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Public Employee Press
Women's Committee has empowerment on the agenda
By ALFREDO ALVARADO
"We want to address some of the issues facing women, such as pay equity and paid maternity leave, and start to develop an agenda and strategy," said Walthene Primus, chair of the Women's Committee and president of Local 957.
Wanda Williams, director of the Political Action and Legislation Dept. welcomed the activists and guest speakers and shared the agenda for the day; the conference began with a video presentation of the AFSCME Lifetime Achievement Award being presented to Executive Director Lillian Roberts at the recent AFSCME convention in Chicago.
Congressional representatives Charles Rangel and Carolyn Maloney also attended the conference and acknowledged the valuable contributions made by DC 37 and Roberts on behalf of municipal workers. Maloney called Roberts "one of our country's greatest union leaders."
Maloney also called for the creation of a women's museum in Washington, DC.
Rangel presented Roberts with a certificate of Special Congressional Recognition and thanked the union for helping to send him back to Washington for his 23rd term in Congress.
Henry Garrido, DC 37 associate director, addressed the members and spoke about some of the inequities of the civil service system and the union's commitment to seeking due process for the 20,000 provisional employees that work for the city.
Former DC 37 staffer and author Jane LaTour shared examples of women who were pioneers in breaking into industries to do jobs that were once exclusively for men.
Crystal Hawkins, a member of Local 983, is one of those pioneers. An Assistant City Highway Repairer, Hawkins has worked many non-traditional jobs, from driving tractors and shoveling asphalt to clearing roads and highways after hurricanes.
"I love every minute of it," Hawkins said. "If it looks clean, we cleaned it."
On the panel that discussed political empowerment, Brooklyn City Council member Laurie Cumbo, who is also chair of the Council's Women's Committee, pledged to keep fighting for paid maternity leave.
The keynote speaker was state Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who represents the 35th SD in Yonkers. She grew up in public housing in Manhattan and stressed the importance of labor unions and the impact that belonging to a union had on her family. "We had health care, thanks to the union, and that made a big difference for me and my family," she said.
City Comptroller Scott Springer, Public Advocate Letitia James, City Council member Rosie Mendez and Assembly member Michaelle Solages, from Nassau County, also attended and encouraged the union to fight for more female voices in government, equal pay and paid maternity leave. James also urged that labor extend a hand to fast-food workers in their struggles for higher wages and the right to unionize.