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Liz Shuler: Seeing a Bigger Role for Women in the Labor Movement

Mark A. Stein
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NYT: How did you get your start in the labor movement?

Liz Shuler: I came up through the IBEW [International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers]. My father was a union member and worked for PGE [an Oregon utility]. Clerical workers were not in a union, and my mother and I were organizing them. PGE was a study in the difference a union can make: Power linemen were respected and made good wages, and nonunion clerical workers were not listened to and didn’t have a voice.

Later, Enron bought the utility. Employees were encouraged to invest their retirement savings in Enron stock. When Enron’s fraud was revealed and bankruptcy was imminent, employees could not sell their stock. My father lost his pension, so that is truly what drives me to this day.

NYT: For much of your career, you were a young woman among much older men. What was that like?

Liz Shuler: Very challenging. When you’re the only woman in a room full of power linemen and older men, it’s challenging to have your voice heard and respected. I had to get creative in how I got things done. I also built a bench of mentors that I could lean on. All my mentors were men. I was always kind of assimilating back then. I have been passionate about women’s issues at work throughout my career, but it wasn’t until I came to the AFL-CIO, frankly, that I opened up and really stepped into what it’s like to be a woman leader.

Read the full interview.