Union activists convene online to share Women of Steel origin stories

Our USW Women of Steel (WOS) program hosted a panel discussion on International Women’s Day focusing on the origins of the union’s activist-arm built around leadership and empowerment.

The virtual conversation, moderated by WOS Director Ann Flener, highlighted historic events including the union’s first Women of Steel resolution, introduced at the union’s 1992 Constitutional Convention. Activists and union members also shared intimate, personal experiences they’ve endured and challenges they’ve overcome while navigating their workplaces and the labor movement as women.  

Roberta Wood, one of thousands of women who went to work in the steel industry in the 1970s, spoke on her entrance into the male-dominated mill in the union’s former District 31 in Gary, Ind. 

“My thinking at the time was this was a real job, a job with real pay I could use to support myself,” reflected Wood.

Of course, there were still challenges she and the other women faced every day. “Sometimes you had to walk a mile just to use the restroom,” said Wood. “And we had to use hotels for our women’s caucus to meet because we didn’t have access to the union halls.”

Wood and her co-workers eventually organized and ran for local election—and won.

The panel also featured labor leaders including former USW Vice President at Large Carol Landry, USW Vice President Leeann Foster, and Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) President Elise Bryant.

Foster, who oversees the union’s paper sector, closed the evening conversation and gave a shout-out to fellow International Executive Board member Roxanne Brown, who serves as Vice President at Large.

“Roxy and I truly stand on the shoulders of the women who came before us,” said Foster.

Click here to watch the panel.


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