Mary Kay Henry and Women in the Labor Movement

My latest piece is on what Mary Kay Henry's ascension at the SEIU signifies for women workers:

Now, with the exception of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, arguably all of the nation’s most visible and politically powerful union leaders are women: Henry, Anna Burger (who remains the chairwoman of Change to Win), and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. Two of them—Henry and Weingarten—are also out lesbians.

The first test of Henry’s promised no-drama, bottom-up strategy will be immigration reform, which took center stage in Washington after the Arizona legislature passed a harsh new law targeting undocumented workers.

“A lot of the new members coming into the labor movement are immigrants and are women,” says Cornell University Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner, whose research on the workforce is influential within unions. “And somebody like Mary Kay Henry, who has been working in the health-care sector, knows this. She could be an extremely important spokesperson on the immigration bill.”

Indeed, if the labor movement is to expand, women workers, soon expected to become the majority of the American workforce, will be key. At a time of high unemployment for the working class—up to 20 percent in some manufacturing sectors—the few growing professions are ones dominated by immigrant women and ripe for organizing because of their lack of good benefits and working conditions: the “pink collar” fields of nursing, home health care, early child care, and hospitality.

The change is significant because organized labor has traditionally been—especially at the leadership level—one of the most male-dominated institutions in American life.

Read the whole piece, plus my interview with Mary Kay Henry about childcare workers, immigration reform, and more.

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