Day 2: Women of Steel at Unite Women's Week

Following is a report on the second day of activities. It is written by three representatives of USW Women of Steel. They are participating in the Unite Women’s Week activities in Eastbourne, the United Kingdom:

Ann Flener-Gittlen“We’ve all been discussing how welcome everyone has made us feel.  Unite’s Eastbourne Centre is a wonderful training facility with top rate audio visual equipment in all conference rooms.  The course tutors are very skilled in facilitating the classes and participation is energetic.  The food has been amazing too.  My biggest take away from the first session is, that our UK sisters are fighting to keep what we in the U.S. haven’t yet achieved - healthcare for everyone and 52 weeks of maternity leave.”

– Ann Flener-Gittlen, Women of Steel Director, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Linda Lucas“It is just unconceivable to the women from Unite, UK that anyone in the United States wouldn’t want National Health Care!”


– Linda Lucas, Local 13702, Troy, Michigan

Kristine Pearson“Multiple issues in so many types of workplaces (industrial, educational, transportation, finance, etc.) resonate with issues we workers have in common.  From the moment that conversations began, I have been struck by how unique the experiences women workers have in different workplaces, holding specific work responsibilities, and yet how these unique experiences reflect principles in safety and health which we all support and which are important to us all.  The strength of having support for your rights from your union representative and the collective fight for these rights in your contract is essential.  

When we share our experiences, ideas becomes clarified by contract examples.  For instance, safety belts for bus drivers is obviously an important innovation.  However, safety belts designed for men are not necessarily good for women’s physique.  Pushed higher against the neck and shoulders because of the more vulnerable chest area, the belts present repetitive strain in the shoulder area.  (Even in a car, I wonder how many women feel strangled by seat belts?)  Immediately, putting our minds to the issue, we could think of possible alternative designs.  Why aren’t engineers doing the same?

In glancing through the Unite Negotiations Guide, “Women’s Health, Safety and Wellbeing at Work”’ I see as one of their policies that every workplace with 5 or more workers “must have a written policy… and the first stated position is that it should include #1. An equality statement recognizing that there are sex and gender differences to be addressed in occupational safety and health, and making a commitment to take action”.  Good!  Great!  Important!”

– Kristine Pearson, Local 1998 Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Rebecca Price“Some of our class topics and discussions included:  key bargaining issues for women workers, main problems for workers you represent, problems specific to women, and what can the union do and what has the union done to effect positive outcomes for women.  First day findings are:  need for awareness of our worker demographics and understanding how to present our cases effectively.

Some ideas to help:  Produce a flyer to communicate and encourage fellow employees to join the Labor Party!!  Educate our members with written contracts to maintain their copy, refer to, and understand it so that they are more able to benefit from it (holding the employer to what was agreed upon).  Utilizing the greater community to gain support for workers’ rights.

My personal reading-nugget from Proverbs today was, “When the scorner is punished, the simple is made wise, and when the wise is instructed he/she receiveth knowledge.”

– Rebecca Price, Local 1000, Corning, New York

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