Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

9 to 5 Head Still Asking Hard Questions

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

9 to 5 Head Still Asking Hard Questions

Article excerpt

Back in the politically feverish days of 1970, a young woman moved from Chicago to Cambridge - an especially intense place in what was dubbed the People's Republic of Massachusetts. Like "just about everybody" in those days, she was interested in social issues, but her immediate focus was finding work "so I could eat."

The 20-year-old, who'd studied at the University of Chicago, landed a clerk/typist job at Harvard University's school of education.

While her boss was great and the working conditions palatable, a few things troubled Karen Nussbaum: Low salary plus no sick leave, health insurance or vacation.

"But it was really the day-to-day indignities that got me," she recalls. "One big question was: Should women get coffee? It was symbolic; what it really was about was paid promotions and respect. Women weren't first-class citizens on the job.

"We knew there was something wrong with the job, and we suspected it was because we were women."

So she and a co-worker posted a sign at Harvard asking people to come to a meeting for working women. "In the early '70s," she said, "the atmosphere really was: If there are problems, don't just take it as an individual problem; there might be social causes. Start a group, talk about it."

About 50 people showed up, and "that was the taking-off point." Within two years, Nussbaum had begun a local group called 9 to 5 to promote equality and respect for women on the job.

"We had no idea, until we went to the library and looked it up, that clerical work was the largest segment of the economy. It was important to women - if you were going to achieve economic equality - that you go to where most women worked, not just stay on the fringe."

She also founded a sister union, representing mainly office employees, 80 percent of them women.

Soon 9 to 5 became "a real thing." Friends in other cities emulated it; by 1978 it was a national organization and she was its director. Nussbaum moved the headquarters to Cleveland. …

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