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Women’s Summit Builds Skills, Solidarity Within Texas Labor Movement

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A record number of enthusiastic union women (and a few good men) attending the terrific 3rd Texas AFL-CIO Women’s Summit over the weekend came out of the experience with more knowledge, greater incentive to lead, and built-up solidarity that will strengthen the Texas labor movement for many years to come.

 Well over one-third of the 180 participants had not attended either of the first two Summits. The event expanded across geography, union membership and background to build numbers that were about half of the attendance at the statewide Texas AFL-CIO COPE Convention earlier this year.

 An outstanding roster of speakers included: Austin City Council member Vanessa Fuentes; Candace Valenzuela, regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Delia Garcia, Administrator in the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor; Jackie Jeter, Chair of the International Caucus of the Amalgamated Transit Union; and State Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood.

 Two amazing panels highlighted each day. “Women Leading in Electoral & Political Spaces” focused on the electoral picture in 2024 and, in a theme that repeated throughout the summit, on persuading women to run for political office. Texas AFL-CIO Director of Politics and Legislation Emily Amps moderated a panel consisting of Krissy O’Brien of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Shannon Faulk of the American Federation of Government Employees; and Monique Alcala, Executive Director of the Texas Democratic Party.

 “Women Building Texas” discussed what it is like for a woman to move up as an apprentice in Building Trades unions that traditionally were almost entirely male. Moderated by Texas AFL-CIO Director of Organizing and Advocacy Ana Gonzalez, this panel feature Mindy Alvarez of the UA 142 (plumbers), Caressa Aamodt of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 520, Victoria Sutherland of Ironworkers Local 482, and Blanca Rios of the International Union of Elevator Constructors. The apprentices described how they entered their fields and how they navigate being in a small, though not for long, minority within their unions.

 Attendees were also treated to their choice of two of four excellent, and repeating, breakout sessions on arbitration, organizing young women, “It’s OK to Not Be OK,” and “Women’s Issues Are Labor Issues.” In smaller groups, the discussions were revealing and informative.

 Meetings like the Summit wouldn’t succeed without fun events. This summit included a “Solidarity Hour" that actually lasted 120 minutes, a “What’s in Your Purse?” scavenger hunt, and a Barbie-themed photo booth in addition to a costume photo booth that were used heavily during breaks in the action. 

 The Women’s Summit is now a mainstay at the Texas AFL-CIO. Kudos to three staffers who coordinated the long list of details needed to run a two-day meeting: Texas AFL-CIO Director of Operations & Special Projects Lee Forbes; Training and Leadership Development Coordinator Lorraine Montemayor; and Administrative Assistant Ixtlani Palomo. From the agenda to accommodations to meals to fun activities, they made it happen and the rhythm and high energy at the summit was superb. 

 The Texas AFL-CIO Women’s Committee Co-Chairs who did great jobs sharing emcee duties included: Candis Houston of Aldine American Federation of Teachers Local 6345; Judy Lugo of the Texas State Employees Union; LaTonia Benoit of Transport Workers Union Local 556; and Robin Johnson of Communications Workers of America Local 6215. 

 The Texas AFL-CIO posted photos, a few among many on social media, here: