This is a reflection about the working women’s organization 9to5.
You never know where life will take you. As a volunteer for EWOC, I feel as if I have come full circle as an organizer. The pre-majority unionism strategies and tactics used in many of EWOC’s campaigns are very much the same as those used and described by Ellen Cassedy in her book “Working 9 to 5” in the late 70s and early 1980s. Based on my own experience with District 9to5 and my time with EWOC, they are indeed, very much the same and are still applicable today.
I got my start in organizing shortly after I graduated from SUNY New Paltz in 1978 while I was employed as a clerical worker at Syracuse University. I volunteered as a rank-and-file member of the organizing committee in a campaign led by the UAW’s TOPS division (Technical, Office, Professional and Service). While the union drive did lead to an election that was held after I left the university, it was not successful.
Upon moving back to New York City in 1980, I joined Women Office Workers (WOW), the New York City branch of 9to5 National Association of Working Women. While volunteering for WOW, I was a member and chair of the recruitment committee and conducted leafleting and outreach in the community. Our objectives were to recruit office workers who were interested in organizing for better working conditions to build a viable organization to take collective action.
WOW also provided educational sessions to NYC women office workers and formed a Labor History Committee, of which I was chair. The committee implemented “Working Women Make History,” a program sponsored by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities Labor History Project. The Labor History committee coordinated three activities.
- A forum event on Rosie the Riveter
- A four-session course on the history of working women
- A skit on the history of clerical organizing
We also established a resource library for members in the WOW office.
While at WOW-NYC from 1981-1982 and working with an organizer from the newly formed District 925/SEIU, we became the “NYC District 9-2-5 Organizing Council.” We targeted specific sites for possible union campaigns with emphasis on insurance companies and banks. I got a job at an insurance company as a “mole” in the hopes of starting a campaign there, but it did not materialize. As coordinator of the council in 1981, I was a representative of WOW at the National Associations of Working Women’s 9to5 summer school at Bryn Mawr, in the tradition of the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers in Industry founded in 1921.
My years at WOW informed the trajectory my life would take in the years to come. I went on and received a Certificate in Trade Union Studies for Women from Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations in June 1982 and in 1991 obtained an MSILR from Cornell University/CUNY. I have organized and represented hospital, home care workers, physicians, and university workers.
I am now retired from the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY as Director of Contract Enforcement after 27 years, but my years as a labor educator, organizer, and negotiator were all due, in part, to the sisterhood and solidarity I experienced at WOW. As I read “Working 9 to 5,” it reminded me of my experiences with WOW — organizing efforts that were very similar to the approach taken by EWOC in the cases where we support workers organizing for recognition and power in the workplace, absent an established union. Once you have organized your co-workers, you have your union!