13th Biennial Women’s Network Convention
Activism Makes Today’s Vision Tomorrow’s Reality
From September 12-15, 2019, forty-seven Local’s 175 & 633 delegates were in attendance for the 13th Biennial UFCW Women’s Network Convention. We were inspired by many motivation speakers and workshops throughout the convention.
We heard from Serena Rodrigues, Florida State Director of March for Our Lives. Serena told us how she has grown up in a generation of mass shootings and gun violence. She has seen the trauma and devastating impact of a tragedy and questions how is a community to heal with only thoughts and prayer from their politicians.
Serena stated there are hundreds of incidents of gun violence every day in the U.S. nearly 40,000 per year. They are fed up, and so change is coming, and we can all be a part of that change. Students are organizing and standing up to say no more. Protests are being attended in record numbers with thousands in attendance. The fight is far from over but they are making real political change. Out of tragedy unity arises and when we stand together we make change.
Salandra Benton from the Florida chapter of the AFL-CIO encouraged us to get other women involved in the union movement. Those of us who are already involved need to challenge women to have the vision to be leaders and to become the ones standing at the front of the room. Women need to get engaged and further the work of those who have come before us and the educate the young women coming up after us.
Salandra challenged us to plant a seed and mentor someone else. Support other women and don’t let them struggle. “It’s hard to be a woman but it’s a beautiful day to be a woman and at the end of the day they need me. I have a vision today that tomorrow will be another woman’s reality.”
Anna Eskamani is a Florida State Representative who told us that these are the spaces where we create power. Whether organizing or in the Fight For $15 we must work together. Florida is a Right To Work state that is very anti-union and anti-worker. Employers pit union against union and corporations are powerful. They tend to get what they want from politicians. For example, a 2018 Bill saw a corporate tax rebate in that state that chose profits over people. Her party has now introduced a Bill to repeal that rebate but Anna knows that they need the powerful voice of labour behind them. “We need to show solidarity, and there is nothing more powerful that a union with women in it. Solidarity forever!”
Women in Action: “Claiming Our Seat at the Table
Throughout the convention we listened to a number of panel discussions. The first was titled- Women in Action: “Claiming Our Seat at the Table. We know that we need more women at the table and thanks to the labour movement there are more women than ever in politics. Through the union movement and the power of the union we will see democracy. Things are getting better but we still see a disproportionate amount of men in in politics. No one can advocate better for women than women and we need more women at the table.
In Canada, it’s getting better and we see are starting to see women taking up more space with a federal cabinet with gender parity. It was a woman who lead the negotiations for Canada on the USMCA, but many still doubt women can do the job. Women have the ability to solve problems, the ability to be positive, to organize and mobilize. To listen and to bring people together.
We need a strong network in the labour movement and our social movement provides that network. We want more women at the table. We have the ability to mobilize and find solutions. We must keep up the fight for issues that affect women.
We heard from Gloria Feldt – Co-founder and President of Take the Lead and New York Times best-selling author: No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power
Gloria told us how she had lived for many years with a life where she felt satisfied, but still something was burning inside of her. She knew she had to move on and make some changes in her life. She felt stuck. She realized she had never taken an action for her life based on her own intention. Ultimately it is the intention around the use of power that will make the changes we need. We all have the power to make those changes. We just don’t always know it. We have to realize that we need the vision of what needs to be done, the courage to believe we can do it and then take the action to make it happen. It’s time to be bold and carry out. This is the power of intention. “Women got to do it for ourselves.”
Sara Nelson, President, Association of Flight Attendants – CWA gave us an emotionally charged motivational speech that left us all feeling empowered. Sara comes from a union of 20 airlines and 50,000 flight attendants which started in 1946 to try and beat back many of the discriminatory systems that were in place at the time. Practices such as having to leave the job at age 30, having to step on a weight scale until 1993 and men not being permitted to become flight attendants. At that time women were told they didn’t have the emotional capacity to become pilots.
Sara was educated by a senior employee on her very first day and told that she would not be taken seriously by management. She was told her only place of worth is with the union and if you wear your union pin and we stick together there is nothing that can’t be accomplished. In our unions, we can take care of each other like no one can take care of themselves on their own. And in our unions, we are never alone.
In the past few years women have been fighting for women to have equality for the first time in a new way. Women have been recognizing that when we stand together and say I believe my sister, that we can have power to tell our stories, and we can push for change and we can achieve things for women.
Sara also told us about the flight industry after 9/11 and how they fought for the creation of the TSA. A federal agency that would provide security at the airports. She told us how when the workforce federalized; our security improved. Likewise, when AFGE unionized those workers it once again improved our security because there is union in that workforce.
No More Gender Violence
Our next panel titled – No More Gender Violence helped us to understand that while there are laws in place to protect us they only work if you know how to use them effectively. For some people the idea of making a complaint is as difficult as the harassment, but the importance of making the complaint and putting it in writing was stressed by the panel. Be brave in the process and support our sisters throughout the process.
The unique challenges and barriers for the LGBTQ+ community were also discussed. Members of the community may not be out or may not be out at work and it puts them in a unique and difficult situation to report gender based violence or sexual harassment. The other important component is that the person who the incident is being reported to may have preconceived notions about the community, they may have beliefs that they have been raised with that go against members of the community. They may be seen as unequal or as undeserving of the same treatment. This barrier is present whenever a member of the community wants to report.
