The reports and guides found on this page provide women with information and tools to organize and become more effective leaders in their organizations and in the labor movement. They were created and produced with support from the Berger-Marks Foundation and are available on this page for download and print at no cost.

Women’s Committees

A Guide to Organizing Women’s Committees (March 2015)

Everything You Need to Know to Make a Difference

Download Guide (3.7 MiB)

Org_Wom_Comm_GuideIn the early history of unionization, unions and other organizations limited the participation of women or organized them into separate unions. Such restrictions are not the case today, but the fact remains that genuine, systemic equality for women at the workplace, in unions, and within the labor movement is still unrealized.

A Guide to Organizing Women’s Committees builds on the findings of the Women’s Committees in Worker Organizations report to provide step-by-step instruction for forming women’s committees in unions and worker-centered organizations. Union and worker center members can use this Guide to plan and implement women’s committees at their organizations.

The Guide was written by consultant, journalist, and author, Jane LaTour, in consultation with Cornell University Workers Institute faculty Lois Gray and Maria Figueroa. It was produced with funding and support from the Berger-Marks Foundation.

Accompanying workshop and workshop handouts

For the Guide to Organizing Women’s Committees

Download Workshop Guide (147.9 KiB)

Download Handouts (168.6 KiB)

This 2-hour workshop was developed by Dale Melcher, former staff of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Labor Extension Program and is based on the Guide to Organizing Women’s Committees. It can be used at meetings and conferences to instruct participants on planning and implementing women’s committees at their organizations. It explores the question of what a women’s committee can do for a union or worker center and reviews steps and strategies for developing a new women’s committee or strengthening an existing one.

The workshop is accompanied by a series of handouts for workshop participants that include: an overview of the Guide, a summary of the benefits of women’s committees, information and worksheets on recruiting members, and information and worksheets for planning a women’s committee.

Women’s Committees in Worker Organizations (February 2014)

Still Making a Difference

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gray-report210Authors of this report set out to collect case studies of women’s committees, women’s departments and other union sponsored separate organizing for further insights on their value to unions and to their women members. This report summarizes findings from interviews and data collection on six programs sponsored by national unions and case studies for six local unions and two non-traditional workers organizations. Questions examined include:

  • How did the program originate?
  • How does the program function? Is it carried on by paid staff or volunteers?
  • What types of services or activities are provided?
  • What barriers or limitations have been encountered and how were these overcome?
  • Is there evidence of the impact on the participants, leadership recognition of women members, or changes in policies?
  • Based on the experience of this program, what advice can we give on effective strategies for women’s programs?



mentoringhandbookThe Next Generation: (April 2012)

A Handbook for Mentoring Future Union Leaders 

Download entire Handbook (1.8 MiB)

Mentoring is an essential tool for moving unions forward: It can help less experienced members and staff learn new leadership skills and how to navigate the political terrain of their union settings. A new handbook,The Next Generation: A Handbook for Mentoring Future Union Leaders, gives valuable advice and concrete tools for developing mentoring programs for union members and staff, and implementing them. The handbook defines and describes various types of mentoring, outlines strategies for addressing potential roadblocks in the mentoring process, and presents key lessons from programs that actually work about how to make mentoring programs effective and sustainable. This guide can be used to begin a new mentoring program or to shore up one that’s already in place. It’s a must-read for those looking to create and sustain mentoring programs that empower, prepare, and train future union leaders and keep unions strong. The handbook was written by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and produced with funding and support from the Berger-Marks Foundation.

Distribute a customized version with your union's logo added to the cover!

Download front and back covers with space for your logo (2.8 MiB)

Download whole Handbook with space for your logo on front and back (5.0 MiB)

To download single chapters:


Mentoring 101 Teaching Guide

A Basic Workshop

Download PowerPoint, with teaching notes on each slide (654.0 KiB)

Download Worksheet for Planning a Mentoring Program (46.1 KiB)

"Mentoring 101" is a basic workshop consisting of a PowerPoint, with teaching notes on each slide, designed to familiarize activists with mentoring, as it is presented in the handbook (above). It takes the viewer to a final exercise in which key questions are asked that need to be answered by participants before moving forward with the program.

