Solidarity is focus of Minnesota Union Women’s Retreat

More than 120 women, some getting involved in the labor movement for the first time, came together April 24-26 for the Minnesota Union Women’s Retreat.

Held at Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge and Conference Center near Brainerd, the retreat provided an opportunity for women workers to learn, share and network under the theme, “Raising Women’s Voices for Solidarity.”

At the opening session, Labor Education Service staff members Mary Bellman, Sharice McCain and Barb Kucera welcomed participants, then Minnesota AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson spoke on the importance of woman taking leadership.

Sohely Rua Castaneda, the Secretary of Women and Labor at the National Union School in Colombia, put current struggles in perspective as she described the challenges facing women workers in Colombia. Many women there are trapped in low-wage jobs with little opportunity to improve their conditions. As they organize through unions, support from women in other countries is critical, Rua Castaneda said.

“The energy of women together to me means hope,” she said.

Here is a link to a video of Sohely's talk, thanks to Jessica Hayssen at the MN AFL-CIO.

The closing session featured Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, who spoke and engaged in a lively question-and-answer session with participants via Skype. Lewis described the lessons of leadership that underpin her union’s efforts to defend public education.

Before deciding on an action, ask three questions, Lewis recommended. “Does it unify us? Does it make us stronger? Does it help us build power?”

During the three days of the retreat, participants took part in workshops on becoming active, organizing and mobilizing, public speaking, bargaining for family-friendly policies and engaging younger workers.

A general session on public policies that affect women featured Alison Griffin of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota and Kenza Hadj-Moussa of the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless.

At another general session panel, three union members spoke about current campaigns. Cat Salonek of Occupy Homes described the battle to fight home foreclosures, Karen Urman of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota discussed the current organizing campaign by home health workers and Renita Whicker of SEIU Local 26 reviewed the recent Unlock Our Future campaign.

Several participants also convened “open space” meetings to discuss topics such as labor history and the attacks on the U.S. Postal Service. A cultural night, coordinated by Nellie Munn of the Minnesota Nurses Association, provided an opportunity for women to showcase their stories and talents.

Throughout the retreat, women had the opportunity to network, exchange ideas and make new friendships.

Many women helped plan the retreat and volunteered in a variety of ways. Facilitators gave of their time and skills. Many thanks to everyone who made the retreat possible.

Thanks also to sponsors whose financial contributions provided important support: the law firm of Sieben, Grose, Von Holtum & Carey; Education Minnesota; IBEW Local 292; Minnesota AFL-CIO and SEIU Local 284.

The Labor Education Service offers the Minnesota Union Women’s Retreat as part of an on-going series of opportunities for working women to enhance their leadership skills and network on issues important to them.

Learn more and view photos on the Minnesota Union Women’s Retreat Facebook page, (

2011 Women’s Leadership Retreat builds solidarity amid economic challenges

Our second Minnesota Union Women’s Leadership Retreat was a success, with more than 100 women, most of them union members, gathered in late April for learning and networking.

The theme was “Coming Together to Build a Better Future.” Participants learned about the economic challenges facing workers --especially women-- and discussed ways to bridge racial and generational differences to achieve solidarity.

Download session and workshop information. Read more about the retreat on Workday Minnesota. Watch a video from the retreat on the SEIU Healthcare Minnesota YouTube Channel.