March is Women’s History Month. It’s a time to recognize the contributions that women make year-round to the world, to their communities and to their union. Also, March 8 marks International Women’s Day, whose theme this year is “Make It Happen.”
Teamster women know how to make things happen—whether it’s driving trucks or school buses; working in the ports; flying airplanes and helicopters; or performing any one of the long list of professions that demonstrate the significant impact women have on labor.
Women have been critical to the labor movement from the very beginning, leading the way to the passage of historic labor legislation that has secured rights for generations of workers to come.
A Brief Look Back
Going back to its earliest days, the Teamsters Union championed women members as they organized, planned strikes and won fair contracts in the workplace. Here are just a few of the many achievements and milestones within our union that show the impact women have had:
- In 1916, the Teamsters were involved in a landmark contract for women laundry workers in Chicago, helping workers successfully organize and create their first all-women negotiating committee;
- Teamster women found themselves working during the great flu epidemic of 1918 transporting medicine and making deliveries to families. The union and country would not have made it without them;
- “Equal pay for all” was the slogan in 1919, as Teamsters pushed for wage equality;
- Women also played a key role in the historic and bloody 1934 Minneapolis strike, which led to labor reform acts and the establishment of the National Labor Relations Board;
- The bombing of Pearl Harbor brought millions of new women into the workforce, tackling jobs in war production, transportation and other essential industries, many workers were represented by the Teamsters;
- As time passed, Teamster women remained active, playing an important role in post-World War II organizing; and
- After the war, women stayed active in organizing and also turned their attention to politics. They took on an active role in the union’s new political action program, DRIVE (Democrat, Republican, Independent Voter Education), bringing attention to important labor issues;
This brief synopsis cannot begin to cover the innumerable contributions that women have made within the Teamsters and as part of the larger movement for worker justice and civil and human rights.
The days of women taking on “nontraditional” jobs are fast disappearing, because these jobs for women are becoming the norm. The traditions are being turned on their head. That brings us to today.
The Teamsters Union was the first to secure a gender-blind, color-blind contract, and throughout our history our leaders have demanded equality for all members.
Teamster women have made significant contributions politically, socially and economically, but our work is not done.
Now, it’s up to Teamster men and women to continue our fight for income equality and a strong middle class.
While Teamsters have gender-blind contracts ensuring equal pay, women in the overall work force are still paid about 77 cents on the dollar compared with men. Women need to work approximately 60 extra days to earn what men earn by the end of the previous year.
Recognizing the difference that union membership makes, more and more women are joining unions. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in 1983 women accounted for 35.3 percent of all workers who were members of or represented by a union, compared to 45.9 percent in 2012. If the trend continues, women are on track to become a majority of union members by 2023.
More women than ever are in the workforce; women are leading the way in the achievement of advanced degrees; and a growing workforce of millennial women are demanding pay parity and a work-life balance that includes paid sick days and maternity and paternity leave. Since women’s issues in the workforce are also worker issues and family issues, it makes sense for all genders to champion equality and women’s economic and workplace rights.
Throughout this month on Teamster.org, in honor of Women’s History Month, we will be featuring the empowering and iconic stories and images of women who have made and are making history.