The Summer Institute on Union Women: Breaking Down Barriers and Borders

August 29, 2016 | EOI Intern

Gloria Alvarado (AFL-CIO) proclaims “the power is within us” during the opening plenary, alongside Joey Hartman (Vancouver & District Labor Council), Lola Smallwood Cuevas (LA Black Worker Center), and Saru Jayaraman (Restaurant Opportunities Center-United). Photo Credit: Sol Art

Gloria Alvarado (AFL-CIO) proclaims “the power is within us” during the opening plenary, alongside Joey Hartman (Vancouver & District Labor Council), Lola Smallwood Cuevas (LA Black Worker Center), and Saru Jayaraman (Restaurant Opportunities Center-United). Photo Credit: Sol Art

I recently joined the EOI team as one of the summer Policy Interns following my graduation from University of Washington with a Master’s in Public Health! In addition to my regular duties, I recently had the opportunity to attend the Summer Institute on Union Women hosted by the UCLA Labor Center from August 9 to August 13. Over 200 women were in attendance, representing dozens of unions and community organizations supporting worker issues across the West Coast, Canada, Mexico, and Japan.

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Elyse Cizek performs her poem “Office Girl” before the Negotiating Women’s Issues in the Workplace plenary.

This year’s theme, Breaking Down Barriers and Borders, meant a commitment to social justice and creating inclusive environments to discuss working women’s issues, like racial discrimination, anti-immigration sentiments, and sexual violence on the job. The jam-packed program included powerhouse speakers, classes and workshops addressing everything from the Black Lives Matter movement to stress management, to a real-life action event. By the end of the week, we all felt a sense of unity and sisterhood spanning all borders.

Ryuko Kiruta and Julia Quinonez carry the United Food and Commercial Workers’ banner at the local action event.

Ryuko Kiruta and Julia Quinonez carry the United Food and Commercial Workers’ banner at the local action event.

Some of the moments that stood out for me were:

Saru Jayaraman discussing the historical and contemporary perspectives of women-led organizing during the Rise of Women in Labor panel. She, in particular, noted the historical link between the start of tipped wages in the hospitality industry and Black people entering the workforce after Emancipation. (Hear more from her at our fundraising event Road to Equity – she’s our keynote speaker!)

SIUW women take action alongside UFCW union picketers to support workers employed by El Super in Inglewood, CA.

SIUW women take action alongside UFCW union picketers to support workers employed by El Super in Inglewood, CA.

Spoken word artists Shanara Sanders, Jade Martinez, Elyse Cizek, and Laura Sermeño performed riveting poems throughout the week, sharing their experiences facing discrimination as women of color and trans women. But also of the love and power in their lives and communities.

Strong words from Christina Griffin (Unite Here and Black Lives Matter) during the Racism Across Borders panel, on the potential of the labor movement to address anti-black racism. She and others noted the necessity of putting the most vulnerable at the center of political movements and policy changes – to use their vantage point to transform reality.

International perspectives from Ryuko Kurita (Action Center for Working Women) and Julia Quinonez (Comite Fronterizo de Obrer@s) on the challenges facing union women workers in Japan and Mexico: sexual harassment, mental illness stigmas, high competition for well-paying jobs, and transnational companies exploiting workers’ rights and preventing unionization.

“Worker’s rights are women’s rights” - The women of SIUW coming together in power, sisterhood, and solidarity ready to make some change! Photo Credit: Sol Art

“Worker’s rights are women’s rights” – The women of SIUW coming together in power, sisterhood, and solidarity ready to make some change! Photo Credit: Sol Art

Putting the walk behind the talk by participating in a UFCW action event to support unionized workers of El Super, a local supermarket chain. Workers have been fighting for collective bargaining agreements for the past 3 years with no sign of budging from the company. Union delegates spoke directly with management, while over a hundred of us walked outside in solidarity.

Throughout the week, I learned a great deal about the power of the labor movement. I learned about the strength of women rallying behind each other to make change. And I learned the necessity of creating spaces to discuss our similarities, as well as our differences. Breaking down barriers and borders is absolutely necessary to make sure no one is left behind – a value I carry away with me from this experience.

Guest post by EOI Intern Miranda Vargas

Posted in State Economy

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