Paducah Women of Steel Strengthen Skills at International Conference

Members of Local 550 women in Paducah, Ky., arrived at the International Women of Steel (WOS) conference Oct. 23-26 in Pittsburgh fired up and ready to make a difference. 

More than 1,200 passionate union activists spent the three days of the conference connecting with their fellow USW members, honing their leadership skills, engaging in educational opportunities and celebrating the strength and diversity of women of steel. 

Jacquie Wright, who heads the Local 550 WOS committee, and members Brandy Glisson and Kerri Bagwell – all three Radiological Control Technicians (RCTs) at the former Paducah gaseous diffusion plant – truly embody the theme of this year’s conference: “Women of Steel – Know Your Power.”

In just a few years, the Paducah women have built an active, thriving WOS committee for their local.

Together, the women have put on numerous successful fundraisers, donated thousands of dollars to local charities and established camaraderie among both women and men in their local from the ground up.

In her video address to the entire delegation during the conference’s opening session, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler even called out the Paducah group for their outstanding contributions to the nuclear sector.

“Our sisters at Local 550 in Paducah are leading the way, empowering women in male-dominated fields,” said Shuler, “raising money for our local charities, and supporting their community in Western Kentucky.”

It was Wright’s first WOS conference. She came looking not just for ways to continue building on her own committee’s momentum but also to build relationships with fellow members across North America.

“We came here looking to make connections, meet other women who have the same struggles we have, and learn how to grow our WOS committee,” said Wright.

“Thirty-five to 40 percent of our incoming RCTs are women,” Wright continued. “That’s a lot, and we want to learn how to get them to step in and be involved.”

Bagwell said the biggest challenge they are facing as a committee is how to empower younger workers to recognize that they have important perspectives to add to the fabric of the WOS committee.

“The women I’m around in my office area are younger,” said Bagwell. “We want to show them that they have value and that they’re not too young to get involved.”

The work the women do is making a difference in the tight-knit Western Kentucky community of around 26,000 people. Glisson has an intimate connection to one of the charities their WOS group has supported, Cassidy’s Cause, which provides equine therapy to children fighting illnesses and living with disabilities. 

Glisson’s daughter, who passed away after battling cancer, benefited from the therapy Cassidy’s Cause provided her.

“They gave so much to my daughter,” said Glisson. “It’s amazing to be able to give back.”

Glisson, Bagwell and Wright look forward to bringing the lessons they learn from the conference back to share with the other women in their group, and said a key takeaway is to do good work and have fun while doing it.

“Women of Steel is not about doing something just to do it, but it’s about being able to bond with each other and have fun,” said Wright.

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