As summer ends, other journeys begin at district Women of Steel leadership trainings

While the end-of-summer heat pressed on throughout the Midwest, two more groups of Steelworkers turned up the dial on their activism by completing the Women’s Leadership Course this past August. 

In District 11 (which consists of Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri), sisters from a wide variety of industries participated in the Level 1 module of the program in Des Moines, Iowa. Though there is currently only a Level 1 course offered in the large, diverse district, Assistant to the Director Cathy Drummond is hoping to roll out a Level 2 course by early next year.

And the interest is clearly there, as seen in the course’s recent boom.

“Our district’s program has really grown with the number of women who have stepped up,” Drummond said. “And I’d say at least 75 percent of the participants this time were women new to their facilities and new to the union.”

Four of the district’s participants in August were bilingual, which was a change for the program and “exciting to see,” Drummond said.

Women of Steel activists from across District 11 participated in the Women's Leadership Course in August 2019.

Talina McClure, President of Local 13 and chair of the WOS MOKAN (Minnesota, Kansas, and Nebraska) Council, assisted Drummond with facilitating the course, a first for the Independence, Mo., activist.

McClure, who works as a palletizer operator at craft and gardening supply manufacturer Fiskars, was nervous about the new experience, but she utilized the skills gained from completing the course herself several years ago to overcome any jitters.

“Doing the leadership course and everything that led up to now has helped me get better at it and become more comfortable with public speaking,” she said. “Cathy and I also work really well together.”

Comradery is a massive bonus to participating in these courses, whether as a facilitator or as a student, according to McClure. And this round was no exception.

“It was a lot of fun, and I got to meet some great women who will go on to do great things,” McClure said. “There was a lot of potential in the room.”

The sisters in Des Moines were also visited by a special guest speaker—District 11 SOAR President Bonnie Carey, a Women of Steel activist and retiree from Local 105.

District 11 SOAR President Bonnie Carey with sisters from LU 105.

Several states over, Women of Steel from District 1 gathered outside of Pittsburgh for their own dose of speakers, education, and activism. Fourteen sisters from a variety of industries worked through Level 3 of the leadership course with the assistance of Teresa Hartley, recently named assistant to the director by Donnie Blatt.

Hartley, who began her union career at a Cooper Tire factory in Findlay, Ohio, uses the third year of the program to focus on the Steelworkers’ “Building Power” curriculum. With this training, the sisters learn how to navigate strikes and for a CAT (Communications and Action Team), as well as how that knowledge can be used when dealing with lockouts and negotiations.

Director Blatt also visited the WOS activists at Linden Hall to talk about his own experience building power during tense Ormet negotiations 1999-2000.

WOS sisters from District 1 participated in the Level 3 module of the leadership course at Linden Hall.

To Hartley, the biggest takeaways from any level of the ever-growing WOS leadership program are the relationships the sisters form with each other.

“When they start year one and they meet each other that very first day, I tell them that by the end of the week, they will all form a bond that I can’t even explain,” she said.

Jennifer Schwartzkopf, from Local 843L, in Marysville, Ohio, values these connections and the long-term comradery they foster.

“I love knowing that I have amazing sisters that I can go to when I need them,” she said. “Being able to learn from others’ experiences and sharing my own is very rewarding.”

For more information about the WOS Leadership Course, contact your district coordinator, who you can find here.

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