War on public employee unions is an assault on women
By Glenda Holste 7 March 2011
|ST. PAUL - Quick quiz about what conservative ideologues hope to accomplish in their war on public employee unions.
|Choose the answer that best describes what the anti-worker politicos want:
a. To redistribute the wealth from the undeserving middle class to the deserving rich
b. To suck the political and economic stuffing out of folks who aren’t their kind
c. To show off for the clueless Tea Partiers who think the money conservatives are on their side instead of the Koch brothers’ side in the class battle
d. To push women back down where they belong
e. All of the above
Of course, a and b are the primary objectives. C and d represent less obvious but beneficial outcomes if the ideologues crush public worker unions. So e, “all of the above,” amounts to the “right” answer.
On this 100th International Women's Day, let’s examine why the war on public employee unions in the United State amounts to an assault on women. The obvious answers are women constitute the majority of membership and have proven difficulty in achieving equal pay without a union contract. So if the rightist ideologues destroy the unions, they reduce women’s power. If they get the unions, they can reduce can reduce women’s pay, which can accelerate the race to the economic bottom for all workers. The irony is inescapable.
International Women’s Day officially began 100 years ago with rallies to support the rights of women to gainful employment, education and to vote. Long before it went international, March 8 marked important risings by women. This first we know of was on March 8, 1857, when women textile workers in New York took to the streets to demand better wages and safe working conditions.
On this March 8, think about this: If the attempts to devalue public work succeed, women in these unions will take a disproportionate hit.
In Minnesota, the gender demographics in our public employee unions tell the tale. In Education Minnesota, the union of 70,000 educators, 70 percent of members are women. Of Minnesota Nurses Association members who work in the public sector, 88 percent are women. In Council 5 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, 61 percent of members are women. In the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, 52 percent of members are women. Figures for the Service Employee International Union workers in Minnesota weren’t readily available, but their members are concentrated in health care and other service jobs that traditionally skew toward women.
Nationally, we know, thanks to public workers at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that the median wage last year for women working full time who belong to a union was $856 a week while non-union women’s media wage was $639. We also know because of the White House’s new, comprehensive report "Women in America", that in 2009, one-fifth of women workers were employed in just five job categories—secretary, elementary school teacher, registered nurse, nursing aide and cashier.
The suffragist Susan B. Anthony, more a political than economic feminist, did understand that working women’s collective action mattered in the march toward equality. “Join the union, girls,” she said. “Equal pay for equal work.”
Today, the rallying cry is and must remain: “Hold on to the union, girls. Hold on for yourselves, your brothers.” If we do, on the bicentennial of International Women’s Day, the events will celebrate victory over injustice based on gender.
Holste is a member of The Education Minnesota Professional Organization, a staff union of Education Minnesota, the largest union in the state.