The Electrical Worker online
November 2014

Activists Gather for Largest-Ever
Women's Conference
index.html Home    print Print    email Email

Go to

Working women have come a long way since the famed activist Mary Harris "Mother" Jones was branded "the most dangerous woman in America" more than 100 years ago for her support of coal miners' rights.

But the playing field is still far from level. Despite recent legislation such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, women still earn just above 75 percent for the same work as men, and the 2008 Great Recession shifted even more women into the roles of primary wage earners for their families. Recent austerity cuts to state budgets and school districts have disproportionately affected women. Add problems of overt or implicit discrimination and bigotry — especially against women of color — and it's clear that there is more work to be done.

More than 400 female activists gathered Sept. 17-20 in San Antonio, Texas, for the seventh IBEW Women's Conference. Under the theme of "Sisters in Solidarity: Our Journey Together," attendees studied organizing strategies, common sense economics and ways to step into leadership roles at the local union level.

"I like learning the history of women in unions — it will be good for me when I go back to my local and share the knowledge with other union members," said Adrienne Johnson, a business representative from Los Angeles Local 18.

The conference also allowed members to get politically active in the state where pro-worker gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis is running against state Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Dozens gathered on the first night of the conference to write postcards to fellow union women in Texas urging them to vote for Davis Nov. 4. Davis, a state senator, has championed "Buy America" provisions, fought worker misclassification and paycheck deception and led a 2011 filibuster to oppose cuts to public education.

The Reach out and Energize Next-gen Electrical Workers — or RENEW — initiative, held a caucus to discuss issues specific to female young workers.

"At my job, it's mostly male dominated, so it's awesome to be in an environment with so many active women," said Nicole Stykalo, a shop steward and member of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Local 2034 who has joined NextGen, the Canadian equivalent of RENEW. Stykalo, 27, works in civil engineering for Manitoba Hydro. "In male-dominated industries, we can find that we are the small voices, no matter what we say."

International President Edwin D. Hill addressed the assembly and hosted a question and answer session. "One thing that is constant is your spirit and enthusiasm," he said. "This conference is getting better every time."

Carolyn Williams, who directs the Civic and Community Engagement Department and spearheaded the conference, stressed the importance of continued community involvement. "It is my hope that the sisters who attended the 2014 conference will go back home and become engaged with their leadership and actively involved in their local unions — initiating mentoring programs, working on political committees and community service programs and serving as activists and leaders in a manner that will continue to grow the IBEW."

Read more coverage of the conference's get-out-the-vote effort at The link is case-sensitive.


Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis greets supporters at the 2014 Women's Conference in San Antonio.