By Martha Waggoner, Guild International Chair
It’s more important than ever that workers who are harassed and discriminated on the job have unions to protect them and be their voice, say members of The NewsGuild-CWA who worked at the recent Human Rights Conference.
“The number of attendees, particularly the last-minute surge of registrants, proved to me that the union absolutely has a role in fighting for women’s rights and battling racism,” said Janet Moore, president of the Minnesota Newspaper and Communications Guild. “Our members are deeply engaged in this fight, and I’m hopeful they’ll take that passion back to their locals. The challenge now is to channel the conference’s energy into real-life solutions dealing with sexual harassment, domestic violence and overall equity for women and people of color in our respective workplaces.”
Moore represents TNG on the CWA Women’s Committee, which sponsors the Human Rights Conference, along with the CWA Civil Rights and Equity Committee. Grace Catania, president of the Chicago NewsGuild and the District 4 representative to the Women’s Committee, also chairs the committee. Tim Fitzgerald, treasuer of the Washington-Baltimore News Guild, represents TNG on the CR&E committee.
Also attending the meeting were Nestor Soto, executive secretary of UPAGRA in Puerot Rico and a diversity member of the CWA Executive Board, and Sara Steffens, CWA secretary-treasurer and former TNG secretary-treasurer. Steffens and AFA-CWA President Sara Nelson led a workshop that addressed sexual harassment in the workplace and within the labor movement.
In addition, Elise Bryant, an at-large vice president of the Washington-Baltimore News Guild, received the inaugural award from the Women’s Committee for a CWA woman who displayed passion for empowerment and women’s rights.
Bryant, executive director of the Labor Heritage Foundation and president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, said she “stands on the shoulders of many people, too numerous to name.” She praised her parents for teaching her three things: “change your underwear every day; get the house and the car in your name; and never, ever cross a picket line.”
Steffens briefed the Women’s Committee on a recent survey of 630 union members that found CWA needs more training on sexual harassment, particularly for those who witness harassment. The unionwide survey came after AFA-CWA investigated sexual harassment of flight attendants.
More than two-thirds of flight attendants reported they had experienced some form of sexual harassment during their careers: http://www.afacwa.org/survey_reveals_widespread_harassment_of_flight_attendants
Catania was instrumental in making sure the CWA survey was done.
Fitzgerald, who attended the conferences in 2014 and 2016 as a participant, got a different perspective as a committee member.
“This was an entirely different ball game,” he said. “I have mad respect for all the work done behind the scenes. As a committee member, the work never ceased. We were constantly putting out fires, and at this conference, there were a lot.”
Conference leaders estimate about 400 people attended the conference, which is held every other year. The first combined conference of the two committees was held four years ago.
“The sheer number of attendees is a testament to the interest union members have in human rights and equality and women women’s issues,” Catania said. “Despite a world filled with bad news, our conference proves that union means strength, and we will not be silenced.”