They didn’t come to swap recipes when they first convened in 1974 and they didn’t do it this time either. Unless it was a recipe to stop the war on women.  

Approximately 500 delegates and observers came together for the Coalition of Labor Union Women’s 18th biennial convention, held in Sacramento, Calif., Nov. 19-21.

“We are here to get prepared for the duties and work that needs to be done. … We must be armed and equipped for the battles that lie ahead,” said CLUW National President Connie Leak as she kicked off the opening session wearing camouflage.   


The IBEW delegation included about 25 attendees, among them AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, who delivered the keynote address. 


“Will we take another step toward full equality? Or will we see a continuation of the war on women? Will we write the economic and societal rules? Or will we fall victim to those who want to silence our voice and deny us our rights?” said Shuler, who is a member Portland, Ore., Local 125.


IBEW members took time to discuss issues including recruiting and retaining more women members.


As CLUW detailed on its website, delegates debated and adopted resolutions on the Black Lives Matter movement, preventing gun violence, restoring the Glass-Steagall Act which protects individuals’ finances from risky banking practices and women’s impact on the 2016 elections.


“It was very informative and energetic,” said Detroit Local 58 member Grace Trudell, who attended for the first time.


IBEW members attended sessions on parliamentary procedure, engaging membership, retirement, sexual harassment and gender equality, to name a few. 


The convention also focused on health with a plenary on heart disease, mental health and the results of a survey from CLUW. Based on those results, CLUW will begin offering health-related resources on its website from partner organization HealthyWomen. 


“CLUW’s primary focus is on empowering women at work and in their unions,” Leak said. “In recent years our leadership has broadened that commitment to include the health of union women, as we know that when women have access to quality, easy-to-understand and up-to-date health information, they live longer, are more productive and have better quality lives.”


Attendees also discussed workplace safety. Greater New Jersey CLUW Chapter President Cecelia Gilligan Leto stressed the importance of women being educated on the federal and state laws that govern safety in the workplace.


“Women who are single parents, struggling to provide basic needs for themselves and their children, can be one workplace injury away from poverty,” Leto said.


Trudell noted the additional burden facing many single union women of being out of work, particularly construction members who cannot afford to wait for another job so they seek employment elsewhere. This issue of retention is something she plans to address with the CLUW chapter she is starting with the Huron Valley Central Labor Council.


“When it gets tough and there is no work, they might go back to school or look for other work to make ends meet,” Trudell said.


Trudell also plans to start a women’s committee at her local. This and the CLUW chapter were both inspired by the convention. She says right now there isn’t anything like them for women in her area, which spans southeast Michigan between Detroit and Lansing, an area known for high union density.


“I’m looking forward to getting started,” Trudell said. “I want to have something for women to go to, where there is a sense of belonging and of being able to get things done.” 


Trudell says some fellow attendees are already on board and that others have expressed interest as well.


“Everybody’s ready to go,” she said.


Additionally, League of Women Voters Senior Director Jessica Seneca spoke to attendees about the upcoming elections and the importance of union women exercising their hard-fought constitutional right to vote. CLUW previously partnered with the League in 2014 and plans to do so again this cycle.


Among the convention takeaways was the need to continue working for equality, said Director of Civic and Community Engagement Carolyn J. Williams, also a CLUW national vice president.


“CLUW has played and will continue to play a vital role in ensuring that the issues of women are given visibility within and outside the labor movement,” Williams said.


Read more about the convention here.