Labor Union Women Making History

March 30, 2010

Who has been honored this month with esteemed women such as Linda Chavez-Thompson, Augusta Thomas, Elizabeth Shuler, Arlene Holt Baker, and Nancy Wohlforth? My mom!

I know it may sound a bit cliché, but for Women’s History Month, I would like to recognize my mother, Jane Broendel. As the first female officer for the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), she has truly has broken through barriers.

My mom started carrying mail in Davenport, Iowa, in 1984 and joined the union her second day on the job. She became very involved and served as treasurer for the Iowa State Association, among other positions within the union, including, of course, union steward. When I was a freshman in high school, our family moved to the Washington, D.C., area so Mom could take up her new post as the first and — at that time — only female national officer in the union’s 100-plus-year history. She now serves as NALC’s secretary-treasurer. When my mom started working in D.C., she was the only woman on the 28-member executive council. Now there are four other women on the council as well.

It’s been a slow journey for women in the NALC, not to mention in the labor movement in general. When Mom first took on this challenge, she met grueling and disheartening sexism. Because she worked hard to prove herself and show that a woman is just as capable of leading as a man, those who once criticized her for taking one of the top jobs are becoming less vocal as time progresses.

In recognition of her accomplishments as a barrier-breaking woman in the labor movement — not to mention the inspiration she provided for working women in general — as part of Women’s History Month, the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) honored Mom with the Breaking the Glass Ceiling Award on March 18.

At the awards ceremony, the presenter mentioned my mom’s desire for all women to be able to speak without judgment, both at the bargaining table and in their lives outside of work. In her acceptance speech, Mom spoke about the challenges women face to be taken seriously and about how women have to work much harder to prove their worth as contributing team members — challenges she knows because she has lived them.

I’m very proud that CLUW honored my mom for Women’s History Month, and I think it’s amazing that she will be featured in CLUW’s Hall of Fame so that future women leaders will remember her. She’s a true leader who has paved the way for many women. For me, though, she’s more than a strong, confident role model and mentor — she’s my mom.

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