Women's Programs

The Labor Education Service provides an on-going series of opportunities for working women to enhance their leadership skills and network on issues important to them. To participate in planning women’s events, contact the LES office, 612-624-5020 or e-mail us.

Retreats are held every two years. The next one is scheduled for the spring of 2019. Stay connected on our Facebook page.

2018 Midwest School for Women Workers: Renewing our Movement, Restoring our Democracy, June 25-28, 2018

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

The 2018 Midwest School for Women Workers brings together women, transfeminine, non-binary, and gender non-conforming workers from across the Midwest who want to renew our labor movement and restore our democracy. Workshops and plenary sessions will address a wide range of topics, including: broad-based organizing and engagement; racial and gender justice in the union and the workplace; the role of worker centers in our movement; sexual harassment and sexual violence in the union and at work; forming coalitions and community partnerships; and connecting the labor movement with other movements of resistance.

Audience Sitting at Tables

2017 Women & Femmes Retreat focuses on building power

The Retreat, the fifth offered by LES since 2009, took a step forward by expanding the scope of participation. Under the theme, “Using Our Experiences & Identities to Build Power,” the Retreat was opened to anyone who, in whole or in substantial part, locates themselves on the feminine side of the spectrum, including non-binary, gender non-conforming, genderfluid, genderqueer, two-spirit and transfeminine people. The name was changed from “Union Women’s Retreat” to “Union Women & Femmes Retreat.”

Opening sessions focused on the importance of inclusivity, especially as it relates to workplace activism. They featured presentations by Stef Willenchek of the University of Minnesota’s Gender & Sexuality Center for Queer & Trans Life and CeCe McDonald, an activist, speaker and icon in the LGBTQ community.

Cece Speaking at Podium
The program then built on this base to expand participants’ knowledge and skills in organizing and addressing issues that divide workers. Jen Kohan of Education Minnesota described how the union is taking on inequities and racism in education. LES Director Monica Bielski Boris moderated a discussion of union organizing strategies with Marie Dino of AFSCME Local 3800, Cathy Drummond of the United Steelworkers, Taunita Jones of the Greater Minnesota Worker Center and Sumer Spika of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota.
4 Women on Stage
Participants had the opportunity to take part in five workshops: Balancing Work, Family & Activist Commitments; Engaging in Difficult Conversations and Bridging Differences; Learning from the Disability Justice Movement; Supporting Women & Femmes of Color; and Understanding FMLA, ADA, and other Legal Issues.
Women in Front of Berta Caceres Poster
An evening cultural program, offered in partnership with Witness for Peace, featured a powerful performance by Honduran author Melissa Cardoza and singer Karla Lara on the legacy of activist Berta Cáceres. On the opening day, the law firm of Sieben Carey hosted a reception and question-and-answer session with attorneys Danielle Bird and Susan Holden.


Audience of women seated at tables

State Rep. Mary Kunesh Podein, DFL-New Brighton, was the closing plenary speaker. A graduate of Labor Education Service programming, she discussed her decision to run for office and the importance of getting involved in legislative issues.


3 Women on Stage

In all, more than 100 people attended. LES thanks all of our facilitators and other volunteers whose hard work helped to make the Retreat possible. They included a planning committee that assisted in developing the Retreat theme and program.



3 Woman Smiling at a Table

The Retreat is held every two years, with the next one scheduled for the spring of 2019.

Some 160 women took part in the 2015 Minnesota Union Women’s Retreat coordinated by the Labor Education Service. The diverse group brought new experiences and energy to the fourth of these biennial retreats.

A panel of leaders set the tone when they urged women to step up in their organizations.

3 Panelists

Moderated by Leanne Kunze, organizing director of AFSCME Council 65, the panel included Shar Knutson, president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO; Tee McClenty, executive director of the Minnesota School Employees Association; Mary Cathryn Ricker, national vice president of the American Federation of Teachers; and Stacy Spexet, president of United Steelworkers Local 9460, the largest Steelworkers’ local in Minnesota.

Two Women Panelists

Other panels and presentations focused on “Understanding the Attack on Worker Rights,” “Worker Organizing and the Impact on Women” and “Women’s Issues Across Generations.”

Each participant attended two workshops from a list of four that included building power for bargaining, addressing workplace bullying, bridging the generation gap and learning from labor history.

Audience of women seated at tables

In between sessions, participants had many opportunities to network and form relationships among their various organizations and communities.

Saru Jayaraman Speaking on Stage

Keynote speaker Saru Jayaraman, co-founder of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, closed the retreat with a spirited discussion of the ways workers are challenging the low wages and poor working conditions in the hospitality industry. She urged participants to take part in her organization’s campaigns for “one fair wage” http://rocunited.org/one-fair-wage/ and to support restaurants that operate with sustainable labor practices. https://rocunited.org/


Women participating in a game with string

The Labor Education Service thanks the many facilitators, presenters and volunteers who made the retreat possible, as well as the organizations that provided financial support for scholarships and programming: Minnesota AFL-CIO, Education Minnesota, AFSCME Local 22, IBEW Local 110 and the law firm of Sieben Carey.

3 Women Posing and Smiling

Download materials from the Retreat General sessions

(Some of the links below may no longer be active. Please contact les@umn.edu if you need access to any of the information.)

Web resource links


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