After nearly 20 years in operation, the Berger-Marks Foundation is closing its doors in the summer of 2017. The Berger-Marks Foundation will invest its remaining funds in a new project, WILL Empower, to build women’s leadership in labor organizations. This ambitious initiative will identify, nurture, train, and convene a new generation of women labor leaders.

Marilyn Sneiderman of CIWO, Lane Windham of KI, Sheri Davis-Faulkner of CIWO, and Joe McCartin of KI
Marilyn Sneiderman of CIWO, Lane Windham of KI, Sheri Davis-Faulkner of CIWO, and Joe McCartin of KI
The Kalmanovitz Initiative (KI) for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University in Washington, DC and the Center for Innovation in Worker Organization (CIWO) at Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations in New Jersey are co-leading the project. Building a pipeline of future women labor leaders comes at a time when the labor movement faces severe economic and political challenges.

“Mobilizing women and empowering them to lead unions is the key to revitalizing a potent workers’ movement,” said Linda Foley, President of the Berger-Marks Foundation. “The WILL Empower project will train and lift up a new generation of powerful and diverse women who can chart a forward path for working people.  The Foundation is excited to support this new program as our legacy of building women’s leadership in labor and beyond.”

WILL Empower (Women Innovating Labor Leadership) programming will begin this fall. The Berger-Marks Foundation closes June 30, passing its remaining assets of more than $1.5 million to the project.

“Given the unprecedented attacks on women in today’s political climate, it is exciting to tap the creativity and energy of this next generation of women to lead a movement for transformative change. Their vision, passion, and skills are needed now more than ever to win a more just country and world,” said Marilyn Sneiderman, Director of CIWO at Rutgers University.

WILL Empower will be led by Sheri Davis-Faulkner at CIWO and Lane Windham at KI. Windham and Davis-Faulkner are organizers, educators, scholars, and activists who have collectively spent over 40 years working in the labor movement and developing women leaders. Windham holds a doctorate in U.S. History and Davis-Faulkner holds a doctorate in American Studies.

“The Kalmanovitz Initiative is delighted to add this exciting new dimension to its work promoting a more just, sustainable and democratic economy. The voices and vision of a new generation of women labor leaders will be key to solving working people’s most pressing challenges,” said Georgetown University’s KI Director Joseph McCartin.

WILL Empower will use a broad approach to reach women throughout the labor movement, from the rank-and-file to national staff and officers. Initial programming covers four program areas:

1.    Cohorts of collective learning and mentoring will include next-generation women leaders in the labor movement, and mid-career women ready to advance. This project will offer multiple training, mentoring, and peer-group opportunities.

2.    Women union activists who want a break from daily responsibilities to develop bold ideas for advancing social and economic justice for women workers will be offered innovative academic fellowships.

3.    Recent college graduates and rank-and-file workers will have access to staff apprenticeships with unions and other economic justice organizations.

4.    A multi-media, interactive communications platform, titled the Future of Labor Interactive Project (FLIP), will offer aspiring women leaders resources to help them fight for economic justice. It will include online forums, research hubs, community-based projects, and reports and data.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler anticipates that “WILL Empower will be an indispensable new resource to build women’s leadership for the entire labor movement.”

Since 2003, the Berger-Marks Foundation has made grants totaling more than $2.3 million to provide hundreds of women workers with critical financial support to get trained, attend conferences, and gain organizing and leadership experience. The Foundation also has funded organizing projects, research, and mentoring programs.

“We are proud of the work our Foundation has supported,” said Foley. “But there is much work left to be done. We see the WILL Empower project as the most effective way to carry it on.”