Vol. 3, No. 10
July/August 2016
We Can (ALL) Do It!
Affirmative Action and the Changing Face
of the U.S. Workforce
 
In the wake of another historic Supreme Court ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a victory for affirmative action that will protect the right to opportunity for women and minorities, we continue our discussion on the fight for equal pay.
 
Affirmative action, when initially implemented by President Kennedy for federal contractors in 1961 included ending discrimination based on race, creed, color, or national origin. President Johnson, in 1967, added sex-based discrimination. Research has suggested that while people of color have reaped some benefits thanks to affirmative action. Women, especially white women, have benefited greatly from this legislation.
 
Margaret Fulkerson (pictured) is a woman who lived through and took advantage of beginning affirmative action legislation and the quotas enforced to hire more women and people of color. In 1973, the largest employer in the United States, AT&T, reached an agreement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Departments of Justice and Labor to end sex- and race-based discrimination in hiring; this is the Consent Decree of 1973. There were also mandated quotas that AT&T had to enforce. At this time jobs were listed as "Male" or "Female" jobs, the uniforms were strict--women had to wear a skirt-- and of course the pay scale was vastly different. Affirmative action did away with the classification of "Male" or "Female" jobs and ensured that men and women doing the same job were paid the same amount.
 
Margaret applied to work at Illinois Bell in 1975. "I heard on the street they had to hire women in traditionally male jobs. I knew that I'd make more money doing a male job." So Margaret applied and was hired as a cable splicer. The night before her first day at work her manager called her and tried for 30 minutes to talk her out of the job. Margaret thought "How could it be that bad?" and decided to show up the next morning, despite his phone call.
 
After a brief training period she had to report to "The Garage" for work. "It was like walking into a men's locker room," Margaret says; they spoke in highly explicit ways and would regularly ask "what's your cup size?" and were, according to Margaret, "obsessed with the fact that I couldn't pee standing up." She laughs at this now, but she put up with their harassment for a year, after which it finally started to let up a little. There was always the idea that "I was taking a job that should go to a man." One day her foreman even pulled her aside to say that women didn't belong here. The job was highly physical; Margaret worked diligently to meet these challenges. She spoke of using leverage instead of brute force. "That I was able to do it [physical work]; that was important to me. I did all the heavy work myself." One day there was an oversized manhole cover that needed to be moved, a two-person job normally, and she and another man moved it together. "A 250lb manhole cover, I did it. I carried my weight and he told all the guys that I carried my weight."
 
While Margaret was finally feeling accepted by her coworkers, her foreman continued to make things as difficult as possible for her. "He would direct me to do jobs alone that weren't safe." But her co-workers would try to look out for her. The foreman never let up though; after about a year and a half, "he decided to put me in the field alone."
 
"I worked near south, near west, and the Loop, the surrounding parts were rough then, and he would drop me in an alley with a cart and a propane tank." He would say "Rewire the alley," and leave her there alone. Sometimes her coworkers would come out to help or visit her. After a year-and-a-half of that, she transferred to the office, in the same pay grade, as a Central Office Technician. She worked there for 25 years and was in the union, IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) for 22. "I had a great career at AT&T thanks to affirmative action and quotas." She says that if it weren't for the quotas she would never had been hired at AT&T as a cable splicer.
 
Margaret speaks fondly of her time as a cable splicer. "We laughed a lot. We ended up being pretty good friends. They ended up accepting me; the only women they knew were their wives, maybe school teachers...They learned to see women in a different way. We really worked together."
 
Affirmative action is no longer about quotas and functions differently now, but the goal remains the same. According to research, there is no "performance shortfall" due to actively hiring women or people of color to do traditionally (white) male jobs. According to the National Women's Law Center, "The researchers also found that when affirmative action is used in recruiting, it does not lead to lower credentials or performance of women and minorities hired." However if women and minorities are not given the opportunity to work in these traditionally white male jobs, their earning potential is not equal. To this day, traditionally female jobs pay less than traditionally male jobs and the fact that men and women work at different jobs is a large contributor to the wage gap. Therefore a major component of truly equal pay is equal opportunity. Affirmative action targets this issue. It increases the diversity of our universities and workplaces, this means more perspectives, experiences, and ideas are resources for more people, and that is beneficial for everyone. It also gives women the opportunity to support themselves and their families, which in turn contributes to a healthier economy-leading to the conclusion that affirmative action is, in fact, a positive for everyone.
 