The companion "Worksheet for Planning a Mentoring Program" is provided for activists to assist them in putting together their particular mentoring program. It is meant to be used along with the Appendices at the back of the handbook, which provide all the needed pieces of the program.



newApproaches-smNew Approaches to Organizing Women & Young Workers: Social Media & Work Family Issues (2010)

Three groups collaborated to interview organizers who are using new approaches

Download Report (849.0 KiB)

"Some of the most exciting and innovative strategies and tools are being developed by young organizers using new technology and social media," says this report. It gives specific examples of how they use Internet websites, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and texts, while cautioning that these approaches are no substitute for personal contact.

And young workers are even more concerned than older workers about work-family balance and caregiving responsibilities. That often motivates the desire for improvements like job security, health benefits, and less overtime, but these priorities aren't always framed as work and family issues.

The study concludes that "the immediate challenge for unions will be how to provide organizers with these tools, the skills to use them and the budget to maintain them," and gives recommendations. It calls for "a new union culture that is attractive to young workers" and says, "an effort should be made to reframe work and family issues as core labor issues."


Is There a Women’s Way of Organizing? (2009)

Cornell report on Gender, Unions, and Effective Organizing gives provocative answers
Study examines four non-traditional campaigns that reach out in new ways -- and win.

As traditional industries decline, people are hiring into “informal and low-wage sectors” where turnover is high, legal protections are scarce, unions are rare, and workers tend to be immigrant women of color. Organizing such jobs is especially hard -- often there isn't even a central workplace. Researchers began with a series of focus groups and roundtable discussions in 2008 and 2009, where workers and organizers, most of them women, talked about how they mobilized diverse and fragmented workforces, and the experiences of women in unions.

The report then examines the tactics that worked -- such as linking up with groups in the community, cultural activities, and developing relationships that can endure for the long haul, with less focus on the union election. The campaigns held meetings wherever and whenever it was convenient for workers, mentored women and helped them become leaders, and addressed non-traditional issues important to them.

The report's findings are hard-hitting. It concludes that "change is not optional... If U.S. unions find it impossible to change, workers will build (and already are building) new structures and organizations to fight for their interests.”

Kate Bronfenbrenner
Kate Bronfenbrenner

No Holds Barred: The Intensification of Employer Opposition to Organizing (2009)

By Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations
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Two out of three companies that unions tried to organize through an NLRB election between 1998 and 2003 violated U.S. labor law to fight the union. That’s what Kate Bronfenbrenner reveals in this study of 1004 union campaigns. Bronfenbrenner, who has been studying employer behavior for 20 years, found that employer law-breaking has sharply escalated.

This report gives the most comprehensive look ever at company tactics during union organizing campaigns and in bargaining contracts. In addition to studying five years of organizing drives that led to National Labor Relations Board-run elections, her research team also held in-depth interviews with 562 organizers. They found that the vast majority of companies use extreme tactics, legal and illegal, to thwart workers.


Women Organizing Women (2005)

How Do We Rock the Boat Without Getting Thrown Overboard?

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Women Organizing Women highlights the experiences and insights of a group of highly skilled union organizers during a retreat in November 2004. Facilitated by National Labor College President Sue Schurman, 19 participants explored the best ways to increase the ranks of women organizers and support them in their work. The report includes participants' recommendations for improving the position of union organizer and sets a roadmap for the Foundation as it looks ahead.

