to have to choose between working a physically demanding job or losing ther health insurance while pregnant.
“Listen to them casually explain to newly pregnant women in their local how to hide when they are showing too much through their work clothes, so they won’t get laid off. Hear them trade war stories about how fast they returned to work after having C section and trying to make up for lost wages.
“Listen to them when they can’t get through to their doctor that ‘there’s no such thing as light duty’ in their trade. Be emotionally there for them when they share how they were pushed to their physical limits and how they lost their child while at work.
“We all deserve the right to have a family. Women working in the building trades or other physically demanding jobs deserve the right to have a safe pregnancy.
“2018 has been long enough. Our International President Eric Dean is that one guy. He heard his sister members’ stories, and the Ironworkers were the first building trades to actually listen.
“It’s time for other the trades to follow suit. Their time for excuses is up.
“We have such a range of battles to be fought in this war of better conditions. Start the conversations necessary to provoke change. Come together with your fellow sisters and brothers to make your stories heard. Our safety is an easy topic to talk about, but it’s hard to enforce without support.
“We need the next generation to continue to fight for what is right, and if the Ironworkers can do it, your union can too.”