Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Women Try to Rise in Labor Hierarchy

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Women Try to Rise in Labor Hierarchy

Article excerpt

The national AFL-CIO recently took steps to put a woman in a key leadership role, in hopes of appealing to the growing number of women in the work force. The labor federation went to the expense of creating a new job for that purpose - executive vice president, and Linda Chavez-Thompson holds it.

That hasn't happened with the St. Louis Labor Council, which represents a quarter-million workers here. In fact, when a position opened with the recent retirement of Secretary-Treasurer Robert Kortkamp, the council temporarily abolished the job.

Some labor activists worry whether the union movement here, historically strong, can maintain that strength if it seen as a male bastion.

"There still appears to be a good old boy network," said Rita Voorheis, with the Communications Workers of America here.

"If you were a woman, why would you want to join an organization if all you see is men in leadership?"

A lack of a female presence in leadership positions could culminate in a union's inability to build effective coalitions, says Shannon Duffy, former president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers here, primarily made up of Trans World Airlines employees.

"When you want to have a job action and you say, `We are going to walk off because they fired Johnson' or whatever, if these people don't feel like they are part of the union, they are going to tell you `no way,' " he said. "You have to let them onto committees and have them chair committees."

Margaret Blackshere, secretary-treasurer of the Illinois AFL-CIO - the federation's No. 2 job - noticed an increase in the number of women labor activists after she took office.

"When I got this job two years ago, I was just overwhelmed with the number of women who sent me notes and came up to me and said, `Now I know that if I stay involved, it can make a difference,' " Blackshere said. "There have always been an increasing number of women (in the work force), but now they are activists."

To prod the involvement of women, the national AFL-CIO - under the leadership of newly elected President John Sweeney - is assisting local unions with outreach and training, said Susana Gomez, assistant director of the AFL-CIO Department of Civil Rights in Washington. …

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