By SHERI GASSAWAY
Challenges working women face, potential solutions and the importance being engaged in the Labor Movement and the 2016 election. Those were some of the topics discussed at the first Women in the Breakroom roundtable discussion hosted by the Missouri AFl-CIO on Sept. 20.
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler served as moderator for the event, which was held at Maggie O’Briens in St. Louis. Shuler was joined by Merri Berry, Missouri AFL-CIO political director, Nicole Galloway, Missouri state auditor, Karen Berg, District 113 state house candidate and UFCW Local 655 union representative, and other working women.
Shuler is the first woman elected to the position of AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer and the youngest officer to sit on the federation's executive council. Shuler got her first union job with the IBEW in Portland, Ore., when she was 23. She said while some things have changed for the better for women in the workplace, much more needs to be done.
“We haven’t made the progress that we should have over the last 25 years, and yet we’ve been gaining in numbers,” Shuler said. “We’re at 6.8 million women in the labor movement, and in less than 10 years, we project women will be half the labor movement in this country.”
Shuler said she hopes to use the 2016 election as a tool to get women engaged. “If women are running the phone bank or the canvas and if women are out in front in this election, hopefully it will translate to building more confidence in them to run for shop steward, executive board, business representative or business manager in their unions,” Shuler said.
FINDING THE TIME TO GET INVOLVED
One of the biggest issues discussed was the difficulty women have in finding the time to get involved in union meetings, labor clubs and electioneering.
Cynthia Harris, international education representative at UAW Region 5, said throughout her career, she has had a tough time getting women to attend meetings.
Settlemoir-Berg said she could relate. She is the only woman on the executive board of the Jefferson County Labor Club and said often times, she is the only women in the room at the club’s monthly meetings.
“Women have more than one job, and there’s a lot of single women that work and have children so they have a limited amount of time,” said Settlemoir-Berg. “How do we get these women to find the time to come out and get involved?”
Childcare provided at meetings was one answer the group came up with. Shuler also suggested that women take advantage of technology to make meetings more accessible including evening meetings via phone and Facebook.
Berry suggested making political canvassing and phone banking a family affair by bringing the kids. “We also have women phone-banking from home on the Kansas City side of the state.”
Sonja Gholston-Byrd, president of the St. Louis Chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, volunteered to organize a canvass/phone banking event for Settlemoir-Berg. A date has yet to be determined.
For updates on women’s issues from the AFL-CIO, text women to 235246 or visit aflcio.org.