The #MeToo movement has been a rude awakening as to what the role of a union must be. There have been cases, like with the sexual harassment cases at Ford, of a union not being serious enough. It’s the company’s responsibility to protect its workers, but the union has to be in solidarity with the member, to make sure they have a direction and the tools that they need to move forward. It’s incumbent upon us to make sure it doesn’t get swept under the rug.
At the Communications Workers of America, we’re trying to build up the unions’ women’s committees, which I head for the whole state of Texas. They’re not very strong—we’re trying to make them stronger, but it’s a fight. Unions still have male-dominated leadership, so the women’s committees give women an actual chance to get strength or power in leadership. If we don’t have a voice, then leadership makes decisions about us without us.
Mostly, the women’s committee advocates for access to technical jobs, which are higher-paying. Back in the nineties, technician jobs at AT&T were only for white men. They were mostly just getting people straight out of the military, because they already had a technical background, instead of hiring people who were already working for AT&T in lower-paying jobs, like operator services or customer service. The CWA made the company open up the opportunity to minority black men, and women were like, “What about us? We’re just as capable of doing technical jobs as men.” Getting the job is based on passing a test, so they started to give a study guide, and open up classes for us to be able to study. That’s how we got more opportunities to get jobs to become technicians, which was very big for us.
I’m also the president of our local Coalition of Labor Union Women chapter in Dallas. CLUW was started in 1974, and is the only union organization for union women. [The organization includes members from 54 unions across the U.S. and Canada.] We get together with women from other local unions—the postal workers’ union, the state of Texas workers, the food production workers—and help with get out the vote efforts, raise money and toiletries for women who are homeless, mentor ladies who are on probation about how to get a union job. It’s union women helping other union women. We’ve been able to develop leadership skills for women that they may not be able to obtain within their own local, so that they can run for leadership roles within their local union, or even in their community.
Women should turn to unions for solidarity, but it’s still the companies’ responsibility to make this go away. The union can’t enforce policy for the company, but we can work in partnership with a place to bring about the necessary policies to make sure that the atmosphere is one where everybody feels safe.
We can also give workers the correct information to report harassment: if you report it to your supervisor and they don’t do anything, you can go above their head and keep going. You can report anonymously, and you don’t have to give your name. Not only can you report the person who’s doing this to you, but you can also report your boss if it doesn’t stop.
What I have seen is that if enough complaints are lodged, change happens. If people speak up, and if the same name keeps getting reported by more than one person, then they can’t keep quiet about that.
To see resources about female mentorship, getting involved in local issues, and what to do if you experience sexual harassment, read here.
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The Women’s Voices Project
In a series of as-told-to conversations, two dozen Texas women talk about gender, work, and what needs to change for women in their home state. Read their perspectives here.