March 18, 2019

DiBrango: Unions play a role in women's history

Author: Jolene DiBrango, Executive Vice President, NYSUT
Source:  Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
jolene dibrango

This opinion piece for Women's History Month by NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango originally appeared in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.

During Women’s History Month last year, I reflected on the strength of women in America, from my grandmother, a postwar GE radio assembler, to the women who have demanded respect and equal treatment as part of the Women’s Marches.

This year, I’m struck by the strides women in America have made yet again — and the work still left to be done.

We’ve set new records for the number of women in Congress and state legislatures, including New York’s.

We’ve spurred a cultural movement to end sexual harassment and assault. We are speaking up for women with a more unified voice than ever before.

But no one elected official or cultural leader has accomplished all that is necessary to gain true equality for women. The collective is more powerful than any one person, which is why I am proud to be part of the New York State United Teachers union, whose membership is more than 70 percent female.

As we reflect on the historic strides women have made, we should remember the labor movement’s place in advancing equality for everyone, regardless of gender, race and color. Consider women’s suffrage, when suffragettes and unions teamed up because both recognized the political power of union support. Consider the work of union women of color, such as Lucy Parsons, who fought for equal treatment by helping found the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and the Industrial Workers of the World.

Women of organized labor still are fighting for wage equality, with union women experiencing a smaller, but prevalent, gender wage gap than nonunion women (94 cents for every dollar unionized men earn compared to 78 cents in the non-union workforce, according to the Economic Policy Institute).

We are fighting against changes to Title IX sought by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that would weaken protections against sexual harassment and undo the societal shift that has empowered women to say, “Me too.” We are fighting to end domestic violence, prevent human trafficking and ensure that all women worldwide have access to health care and a basic education.

After the Supreme Court emboldened wealthy union busters last year, there was anxiety about whether the labor movement could continue advocating on these issues with the same strength. But this recent Democrat and Chronicle headline sums up what has happened since: “Many warned a Supreme Court ruling would cripple unions. NY’s remain strong.” To my fellow women, I’m proud to say that your unions are still strong. We still have your backs. Together we’ll continue making history.

Jolene DiBrango, a longtime middle school teacher in Canandaigua, Palmyra-Macedon and Pittsford, is executive vice president for the New York State United Teachers.

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