The reality for people in the community is that whenever they report an incident of harassment or gender based violence, they fear that they will be outed or that the person they are reporting to is not listening. They fear that they are going to be judged and they are not going to be taken seriously. When helping members of the community, remember that the LGBTQ+ community have these unique needs and even though we have come a long way we still have far to go. With the help of a strong network of allies we can get there. Education is key and the UFCW OUTreach is there to help anyone who is in need.
Michele Lisa Anderson from Lover Over Addiction – a powerful community as a resource for any woman who loves a good person suffering from addiction. As someone who loves and addicted spouse, she wanted to know the specific steps she needed to take in her relationship and how to help her children. Lisa has dedicated her life to helping other people who are going through what she did. We have to break the stigma of the disease of addiction and we have to be willing to talk about it. So, Lisa created a program to do just that. She created a community where you’ll find foundational teachings, practices, and real-life examples from her personal story, women in this community, experts, and more.
They don’t do judgment, and welcome each woman for exactly who she is no matter what her circumstances or her loved one’s situation. She truly believes that our loved ones are good people. We want them to get better, but we also realize that we deserve recovery just as much as they do. Addiction is a traumatic disease, not only for the one suffering from it but for everyone that it touches along the way. That’s why it’s called a family disease.
Paul Meinema Canadian National President told us that UFCW women make up more than half of our national membership. UFCW women are the foundation of our Union. They have made the UFCW a powerful voice for justice, not just for our members, or their families but for the larger community.
We know that women face unique challenges simply because of their gender. In unity and with progressive allies we have committed to a number of strategies and campaigns to challenge gender bias, gender discrimination and gender based violence. These campaigns are the direct result of the UFCW National Council Gender and Equity Committee.
The career paths of many women are derailed or cancelled altogether because good, affordable, safe childcare is not available. So, if we’re serious about gender equality then affordable childcare has to be a part of that. So, the UFCW Canada has made affordable childcare a priority in its campaign and lobbying efforts. Along with that UFCW Canada has also taken steps to advance equity within our own organization. The National Council is UFCW Canada’s executive board made up of National and Local Leaders. Women were underrepresented on the council so in 2017 a resolution was adopted that changed the by-laws and we now have a gender balanced National Council. We are more inclusive, more insightful and more effective as a Union as a force of social justice and equality.
Robin Williams International Vice President and Director of Community Action/Civil Rights gave us an update on California retail bargaining and an empowering speech about the upcoming election in the United States. She stressed the importance of UFCW women in the election and the need to advance the rights of women in the U.S. Activists must come together and prepare now to win. The UFCW is one of the largest unions in North America and we must have our collective voices heard.
Women play a vital role in the economy, we make our union strong. UFCW women are everywhere and we are diverse. We make our union strong and inclusive. We are still fighting for rights that we should have a long time ago. We earned it then but we are louder and prouder now and we won’t stop until we get it.
Rayne Fisher-Quinn is a student activist from Ontario who advocates for the rights of young women and girls around the world. In 2018 Rayne was responsible for organizing a student walkout after the government announced changes to the sex education curriculum. Rayne saw the effect of the changes and the voices of the student being ignored and she decided that she would do whatever she could to make the government listen.
She began organizing something that would get students involved, to show people they cared, to make people listen to them. Something she hadn’t seen before; a walkout. A few teenage girls behind their Iphone screens organized a walkout of 200,000 teenagers to fight for their future.
They realized that nobody expects 16-year-old girls to be strong and smart, and when you’re constantly told that you start to believe it. But when you prove them wrong and use their expectations against them. That when you scare them the most. So, 200,000 students walked out of class and held on to their future and wouldn’t let go. They refused to be ignored and remained powerful despite everything pushing back against them.
Women have always had to fight for everything they have and we are always fighting to keep it, and it’s exhausting and easy to lose hope. But the students are resolved to make a difference and make a better world for our daughters than we live in today. It’s hard to imagine that things will get better. “But the thing that makes it better is when you remember that it only seems like they have all the power. I have never in my life seen or heard of a politician who has more power or more strength than 200,000 teenagers or 200,000 workers angry as hell and storming the streets in unison.” Rayne encouraged us to include young people in our movements, and give them a seat at the table. We are powerful when we are united.
Women in Leadership – Insight and Experiences
Our final panel was titled Women in Leadership – Insight and Experiences and Sylvia Groom Executive Assistant to the President was a contributor on the panel. The panel explored leadership qualities. The best leaders create future leaders and empower the next generation. The workers coming behind us are watching us and leaders need to lead by example. They should be actively looking for new leaders and foster their growth. They need to mentor and encourage new and different points of view even when it’s not their own. Good leaders need to be humble and not feel threatened by new ideas. A good leader will help to develop those ideas and the leaders of the future.
One style of leader does not fit every situation so a leader needs to be adaptive. They must be good communicators and motivators. They need to lead with inclusion. When people feel included they are engaged. You have to be willing to lead and share the success.
Delegates also participated in workshops covering a variety of topics:
- Developing a Leadership Mentality
- Respect My Body, My Rights, and Bystander Intervention
- Women Organizing to Win
- Women Emerging in Politics