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From the October/November 2000 issue of UDR
AUD Women's Project launches "Operation Punch List"
By Jane Latour, director AUD Women's Project
Thirty-five years after the Civil Rights act rendered employment discrimination on the basis of sex illegal, women continue to face discrimination, harassment, and other barriers in the nontraditional sector. In the construction trades, for example, women still represent less than 3% of the unionized, skilled workforce. The AUD Womens Project, under the direction of Jane Latour, has launched a special program to focus public attention on the barriers that are used to keep women out of these well-paying nontraditional jobs. Operation Punch List will put pressure on unions and government agencies that ought to be fighting for equal access and opportunity. The project takes its name from construction: when the major activity has been completed, a punch list is made up of the hundreds of things that have to be done to complete the job. Below are excerpts from the Projects action plan.
In 1964, women gained legal access to high paid "non-traditional" jobs through passage of the Civil Rights Act which renders discrimination against employees illegal on the basis of race, color, religion, and sex. Today, in New York City, the unionized 11,000-member Fire Department has only 36 women. A group of 50 employees of the Jacob K. Javits Center recently filed a $1 billion lawsuit alleging that the New York City Convention Center is "a cesspool of graphic racial, religious, and sexual slurs." Overall, the labor movement has demonstrated a feeble response to the problems facing women in non-traditional jobs. This is a critical problem which calls for attention and redress.
In 1978, the Department of Labor set affirmative action goals for hiring women on publicly financed construction sites. The objective was to have womens representation rise to 6.9% of the total workforce. At the time, women entering these occupations felt as though they were the first of many waves of female applicants. Today, women still make up only 2.7 percent of this workforce, one which employs over five million Americans.
In 1990, the New York City Commission on Human Rights initiated a formal investigation into the systematic exclusion of African American, Latino, Asian American and female workers from many union locals, apprenticeship programs and unionized work sites. Key to the investigation was a series of 14 hearings. In 1993, the Commission published its findings in a massive report. Building Barriers: Discrimination in New York Citys Construction Trades demonstrated the "severe under-representation of people of color and women in the skilled trades ... despite decades of efforts to integrate the construction industry. People of color comprise only 19% and women just 1%, of the unionized, skilled construction workforce. These figures indicate a profound failure in social policy."
Women have made some gains since the milestone Civil Rights legislation was enacted, but the problems of recruitment, retention, harassment, lack of union representation, isolation and sexist attitudes are still pervasive and present major obstacles to women entering and staying in non-traditional jobs. While the status of women in construction has received the bulk of attention, the problems are endemic to all women working in the non-traditional sector. Women working in "non-traditional" jobs for the utilities (telecommunications, energy), maintenance, railroads, uniformed services, etc., are experiencing the same resistance, hostility, harassment, and isolation. While the legislation is in place, whats missing is follow-through on the enforcement.
Goals and Objectives:
Our goals are to raise public awareness and put pressure on government agencies to enforce the law vigorously, and on the labor movementwhich increasingly claims to be concerned with womens issuesto take on the issues more forcefully.
In April, the Womens Project organized a panel discussion for the AUDs 30th Anniversary Conference. Entitled "Pioneers and the Next Wave," the panel brought together women from the first generation to enter the construction trades (Susan Eisenberg, Cynthia Long, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers), and women who are currently enrolled in apprenticeship programs, or are working in their first year in non-traditional occupations, such as fire fighter, cable-splicer, elevator constructor, etc. (See UDR #130). The discussion established that the same barriers that are being used to discourage women in these jobs are still widely in place and are having the same effect. From this panel, as well as the conference plenary speech by Brenda Berkman of the New York Fire Department, and talks with the numerous women who have contacted the Project seeking assistance in recent years, we have designed the following program:
Research: compile an "Open Book" which will bring together, in one place, information and statistical data on women in non-traditional jobs. This includes: a) legal: the current status of litigation and the outstanding cases which affect the position of women in non-traditional jobs. We will examine areas such as affirmative action goals and timetables, pornography on the job, sexual harassment, etc. b) academic: wherein we locate and distill the lessons of the scholarship that exists on women in non-traditional jobs. Many academics have focused on this specialized area, and there is much to be learned from their work. Our project will locate the scholarship, make it accessible, and give it a practical application, following the model that we used when we produced our Manual for Survival.
We will compile a statistical profile of apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs, as well as regulatory agencies, to review the enforcement functions and practices of these bodies, which are charged with enforcing the law which requires equal access. We will examine the collective activity of tradeswomen and advocacy organizations, which has resulted in a wealth of experience and proven strategies for advancing the participation of women. Labor unions and labor organizations (such as The Womens Bureau of the AFL-CIO, and the Coalition of Labor Union Women, as well as the Building Trades Department of the AFL) will be the focus of scrutiny. The research will identify unions which have instituted training programs, recruitment strategies, and other efforts aimed at redressing the imbalance in the skilled trades, and assess these efforts to determine what constitutes effective strategies. Concomitantly, we will identify the unions which are outside compliance and doing nothing to advance the cause of equal opportunity.
Linking with allies: Numerous organizations are currently addressing some aspect of these issues. This piecemeal approach has yielded significant but discrete and incremental gains. Our strategy is to establish a linking mechanism whereby a common ground is set in place for moving the agenda. To this end, we have begun to collaborate with other advocacy organizations, such as Womens Rights at Work and Women on the Job Task Force. We have begun to strategize about a feasible division of labor, and to brain-storm about class action litigation, media targets, and research organizations based in academia which could contribute their resources to the project. There is an effort underway to once again establish a national tradeswomens organization, and Womens Project representative, electrician Evan Ruderman (I.B.E.W., Local 3) participated in the discussion. Evan is now serving as our representative on one of the three steering committees established at the first meeting which took place in Montpelier, Vermont in March, 2000.
Direct Action: Through a combination of publicity and pressure Operation Punch List will work to accomplish the goals that were established more than thirty years ago. Publicity campaigns will seek to make the issue compelling and accessible for the media. The project will employ a combination of pressure tactics, such as public hearings, letter writing blitzes, and demonstrations to serve as a lever for change. It will work with organizations that have resources and visibility to focus more of their attention on the issues of women in non-traditional employment. We will also focus on the official national organizations for labor union women which exist to advance the interests of working women, such as CLUW and the AFL-CIOs Womens Bureau. Women in non-traditional jobs have been making gains for all women, and, as new opportunities become available in the high-paying, skilled end of employment, women must have the opportunity to move out of the low-end, traditionally female job sector.
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