Women Workers Rising

The AFT helped rally a large crowd of people for Women Workers Rising on March 8, an event held on International Women’s Day and the Day Without a Woman. These are my prepared remarks for a lively rally at the Department of Labor headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Read more about the event.)


My name is Randi Weingarten and I am the president of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachers. We are teachers, cafeteria workers, nurses, college professors, scientists and so many more. And all three AFT officers are women!

At a time when the country is being inundated with the fake, we know what is real. Raising our families is real. But so are our challenges, like fighting discrimination and sexual harassment. The wage gap is real. Wage theft is real. But the fight back is real, as well. Resistance and persistence.

The power of collective action is real — the same power that’s at the core of the labor movement. Union members know that the two main ways we gain respect are power at the bargaining table and the ballot box.

The union advantage is also real. Women in a union earn 31 percent more per week on average than women not in a union. That’s enough for a car payment, to save for college, or to buy a home — helping their families get further ahead. And the union advantage for women of color is even greater. But the right to join together in a union is under assault.

Take Wisconsin. After Scott Walker’s attacks on unions and workers, the state’s middle class is shrinking faster than any other state in the nation. Yet some lawmakers want to pass similar legislation in Congress — which conservative spin doctors call right to work, but I call work for less.

Women are rising all over the country today. But what will really matter are elections. Our vote is our voice. Yet — 50 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act — attacks on access to the ballot box are real. Bills to restrict the right to vote have been introduced in more than half the states. This is about power and agency and our core values.

Women are rising today. We rise to fight discrimination and hatred. We rise to fight for economic opportunity; great neighborhood public schools; high-quality, affordable healthcare; and freedom and democracy. These values are American values. We will not allow injustice, inequality and discrimination to hold women back!

But why do we have to fight for what should be inalienable rights? The right to vote, to join a union, for economic opportunity? Why must we fight for the free press and the independent judiciary?

Women are rising today. We rise to fight discrimination and hatred. We rise to fight for economic opportunity; great neighborhood public schools; high-quality, affordable healthcare; and freedom and democracy.

Because others, like those occupying the White House today, want to turn back the clock. To strip away not only our healthcare but our power. Because they don’t want checks on their power. Because we are the check and balance. That’s what resistance and persistence mean. We are “We the People.”

We stand just steps from the Department of Labor. The building is named for Frances Perkins, FDR’s secretary of labor, who is called the Mother of the New Deal. Talk about a powerful woman. Perkins helped millions of Americans escape extreme poverty, unemployed Americans gained meaningful work that transformed the country, and Social Security still keeps the elderly, disabled and orphans from terrible fates. Women get it done.

You know this truth: The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. But it doesn’t bend on its own. Susan B. Anthony bent it. Ida B. Wells bent it. Frances Perkins bent it. Rosa bent it. Malala bent it. Hillary bent it. We are bending it. And we will never stop.

Thank you!