By: Brigid O’Farrell, Bay Area Chapter
On Monday, June 23, the White House convened a summit in Washington, DC, to start an important conversation about issues affecting working families: accessing good jobs, raising the minimum wage, creating flexible schedules, securing paid family leave, providing quality affordable child care. Labor was in the house. I was honored to join over 250 union members and women from worker organizations. First we met on Sunday at the AFL-CIO building where sisters and brothers shared their stories.
I worked with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 617 in San Mateo, California, to identify union members who benefited from California’s Paid Family Leave Act. California is one of only three states to have a law that enables workers to take paid time off from work to care for a new baby or an ill family member. Unions worked to pass this law and now members are using it. Krista Brooks and Johnathan Brooks are IBEW apprentice electricians and both of them used the California Paid Family Leave Act to take time of the job when their daughter was born. They were able to care for their child, maintain their economic stability, and return to their jobs. They told their story at the AFL-CIO Working Families Speak Up Event on Sunday and then joined the White House Summit on Monday.
Connie Leak, President of the Coalition of Labor Union Women and a member of UAW, said this wasn’t just about boots on the ground, but about “heels, flats, and sneakers heading to the streets” and to the White House Summit to talk about working family issues and the importance of unions, collective bargaining, and public policy to create 21st century workplaces that nourish working families.
The next day over 1,000 people joined the conversation with President Obama and the First Lady, Vice President and Dr. Jill Biden, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, Democratic Congressional Leader Nancy Pelosi, and a host of corporate, media, and advocacy leaders. Labor’s voice was heard through Liz Shuler, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO, Mary Kay Henry, President of the Service Employees Union, and Kay Thompson, Local 1-S Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union/UFCW. A mother of four and an employee at Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square, Kay Thompson told the audience that “the fair work schedule secured by my collective bargaining agreement is one of the main reasons I’ve stayed at Macy’s for nearly 20 years.”
Kay Thompson, Krista and Johnathan Brooks, and many other powerful stories told over the two days were about the possibility of change. Now attention is turning to how to translate the ideas and energy in that room into action. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “We can’t just talk. We have got to act.”