Unions Help Raise Women’s Wages — and Voices

By Betsy Shank

I saw a lot of things change over my 30 year teaching career. You could see the world evolving through the microcosm of my classroom — from fashion to technology to music and more. But one thing that remained constant throughout my tenure was the support I received from my union. My decades in the classroom were more successful because my union had my back.

This has held true at every point in my career. As a busy working professional, I was always glad to have others looking out for me when it came to negotiating for wages. As I advanced in my career, the union provided me and my peers training and development to continue improving our skills. Now that I’m retired, I know my union is working to make sure I can age with dignity. And I saw how our strong union benefited not just me, but my students and our whole community through a strong public school system with better educational outcomes.

Unions benefit all of us, but as a woman, being part of a union was critical to ensuring I had opportunities to get ahead. Outrageous as it seems, women in our country are still paid less than men. Among non-union members, women typically earn 80 cents on the dollar to their male counterparts. In contrast, a woman union member working full-time makes 90 percent of what their male counterparts make — a 40 percent smaller wage gap for union members. In our economy, this pay boost can make a big difference. Reducing the wage gap puts more groceries in the fridge and more savings in the bank.

I remember growing up hearing my mother and aunt talk about how they felt they didn’t have a voice in their workplaces, and how especially as women, they felt undervalued — something I haven’t had to experience. I’ve been a building representative for my school, and even ran for the school board a few years ago. And now that I’m retired, I continue to volunteer with my union local. I know I’ve helped make my voice and those of my fellow teachers heard. I’ve seen first-hand how joining together and speaking with one voice can help all of us, and especially women, get ahead and better support our families.

That’s why it’s so upsetting that a case coming before the U.S. Supreme Court has the potential to take that all away. If the corporate CEOs and special interests supporting this case get their way, the economic rules in this country will swing even further toward the wealthy at the expense of working people — people like teachers, nurses and firefighters. At risk is our ability to come together, speak up, and get ahead.

It already feels sometimes like the deck is stacked against us. It’s 2015 and women are still struggling for fair pay. When almost no one stands up for average Americans, our ability to join together and speak as one is critical to making sure working people can get ahead and women get a fair share. So though it’s fun to think about all the things that changed over my career as a teacher, I hope having the support of a union isn’t one of them.

Betsy Shank is a retired teacher in Cincinnati, OH and a lifetime member of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers.

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