In the next part of our series on equal pay we will explore other aspects of salary including benefits that further complicate the true wage gap, such as: 401k or other retirement plans, comprehensive health insurance, and access to paid leave. The subject of paid leave is especially important for working women, particularly women with families.

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Vicky Starr's Work Lives On
by Joan McGann Morris

Vicky Starr was a lifelong labor activist who lived and worked in Chicago; she died in 2010, but her work lives on and is as relevant today as ever. Starr fought for strong unions that could protect their workers and their right to equal pay for equal work and could fight against sexism.

It is important not to let her work be forgotten; her story has been told in dozens of books, presentations, and the film "Union Maids," which was nominated for an Academy Award.

In 1997, Bobby Hall, founder of the Working Women's History Project and a friend of Vicky's, introduced me and helped me interview Vicky in preparation for writing Working Women's History Project's play, "Union Train." The play spotlighted Vicky Starr and the UPS Strike of 1997. Vicky was glad to tell her story; she was eager that her work, and the work of those that fought with her, not be forgotten.

Vicky was born in 1916 to a coal miner and grew up on a Midwestern farm. When she was 17, she got a job in a meatpacking plant in Chicago. Conditions were deplorable and the workers made very little. Women were not given the same opportunities as men. Vicky fought for strong unions to protect the workers. Meatpacking was a tough industry to organize, however, in her 20's, Starr joined other union activists and achieved bargaining rights at two major plants in Chicago's Back of the Yards. As a leading activist in the United Packinghouse Workers of America, she helped negotiate contracts for thousands of workers. She left meatpacking in 1945 to focus on her family, but she continued her activism, and in 1963 Starr returned to work as a secretary at the University of Chicago, where she helped to organize Teamsters Local 743 to represent administrative staff that was mostly women. She served as the first shop steward.

After she retired, she became an inspirational speaker to a new generation of activists. Bobby Hall, said of Vicky, "She was a most dedicated and talented person; her whole heart was in the labor movement."

Let's keep telling her story, so Vicky Starr's work will live on.

 
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Events

War Paint
The story of Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden, cosmetics pioneers. Starring Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole.
Where: Goodman Theater, 170 N Dearborn St
When: Through 8/21: Wed-Thu 7:30 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, Sun 2 and 7:30 PM (except 8/7, 2 PM only), Tue 7:30 PM; also Thu 7/21, 7/28, and 8/4, 2 PM
Price: $44-$182
 
 
Post Black Folk Art in America 1930-1980-2016
In honor of Intuit's 25th anniversary, they revisit the Corcoran Gallery of Art's groundbreaking 1982 exhibition Black Folk Art in America 1930-1980. "A pivotal exhibition in showcasing artists rarely seen outside of their close knit southern and urban communities."
Where: INTUIT: The Center or Intuitive and Outsider Art
When: July 15, 2016 - January 8, 2017, Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m - 6 p.m. Thursdays until 7:30 p.m. Sundays noon - 5 p.m. Closed Mondays.
Price: suggestion donation is $5, free for members and children
 
Career Without Kids: Work/Life Balance for the Other "Modern" Woman
Presented by the Chicago Foundation for Women
"Join CFW for a provocative and enlightening conversation with some of Chicago's leading professional women. Together they will share the demands, challenges, and ultimately, triumphs of being the face of America's other 'modern' woman. "
Where: Harold Washington Library, 400 N State St
When: August 24, 6pm-8pm
Price: Free, register online
 
Equal Means Equal
Presented by the Gender Equity Fund (of AAUW-IL)
EQUAL MEANS EQUAL offers an unflinching look at how women are treated in the United States today. Examining both real-life stories and precedent-setting legal cases, director Kamala Lopez uncovers how outdated and discriminatory attitudes inform and influence seemingly disparate issues, from workplace harassment to domestic violence, rape and sexual assault to the foster care system, and the healthcare conglomerate to the judicial system. Along the way, she reveals the inadequacy of present laws that claim to protect women, ultimately presenting a compelling and persuasive argument for the urgency of ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)."
Where: The Logan Theatre - 2646 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL 60647
When: August 26, 6pm-9pm
Price: $10 recomended donation, register ahead of time online
 
All Access
All Access is a series of music and cultural events that will take place simultaneously in five cities on September 10, 2016. "Our event celebrates the vibrant majority of Americans who support an individual's right to access abortion." Keep an eye on their website for upcoming details.
Where: Park West, 322 W. Armitage Ave
When: TBA, keep an eye on their website for specifics
Price: Free   
 
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