The story of worker’s rights is driven by women

Workshift celebrates Women's History Month

Each March, the National Women’s History Project organizes Women’s History Month to “recognize and celebrate the diverse accomplishments of women.” Workshift is commemorating this year’s Women’s History Month, “Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business,” by highlighting how women have driven the movement to support workers.

We have so many women to thank for the strength of worker’s organizations today. From Sarah Bagley, who fought for a shorter 10-hour workday for factory workers in the 19th century, to today’s leaders like Alicia Garza and Lilly Ledbetter, the story of worker’s rights is driven by women.

Here are some names to know:

  • Jane Addams and Josephine Lowell founded the National Consumers League, a consumer organization which fights for worker’s rights, in 1899.
  • Frances Perkins served as the first female US Secretary of Labor and first female appointee to the US Cabinet.
  • Rosina Tucker was instrumental in creating the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first African American trade union.
  • Clara Day was a labor, civil rights activist, and founding member of the Coalition of Labor Union Women in 1974.
  • Linda Chavez-Thompson served as executive vice-president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) in the 1990s.
  • Hilda Solis, who served as US Secretary of Labor from 2009 to 2013, is first Hispanic woman appointed to a Cabinet role.
  • Alicia Garza is an activist and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement. She’s also Director of Special Projects at the National Domestic Workers Alliance which works to improve working conditions and promote the dignity of domestic workers, immigrants, women, and their families.

These women fought hard battles, but the struggle is far from over. Today, 57.2% of women are in the workforce, the majority (64%) of them in part-time jobs that are often low paying and without benefits. Women in the workforce continue to face obstacles like unfair pay, workplace harassment, and a lack of sufficient paid maternity leave. On average, women who work full time are more educated (hold more degrees) than men, and yet in 2015 they were paid only 80 cents for every dollar that a man earns.

This 20 point wage gap disproportionately affects women of color and compounds pre-existing issues such as the lack of a fair minimum wage. According to the Institute For Women’s Policy Research, “If change continues at the same slow pace as it has done for the past fifty years, it will take 44 years—or until 2059—for women to finally reach pay parity. For women of color, the rate of change is even slower: Hispanic women will have to wait until 2248 and Black women will wait until 2124 for equal pay.”

There are so many more women who have spoken up, stood up, and sat in for workers over the course of history, and we are confident that there will be many more in generations to come. Women who work and fight for workers will make a crucial difference between a future we resign ourselves to, and a future to look forward to. Happy Women’s History Month — and keep fighting.

In solidarity,

The Workshift Team


National campaign dedicated to good jobs for all. Supported by The Rockefeller Foundation, Purpose & Center for Popular Democracy.