Thursday, August 30, 2012

Musings on the NOW Conference: Women Workers of the World: United to Fight for Our Dignity and Our Rights!

Star of Davida is back! This post is part of a series discussing the 2012 National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference: Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women. You can read my notes on this session here.

I had the privilege to attend the National Organization for Women (NOW)’s 2012 national conference, titled Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women. It’s the biggest understatement of the year to say that I really enjoyed the experience. I will be posting my impressions of every session I attended (including ones that are not in my notes, as linked to above). Here’s the first one!

The first session I attended was Women Workers of the World: United to Fight for Our Dignity and Our Rights!. The discussion was moderated by MacKenzie Baris, the field organizer of the Making Change at Walmart Campaign.

The first speaker was Lisa McGowan, the Senior Specialist of Gender at the Solidarity Center, who discussed domestic workers’ (like nannies, etc.) issues. She brought up the issues that domestic workers face and her advocacy work on their behalf. Next was Brenda Carter, Special Assistant to the union UNITE HERE President, who talked about her involvement in labor action against the Hyatt hotel company. She talked about the abuses Hyatt has inflicted upon its workers, especially its female housekeepers. Silvia Fabela, Organizer of the Making Change at Walmart Campaign, was the final speaker. She spoke about the reasons Walmart workers want to change the company for the better and how they are working towards their goals.

All in all, I really enjoyed this session. I want to go into labor law, so that may be why this really appealed to me personally, but I think that everyone in the audience was really interested by what was being said and engaged in the conversation when the floor was opened to questions.

One thing that really struck me was the speakers’ sheer determination to make change, despite all of the opposition their causes and they personally have faced. It amazes me that even though they are in David vs. Goliath battles, they’re fighting hard anyway.

I was really shocked when McGowan mentioned that it’s actually legal to discriminate against domestic workers in the US. In retrospect, it makes sense that they aren’t protected by the law, but it’s absolutely insane that there’s any group of people whose members are subject to the mercy of their employers.

Another thing that really piqued my interest was when Fabela said that advocates for changing Walmart are so dedicated because Walmart is the world’s third-largest employer (behind the US and China militaries), and therefore sets the industry standard. Since 65% of Walmart’s workers are female, this industry standard impacts women more directly than men. It’s amazing - kind of scary, but still amazing - that one company wields so much power.

Listening to some of the things that Hyatt has done to its (women) workers truly horrified me. Forcing a woman to come back to work three days after having a C-section and firing her when she won’t comply? Having housekeepers clean twice the amount of rooms than the industry standard? Turning heat lamps on protesting workers during a heat wave? These actions are mindboggling, and the fact that little has been done to stop Hyatt from repeating such behavior is just asinine.

When the floor was opened to questions, an audience member asked if the Pritzker family still owns Hyatt, and Carter responded that they do. It was then explained that the Pritzkers are extremely wealthy high-ups in the Democratic party. The hypocrisy there really irritates me to no end. It bothers me that these people are acting like big liberals who are friends of the underdog, but are really exploitative robber barons who are squeezing the life out of their employees. (Injury rates of housekeepers are similar to that of coal miners.) Another audience member later stated in a different context that we have to live our feminism. I think the Pritzkers need to hear that.

What really stands out to me about everything that McGowan, Carter, and Fabela discussed is that these are all women’s issues. It’s just so unfair that these are still, in fact, women’s issues. Why are domestic workers mostly immigrant women of color, and why is their work still devalued by society? Why does Walmart employ so many more women than it does men? Why does Hyatt have its (female) housekeepers clean bathroom floors on their hands and knees, but give mops to its (male) custodians? We all know the answers to these questions, but that doesn’t make it any better. Our culture, globally and on the domestic level, has to change. But in the meantime, we have to help out these causes.

To get involved in advocacy for domestic workers, you can visit and

To get involved in fighting Hyatt, you can vote Hyatt the worst hotel employer in the world at and boycott Hyatt at large.

To get involved in working for change at Walmart, you can visit Fabela urged people to “talk about what’s happening, share online,” but not to boycott Walmart, since that will lead to cuts and negatively affect workers, which is the opposite of what we want to accomplish.

Happy organizing! It’s an uphill battle from here.

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