March 12, 2018

DiBrango: A woman's place is in her union

Author: Jolene T. DiBrango, Executive Vice President
Source: Utica Observer-Dispatch
nysut evp dibrango
Caption: NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango at the Women's March in Utica. January 2018.

The "Guest View" by NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene T. DiBrango appeared in the Utica Observer-Dispatch Sunday, March 11, 2018.

Working at General Electric in Utica assembling radios after World War II, my grandmother was a trailblazer for women in the workplace.

My grandmother Rose lived with dignity in retirement because of Social Security and her small GE pension.

Similarly, my mother worked as a paraprofessional in New Hartford schools. Because of her union card, my parents have affordable health care and a small pension that enable them to live with dignity in their golden years.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, labor unions like New York State United Teachers and others deserve credit for many of the workplace policies that have contributed to opportunity and economic progress for generations of women.

However, these gains won by women in my family – and other females in today’s workforce – are now under attack. The wealthy elite and corporate interests want to destroy unions, roll back wages and benefits, and take away the ability of workers – especially women – to fight for higher pay, good benefits, safety on the job and a secure retirement.

Teaching, nursing, as well as counseling and social work, are just a few examples of women-led occupations that have benefitted greatly from unionization. For example, RNs who have chosen to join unions earned $306 more a week than non-union nurses in 2014, according to the AFL-CIO. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that unionized social workers and counselors earn 30 percent and 60 percent more, respectively. Teachers, too, earn higher salaries and enjoy better employer-paid health insurance when covered by a union contract.

  • Check out the growing collection of resources from NYSUT's Women's Committee at

Indeed, among all full-time workers, women who are unionized earn $219 – or 30 percent – more a week than women who are not in a union. The earnings advantage is largest for Hispanic women, who earn 47 percent more – or $264 a week – when they are in a union, but a union card translates into greater earning power for women in all major ethnic and racial groups, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Unionized women are better able to balance their budgets and – just as important -- their schedules and home lives. Because of the voice that unions give women, we have been able to champion policies like flexible scheduling, paid sick days, child care leave and family leave that have benefited all workers. Unions have helped women fight sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, as well.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Janus v. AFSCME, a case that could forever weaken the ability of all workers to climb the economic ladder. On paper, Janus may be about how public-sector unions collect dues from workers they are obligated to represent, but who don’t wish to be members or pay their fair share for that representation. In reality, however, the Janus case is much bigger – especially for women.

Without effective unions, how will working women be able to stand up and speak in a strong voice about pressing issues like the gender wage gap? How will all workers protect themselves from this corporate-led race to the bottom, in which no one speaks for workers and big business can erode pay and benefits?

At NYSUT, we’re not going to let that happen. Educators understand the value of having a strong voice. They count on our union to ensure they are compensated fairly and treated with respect. They’re sticking with the union because they know, without that strong voice, there would be nobody to fight for what public schools and colleges need.

Like members of my own family, and countless other women who led the way, they are adamant: A women’s place is in her union.

Jolene DiBrango is executive vice president of the more than 600,000-member New York State United Teachers. She graduated from New Hartford High School and Mohawk Valley Community College.

Follow Jolene DiBrango on Twitter: @nysutevp

Follow NYSUT's Women's Committee on Twitter: @nysutwomenscomm