TARRYTOWN — The recent CSEA Women’s Conference focused heavily on empowering our members with the skills and knowledge to help us stay union and stay strong.

Union women are key to facing our challenges in our ongoing fight for fairness and equality for all workers.
“In America, the struggle for women’s rights has run right along with the struggle for workers’ rights.

Women today continue to be undervalued for the hard work they do and their contributions to our society,”

CSEA President Danny Donohue said. “We can look back at what we have accomplished in fighting for rights in the labor movement and take pride in how far we’ve come, but we also need to be mindful that we still have a long way to go to reach fairness for all.”

The conference’s breakout sessions focused on building members’ knowledge and union skills that will help us continue to reach out to our members and keep our union strong. Attendees were also inspired by labor union women who are making a difference.

AFSCME International Secretary- Treasurer Elissa McBride, during a plenary session, highlighted women who have played pivotal roles in advancing the labor movement, including former CSEA Statewide Secretary Irene Carr, who worked tirelessly to advance ‘work and family issues’ during an era when they were often sidelined.

“What I learned about what she did is two things that really stood out for me. One is [Carr] really committed to making life easier for working families by giving access to quality, affordable child care services. She helped found those or pushed for them to be created all across the state of New York,” McBride said. “She took a lot of pride in supporting other women to take leadership in the union … not just getting through the door, but holding it open for other folks to come through as well.”

McBride also spoke about current leaders making change right now and encouraging our members to also step up. “We get things done through our political power as well as our power at the bargaining table,” she said.

Elise Bryant, national president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women and executive director of the Labor Heritage Foundation, delivered a powerful message during the Saturday plenary session.

“It’s our responsibility to stand up for those who cannot speak for themselves,” Bryant said.

With a performing arts background, it was natural that Bryant incorporated song into her presentation, including engaging attendees in a chorus of “Solidarity Forever,” the lyrics for which she noted are written to the same tune as the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Bryant encouraged women to step up in their unions, but also to prepare to pass the baton to other union sisters to ensure mentorship and strength continues.

She said not all unions have women’s committees as CSEA does.

“I’m here today for the women who have been forgotten. I’m here for the everyday ‘she-roes’ who went to work every day, like my mom, cleaning the homes of the wealthy. Whenever I smell bleach, I think of my mother,” Bryant said. “We have an opportunity right now to take the reins of leadership and go forward. I am so impressed with CSEA: Courageous, Sensational, Eloquent and Awesome.”

Bryant said that if we don’t keep moving forward, we betray the memory of the many who were trailblazers before us, including civil rights leader Rosa Parks, former U.S. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins and United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta.

Along with breakout and plenary sessions, the conference included the awarding of the Irene Carr Leadership Award to Madison County Local 1st Vice President Karen Bright.
Conference attendees also raised more than $3,000 for My Sister’s Place, a domestic violence and human trafficking shelter in Westchester County and paid tribute to two Southern Region members who recently passed away due to domestic violence.

— Jessica Ladlee


About Author

Jessica Ladlee

Jessica Ladlee is the communications specialist for CSEA's Southern Region. A graduate of Boston University, Ladlee is an award-winning journalist who worked as a newspaper editor before joining the CSEA communications team in 2004. She is passionate about the opportunities unions provide for people to join the middle class, something her grandmother did as a Rockland County CSEA member over 50 years ago.

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