By CARMEN CHARLES, President of Local 420 and DC 37 Women’s Committee Chair
March is Women’s History Month and our union acknowledges the great contributions women have made and are making to America. As chair of the DC 37 Women’s History Committee, I invite you to celebrate with us at our Women’s Forum, Friday March 13 at 6 p.m. at DC 37 headquarters, 125 Barclay Street in lower Manhattan.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment that gave American women the right to vote. The women’s suffrage movement took nearly a century, but through hard-work and sacrifice women persevered.
As New Yorkers, we have a proud legacy of supporting women’s rights. In 1848, our state hosted the Seneca Falls Convention of the first women’s rights convention in the world. At this historic meeting, abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass, the only African American at the convention, stood up in favor of granting women the right to vote. As a black man, Douglass said, he “could not accept the right to vote himself if women could not also claim that right… The world would be a better place if women were involved in the political process.”
I whole-heartedly agree.
As labor union members, we take pride in knowing that working women helped lead the way to women’s suffrage. The Women’s Trade Union League, founded to help women enter into unions and advocate for labor reforms, worked with Harriot Stanton Blatch to establish the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women in 1907 to recruit working women into the suffrage movement.
Blatch co-opted many of organized labor’s methods – such as parades through city streets and speakers on street corners – into the women’s suffrage movement to attract more publicity. It worked and proved essential to winning the right to vote in 1920.
In 2020, we have a historic number of women in elected office in all levels of government. New York State has the distinction of dynamic women leaders Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul, State Attorney General Letitia James, and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Almost half of New York City’s congressional delegation is comprised of a diverse group of strong women who have pushed for national reforms and voted to impeach a misogynistic, lawless President.
Women now serve as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and in the highest levels of the US military. Top women athletes such as Serena Williams and the US women’s soccer team are as popular as their male counterparts.
We’ve got much to celebrate but our job is not yet complete.
April marks Pay Equality for Women, who earn just 79 cents for every dollar a man earns. Women must work four months into 2020, to earn what her white male counterpart earned in 2019. Pay disparity is even worse for women of color.
Unions continue to bring awareness to economic injustices and the issues that hit working families, women and children hardest. The struggle for pay equity is fundamental to labor’s struggle for economic justice. Paid family and medical leave are out of reach for many, disproportionally and adversely affecting women and working families.
This must all change. We can start to reverse these disparities and inequities by encouraging more women to run for elected office and by voting this year for a new President and U.S. Congress that will make women’s rights a priority.
I end with the words of First Lady Michelle Obama, which I too was fortunate enough to receive in my life. It has helped me, and my hope is that you will convey the same message to your daughters and granddaughters: “I am an example of what is possible when girls from the very beginning of their lives are loved and nurtured by people around them. I was surrounded by extraordinary women in my life who taught me about quiet strength and dignity.”