Summer Lee, USW Host Workforce Equity Roundtable  with Women in Organized Labor, U.S. DOL, Partner4Work, and Community Partners 

Mar 15, 2024
Press

For Immediate Release 

Emilia Rowland, Emilia.Rowland@mail.house.gov

Summer Lee, USW Host Workforce Equity Roundtable  with Women in Organized Labor, U.S. DOL, Partner4Work, and Community Partners 

This event focused on how federal, state, local, and nonprofit partners are working to ensure federal investments provided through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), and the CHIPS and Science Act to create high quality, union jobs for women, especially women of color 

Pittsburgh, PA — Today, Rep. Summer Lee and the United Steelworkers hosted a roundtable with representatives from the U.S. Department of Labor, Pennsylvania’s Office of Labor and Industry, Partner4Work, labor leaders, and union  workers to discuss the importance of increasing pathways for women, and especially women of color, in high-paying union roles facilitated by the more than $1.2 billion in federal investments that Lee has helped bring back to Western PA through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the CHIPS and Science ACT

Full livestream link here

Rep. Lee partnered with the Biden administration and Governor Shapiro on initiatives – such as the first in the nation workforce training program delivering $400 million to create 10,000 new jobs – to ensure that the implementation of these massive democratic federal investments benefits all Western Pennsylvanians – including women of color who are so often left behind.  

“In Congress, my primary focus has been ensuring that the programs and grants provided by these bills directly benefit our district. Through collaboration with the Administration and local leaders, we’re making progress. In just one year, our office has helped secure over $1 billion, last we checked it was $1.3 billion, including funding for passenger rail, job creation at EOS, infrastructure improvements in Parkway East, and lead pipe removal for clean drinking water—just the beginning of the grants to come” said Rep. Summer Lee (PA-12). “This is no small task. Women of color still encounter employment barriers, from job access to entrenched sexism in nearly every American workplace. I’m thrilled to be here to delve deeper into these issues with all of you.”

““My name is Renee Hough I work for US Steel at the Clairton plant. I have 28 years there and I’m also a 4th generation union member. When I first started at US Steel, there were approximately 70 women. Our plant employs 1080 people, but we have 18 women in the plant.” said Renee Hough, member of USW. “When I call out the plant manager about why we aren’t hiring any women, he told me they weren’t putting in the applications. He took me to the office and showed me: there were no applications from women. I need to know, how do we change that? How do we get women to know those jobs are there? We went from 70 women to 18 women over the span of 28 years. I’m gonna be leaving in a couple years and a few women are retiring this month. These are good-paying union jobs with pensions. I raised a family, I put a son through college. So I want to know how do we get women to know those jobs are out there?”

“The number of women in trades has reached its highest level ever, and the levels of Black women apprentices have increased dramatically. But we have a long way to go” said Deputy Director Gayle Goldin, Women’s Bureau, Department of Labor. “Over the last 30 years, women’s representation in apprenticeships and jobs in the trades have doubled. But women are still only about 14% of apprenticeships, not even 4% of skilled trades […] So the conversations we’re having today are one of the ways we can break down this barrier.” 

“We have the opportunity to start being intentional about how do we create pathways to good jobs that are being created by the investments that the Biden-Harris Administration, particularly in communities that have been left behind, as significant investments have been made. Equal pay day for Black women is in July, and equal pay day for Latinas is in October” said Susie Puskar of Partner4Work. “So we have a lot of work to do not just from the perspective of how do we create access to opportunity for women generally, but how do we engage in interventions and pathways to good-quality jobs, and in particular the good-quality union jobs that are being created.”

“In October of 2020 when we were in the midst of negotiating our contract online–first of all I need to thank you, Summer Lee, you have been there for the essential frontline health care workers at every single turn and help keep us sane during a very insane time, when a lot of the health care workers–and when I say health care workers I mean every single person who walks through that door. We had the lawyer talk to us saying “why are you putting anything on COVID in the contract because it’s over” … while we were meeting online. To say that we had a much different federal leadership, we had a different Department of Health federally and a different Department of Labor. We knew we were hamstrung. We could only do so much because we didn’t have the backing” said Michelle Boyle, SEIU Healthcare. “We had a nurse’s mother pass away who was due for surgery and because the protections weren’t there and they were not given enough notice, she inadvertently gave her mother COVID and she died. Inadvertently. It’s heavy on our mind as the negotiation team to fight for every last thing we can get. Because we have heart.”

“I’ve worked harder, if not tirelessly to get here. But I still have to prove myself although Im side by side with my brothers. So representation and education really matters, and who you send in matters. Sending old white men to talk to Black girls and Latino girls, that’s nice, but you’ll never understand. It’s been a passion of mine to be in this position, to be able to speak for children young women who look like me, that have the same things going on in their life that I had to go through” said Samantha Ervin-Upsher, Carpenters. “Once you get to high school, you have to travel districts to know anything. I think that’s ridiculous. Because at the end of the day, the gender roles that are pushed on jobs start early.” 

Background:

The discussion also revolved around the Department of Labor’s equity toolkit that found that while women represent almost 50% of the workforce, they make up only 10.9% of the construction workforce – with only 4.2% of those working in skilled construction trades occupations – and 29.3% of the manufacturing workforce.

  • Strategies included in the toolkit to promote a more diverse and equitable workplace included:
    • Building inclusive local and regional partnerships
    • Intentionally center equity, diversity in, accessibility, and inclusion.
    • Making data-driven decisions
    • Creating intentional regional equity and diversity plans to make sure practices are tailor-made to the specific problems that exist regionally.
    • Creating the demand for a diverse workforce by setting firm equity objectives and targets.

Since taking office in January, Lee, who serves on the House Oversight Committee and Space, Science and Technology Committee, has delivered historic levels of federal investment totaling over $1 Billion brought back to Western PA, including over $200 million for infrastructure, over $50 million for affordable transit, and over $500 million to keep clean energy manufacturing at home in Pennsylvania. These investments will help improve Western Pennsylvania’s infrastructure and transit, ensure cleaner air and drinking water, lower housing costs, fund research institutions, fuel clean manufacturing, fund STEM innovation and entrepreneurship, boost workforce development, and create thousands of good paying union jobs.  Lee and her team have also delivered casework and constituent services to over 1,900 constituents with issues ranging from helping our seniors and disabled community access Medicare and social security to helping folks secure housing and helping families with immigration support and passports.

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