The Berger-Marks Foundation logo Organizers discuss ideas at Berger-Marks conference

Dedicated to helping women organize into unions

Organizers involved with Berger-Marks

Reports funded by Berger-Marks


released in March, 2015

A Guide to Organizing Women's Committees
Everything You Need to Know to Make a Difference


released in February, 2014

Women’s Committees in Worker Organizations
Still Making a Difference


released in August, 2010

New Approaches to Organizing Women & Young Workers:
Social Media & Work Family Issues

released in July, 2010

Stepping Up, Stepping Back:
Women Activists ‘Talk Union’ Across Generations

Is There a Woman’s Way of Organizing?
Gender, Unions, and Effective Organizing

No Holds Barred:
The Intensification of Employer Opposition to Organizing

Cornell study shows massive company law-breaking against unions

'I knew I could do this work'
Seven Strategies to Promote Women's Activism & Leadership in unions

Women Organizing Women

Union Organizing
Among Professional Women Workers


Other resources from Berger-Marks

released in April, 2012

The Next Generation:
A Handbook for Mentoring Future Union Leaders

released in September, 2013

Mentoring101 teaching guide: Powerpoint w.notes, worksheet

Report from AFL-CIO

Young Workers: A Lost Decade:
Comprehensive AFL-CIO / Working America 2009 report:

Berger-Marks reports now available:

A Guide to Organizing Women's Committees

Everything You Need to Know to Make a Difference

A Guide to Organizing Womens Committees

In 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.

Read and download the guide.

Workshop for the Guide to Organizing Women's Committees

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.

Read and download the workshop.

Read and download the handouts.

Women’s Committees in Worker Organizations

Still Making a Difference

Stepping up, stepping back report

Authors 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?

Read and download the report

Stepping Up, Stepping Back:

Women Activists ‘Talk Union’ Across Generations

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.

Read more about it
Read and download the report.

 New Approaches to Organizing Women & Young Workers:

Social Media & Work Family Issues

Three groups collaborated to interview organizers who are using new approaches
Group cheering as woman raises clenched hand

"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."

Read more about it
Read and download the report.

 Is There a Women’s Way of Organizing?

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.
Group cheering as woman raises clenched hand

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.”

Read more about it
Read and download the report.

 No Holds Barred:

The Intensification of Employer Opposition to Organizing

By Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations
Kate Bronfenbrenner
Kate Bronfenbrenner

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.

Read more about it
Read the report, 'No Holds Barred'

 'I knew I could do this work'

Seven Strategies to Promote Women's Activism & Leadership in Unions

PLUS:  Free Discussion Guide and Handout on strategies for union women, inspired by this report

By Amy Caiazza, Institute for Women’s Policy Research

"I knew I could do this work" report cover“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.

Stragegies 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.

Read the report, 'I knew I could do this work'

News release 12/5/07

 Women Organizing Women:

Women Organizing Women study
How Do We Rock the Boat
Without Getting Thrown Overboard?

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.

Read the report

Note: This report is in Adobe Acrobat pdf format.
If you don't have a recent version of the Adobe Reader on your computer, click here.

News release 9/28/05

See quotes from the report (also highlighted on the Berger-Marks home page).

Union Organizing
Among Professional Women Workers

 A groundbreaking research study commissioned by the Department for Professional Employees -AFL-CIO
Bronfenbrenner at PE conference
Dr. Bronfenbrenner of Cornell being introduced by Paul E. Almeida, DPE

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.

Read "Union Organizing among Professional Women Workers"

Note: This report is in Adobe Acrobat pdf format.

If you don't have a recent version of the Adobe Reader on your computer, click here.

More about Berger-Marks funding of academic research
& how to apply for grants



"What stands out about all of these [Berger-Marks] publications
is not just how they can help women continue to feel included in labor organizing; it seems like every goal they lay out could be applied to organizers everywhere."

Brittany Shoot,
Poverty in America,

From Stepping Up, Stepping Back:report:


"After listening to all these women,
I want to make more of a difference."


Closeup of Yanasak smiling

"Mandie Yanasak, an Under 35 organizer
with the United Food and Commercial Workers, described how a coordinated global effort secured an agreement... for hundreds of workers at H&M
clothing stores in New York."

Stepping Up, Stepping Back report


"They work you hard until you are ready to drop dead and then throw you out."


From '"New Approaches to Organizing Women & Young Workers"report:

ghty-six percent of young women... are likely to be online, compared to 80 percent of men of the same age. Thirty-eight percent of women go online several times a day and 77 percent have a profile on a social networking site."

"Real wages for young workers aged 18 to 29 declined by 10% from 1979 to 2007, in contrast to a small wage growth for older workers."

From 'Is There a Woman’s Way of Organizing?' report:

“We're not interested in reproducing the same top-down structures internally that out there in the world have kept working people at the bottom."

– Young organizer

"Our customer service training is... a great recruitment tool for us and it upgrades their skills. It's led by union members for nonunion members and it's open to anybody."

– RWDSU organizer

"We try to keep people knowing that their culture is important to the country. At every general membership meeting, members do poetry or skits and we even had a calypso."

– Domestic Workers United organize

From 'I knew I could do this work' report:

“Traditionally in our society, [women have] been at a disadvantage. And the only way to change that is to stand together and have a voice, and make yourselves heard out there…. I think of the union as being for everyone, but it certainly has been a tool for women...

“I knew I could do [union] work, but … if I didn’t have anybody to say, ‘Come on, I know you can do it,’ I probably … wouldn’t be where I am now.”

From Women Organizing Women report:

“Working women are overextended by responsibility, children, housework, healthcare, communities” and stress is a common denominator for them, said a third woman. “They appreciate being heard and understood.

"Women want to know how you [the union] are going to help relieve some of their stress.”

More facts about women workers