At Women’s Conference, Taking Action
|‘I like what Wendy stands for, and we need to get more participation in this election,’ said Beaumont, Texas, Local 2286 member Pauline Oliver.|
That’s one of the big takeaways from the 2014 Women’s Conference, where more than 400 IBEW members from across the U.S. and Canada gathered Sept. 17-20 in San Antonio, Texas, for skill-building, education and solidarity.
The conference also allowed attendees to get active in state politics, where pro-worker gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis is in a tight contest against state Attorney General Greg Abbott.
Dozens of attendees 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.
“It was a wonderful event,” said Beaumont, Texas, Local 2286 member Pauline Oliver, a senior engineering assistant at Entergy. “I like what Wendy stands for, and we need to get more participation in this election.”
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.
Abbott has supported legislation making it harder for workers to organize and is endorsed by the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors. He has received more than $75,000 from groups associated with the anti-worker Koch brothers after siding with the chemical company responsible for last year’s explosion at West Fertilizer Company in West, Texas – which killed 15 people and wounded 226 more.
|Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis greets supporters at the 2014 Women’s Conference.|
IBEW activists also wrote postcards to support candidate Leticia Van de Putte for lieutenant governor. Van de Putte has supported increased infrastructure spending to rebuild the state’s roads and bridges, as well as strengthening public education and teachers’ rights on the job.
Over a bustling three hours fueled by a rock, hip hop and dance soundtrack, dozens of conference attendees wrote about 500 postcards, with personal notes urging recipients to vote in their own economic interests. The cards will be sent to women IBEW and American Federation of Teachers members. Women represent about three fourths of the nation’s public educators and have been hit disproportionately hard with budget cuts that have prompted mass layoffs since the recent recession.
More than just an isolated event, the postcard campaign offered a template for future activism that conference attendees were encouraged to take back to their local unions. “We want to give people skills that they can repeat and take ownership of,” said Tarn Puvapiromquan, international representative in the IBEW’s Civic and Community Engagement Department, who helped plan this year’s Women’s Conference. “We want to educate, energize and motivate our members – and show them that they can do these kinds of things on their own back home.”
Davis addressed the attendees at the closing session of the conference. Greeted with a raucous welcome befitting a rock star, the candidate offered a wide-ranging and personal speech touching on the history of labor unions, her own struggles as a working woman and the need for fair pay and good jobs at a time when Texas women make thousands of dollars less than men for the same work.
Davis highlighted the need for “American goods built by American workers” and for raising the state’s minimum wage to $10.10.
|Davis on working women: ‘You will have a governor thinking about you, who never forgot where she came from, who will fight for you every single day.’|
“To the working woman going into that second shift – know that you are not alone,” Davis said. “You will have a governor thinking about you, who never forgot where she came from, who will fight for you every single day.”
Carolyn Williams, who directs the Civic and Community Engagement Department and spearheaded the conference, said that Davis shares a bond with IBEW women. “She understands that the energy and ability of IBEW women working together, as activists and leaders, plays a significant role in bringing about change within the labor movement and in individual communities.”
After her address, Davis posted a photo of attendees to her Twitter feed with the caption, “I met this fabulous group of women at the IBEW Women’s Conference in San Antonio today. Thank you for the support!”
Oliver, the Local 2286 member, said a postcard campaign for candidates – or for any related labor issue – could be popular at her home local as well. “I’m positive that people would support this. We need to stay active this [political season], and this is a good way to do it.”
Texas residents: Register to vote here.