January 17, 2019

Women’s committees are forming in local unions across the state to address concerns and empower members

Source:  NYSUT Women's Committee
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Caption: Members of the newly-formed Western New York Women’s Committee are empowered and ready to deal with roadblocks and resistance that females face at work and in their community. Photo via @KenmoreTA on Twitter.

This weekend’s women’s rallies will be a springboard to launch a union-based Western New York Women’s Committee to deal with roadblocks and resistance that females face at work and in their community.

The group will be the newest link in a chain of nascent women’s committees statewide working to raise women’s voices personally, professionally and politically — all of them spinoffs from NYSUT’s own statewide Women’s Committee.

“Although opportunities and improvements have been made, there continue to be inequities for women in the workforce: salary, family medical and leave options, and accessible and affordable childcare,” said Kenmore Teachers Association union activist Elaine Ablove.

The committee work began with a gathering earlier this week. In the house were Erie County women from Kenmore TA, West Seneca TA and the Buffalo Teachers Federation, who filled out information cards listing the issues important to them.

“Our intention is to create an atmosphere of interest and concern in one another. We know of many issues women face. However, we do not know which of these issues deeply resonate for our union sisters,” Ablove said.

Ablove and co-creator Cheryl Hughes agree that working on women’s issues with the union means starting with a powerful foundation and creating a movement that enables each member to be empowered.

Since NYSUT established a statewide Women’s Committee in 2017, more local unions are starting groups. There is a wide base to cull from: 76 percent of NYSUT’s membership is women.

Karen Arthmann — president of the Rush Henrietta Employees Association and a member of the NYSUT committees for women, School-Related Professionals and civil and human rights — is laying groundwork to form a women’s group with union sisters at BOCES I in Fairport.

“The national women’s movement, as well as NYSUT’s campaign to empower women, certainly has inspired us to go local,” Arthmann said. “It has to start at home. You can’t go to Washington to march, or to Albany to be on a committee, if you don’t do your hard work at home.”

In the North Country, members of the Massena Federation of Teachers formed their women’s committee in October. Like most any professional gathering of teachers, education will be part of their conversations.

“The committee offers women educational opportunities surrounding self care, harassment, medical/insurance issues, and a group to turn to when support is needed,” said English teacher and leader Andrea Vierno. “We see issues that are related to retirement incentives. If a woman has used time for maternity leave and child care, particularly if it was taken without pay, it creates a loss of seniority and qualifications for retirement incentives.”

On the college level, union sisters at United College Employees working at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City also formed a committee last fall.

“Women’s issues were repeatedly brought to the UCE for future negotiations,” said union president Roberta Elins, adding that since the faculty has expertise in various subjects, members would be tapped to provide educational speakers on topics the committee is eager to learn about.

“The initial goals are to have the women of our committee start by prioritizing what they want to see happen both at FIT and externally,” she said. “We are going to let the members chart the course. Some of the items will be bargaining items. Other goals are political action.”

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