Dr. Bronfenbrenner of Cornell being introduced by Paul E. Almeida, DPE
Dr. Bronfenbrenner of Cornell being introduced by Paul E. Almeida, DPE

Union Organizing Among Professional Women Workers (2005)

A groundbreaking research study commissioned by the Department for Professional Employees -AFL-CIO

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Presented at the DPE Conference on Organizing Professionals in the 21st Century, at Crystal City, Virginia, on March 14-16, 2005, this Berger-Marks-funded study is the most thorough investigation of union organizing among professional women ever conducted. Its conclusions emphasize the importance of professional women to the labor movement's future (see quote at right).

Dr. Kate Bronfenbrenner, a widely respected Cornell University educator and researcher, authored the study, after the Department for Professional Employees -AFL-CIO received $22,000 in funding for it from the Berger- Marks Foundation.


Women’s Leadership in the Labor Movement

Union Women, Union Power: From the Shopfloor to the Streets (2013)

Watch the video

The documentary film, Union Women, Union Power, highlights the lives of five women in different unions who had to fight for their right to be there. The film, created by the Coalition of Labor Union Women, features each of these five brave union women discussing their stories of harassment, discrimination, and intimidation from bosses during their early years of employment in the construction, hotel, and other industries.

EleanorRooseveltWhy Women Should Join Unions: Organizing and Leading with Eleanor Roosevelt (2011)

Read and download the guide

The workshop guide, Why Women Should Join Unions, explores the strategies and skills used by Eleanor Roosevelt, union member and activist for working women, and how they can help today. The materials are designed to meet the many different interests and needs of labor activists and can be independently incorporated into existing workshops on women’s organizing and leadership.


Stepping Up, Stepping Back (July 2010)

Women Activists ‘Talk Union’ Across Generations

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When we brought together 30 women activists -- half of them younger than 35, the other half older than 35 -- to New Orleans for an intergenerational conversation about the labor movement, we found out a lot about what it is about unions that turns younger women on and what turns them off.

The observations and recommendations of these vibrant, intelligent women are captured in this very readable report published by the Foundation.

Stepping Up, Stepping Back presents an honest and complete reflection of how these women view social justice, the American labor movement and the role of younger women in unions, and it pulls no punches in its critique of today’s unions. Its prescription for change includes practical, yet bold, steps to help make the labor movement a “safe space” for tomorrow’s women workers and activists.

IKnewIcouldDoThisWork“I Knew I Could Do This Work” (December 2007)

Seven Strategies to Promote Women's Activism & Leadership in Unions 
By Amy Caiazza, Institute for Women’s Policy Research
Read the Report

Download Discussion Guide (169.7 KiB)

Download Participant Handout (135.5 KiB)

“Unions are good for women workers, but they could be much better at promoting women into leadership positions,” said Amy Caiazza, IWPR's Director of Democracy and Society Programs, who authored this hard-hitting report released December 5, 2007.

Based on interviews with women union activists, the report also analyzes key obstacles that hold women back -- from not seeing enough women visible in leadership to feeling more vulnerable to being fired, seeing the priorities of women workers neglected, and having jobs that offer little experience seeing what unions do . “The strategies outlined in this report are designed to help women claim a voice of authority in an area that is traditionally dominated by men,” says Caiazza. Strategies range from: Addressing Women’s True Priorities and Creating and Supporting Formal Mentoring Programs to Providing Opportunities for Women to Strategize Together and Providing Flexible Options for Involvement.


workers-coverWorkers’ Guide to Health and Safety (2015)

More than a decade in the making and drawing on the experiences of workers and health educators from every continent, the Worker’s Guide to Health and Safety by Hesperian Health Guides, provides occupational safety and health information in an accessible, well-illustrated format that speaks directly to workers’ experience. While covering workplace problems such as electrical hazards, machine dangers, ergonomics, chemical use, and fire, among others, it also breaks new ground by focusing on “social hazards” such as low wages, long hours, sexual harassment, workplace violence, and other problems. These issues affect factory workers’ health but are usually not considered part of occupational health and safety. The book also covers specific illnesses that are common or exacerbated by factory conditions, such as HIV, tuberculosis, and mental health. The Berger-Marks Foundation provided funding for the creation of the book.

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