This Women’s History Month, we’re profiling leaders who are making women’s history across the labor movement today.
There’s been a surge of organizing by women. Some 60% of workers organizing in the past decade have been women, and that means female leadership is the rule, not the exception.
Here are just a few of the women leaders organizing in 2023.
Electrical Workers (IBEW)
Tracie Roberts is an IBEW Local 291 member who works for the Idaho State AFL-CIO. This November, she will celebrate her 10-year work anniversary.
Everyone in the labor movement in Idaho knows who she is due to all her work with the state federation. Roberts is a true powerhouse who is always helping locals, central labor councils (CLCs) and anyone in the labor movement when she’s not working.
Elevator Constructors (IUEC)
Amy Kayes has been a leader and mentor to the women in IUEC Local 8.
She's held an elected position on the Executive Board since 2016, and as of last year, was appointed to a position on the Joint Apprenticeship Committee.
Amy is a service mechanic in San Francisco and works for San Francisco Elevator.
United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters (UA)
Kimberly Charlton is at the top of her class. She was a huge part of building Warriors Stadium. There are six union members in her family, and union participation goes back three generations. She takes pride in her union and has certifications in medical gas, pex and brazing. Charlton is learning to weld and always working to do her best. She is always giving 100%, and she stands behind the union concept indefinitely.
Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE)
Patricia White is the director of IATSE’s Department of Education and Training and serves as president of New York City Theatrical Wardrobe Union Local 764. She also sits on the New York City CLC Executive Board. In 2013, White also was elected to the position of international trustee.
"As a member of LIUNA Local 464, I have learned that I don’t need a college degree to have good wages, insurance and a pension. Since joining the union, my mental health has improved because I don’t dread work. Union membership has made a difference for me financially. I don’t need to worry whether or not I can afford to go to the doctor or what I will be eating at night. LIUNA has made a great impact on not only myself, but also my union brothers, sisters and siblings."
International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW)
As the political and legislative chair of UAW Local 276, Pauline Mims is creating space for more union sisters to be heard and seen, and empowering them to shift the Texas political landscape. As a state president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, she is elevating the voices of Black voters and helping build CLC voter turnout programs.
Vice President, National Nurses United (NNU)
Catherine Kennedy is a registered nurse, member of the Council of Presidents for the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee (CNA/NNOC) and vice president of National Nurses United (NNU). A staff nurse at Kaiser Permanente Roseville in the neonatal intensive care unit, she has been an outstanding advocate for nurses in her position as commissioner to the California Healthcare Workforce Policy Commission (2013–2021).
Additionally, she is a current member of the California Health Workforce Education and Training Council under the state’s Department of Health Care Access and Information (2021 to present) and advocates via her exceptional mentorship and cultural competency work with California Nurses Foundation (CNF). She is also a passionate public supporter for the NNU and CNA/NNOC campaigns for Medicare for All.
In October 2017, Registered Nurse Response Network, a disaster-relief project of CFN and NNU, chose Kennedy to lead a team of 50 volunteer registered nurses to aid Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, coordinating with a 300-person relief delegation from the AFL-CIO.
Capt. Paula Battreal
Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA)
Capt. Paula Battreal is a member of ALPA and flies the Boeing 767 for FedEx Express. Capt. Battreal has been flying for FedEx for 23 years. She was one of the youngest women hired at the company and, as a result, will be No. 1 on the seniority list when she retires. Capt. Battreal recently served as the seniority block 2 status representative on the FedEx Master Executive Council. During her time as part of the leadership structure, she was instrumental in standing up the FedEx pilot union’s first Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS)
Veronica “Ronni” Benedetto, an aviation safety technician at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), has dedicated her life to helping others. She began her federal career in the Civil Rights office at the Department of Defense and transferred to the FAA in 1996. She became a PASS contract representative in 2015 and is the union’s designated rep to assist workers who have been injured on the job navigate the workers’ compensation process. “Being a union member is the best job insurance one can have!” says Benedetto.
Kesheona Darden is currently an apprentice—and also a shining star. Intelligent, driven and capable, she is co-chair for our Women at Work Committee. She is a great example of a working mother, making it happen.
Communications Workers of America (CWA)
Grace Catania is a longtime member of The NewsGuild-CWA (TNG-CWA) Local 34071. She is an immigrant to this great country, having left her home country of Poland in 1980, when she was 20. She moved to the United States moments before martial law was imposed in response to the Solidarity Movement. Having arrived in the United States with no connections except an older uncle, Catania had to make her own way. She studied English and landed a union job as a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).
In 1994, she began a career as a per diem court interpreter while continuing to work in retail. She and her peers worked against the “contractor” classification and were finally recognized as employees when the Chicago Newspaper Guild Local 34071 was recognized as the bargaining unit in 2004. Soon after, the union obtained a first contract and better working conditions. Since then, Catania has served as interpreters’ unit steward, unit chair and contract bargaining team member. She became active in the local union and rose through the ranks to become the president. She also has served as a member and chair of the CWA National Women’s Committee. In addition, she was part of the Illinois Legislative Political Action Team and lobbied at the state and national levels. She has participated in many marches and actions, and actively supported other units in the local. Catania is proud of her three children and seven grandchildren, and lives in the suburbs of Chicago.
International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE)
Debbie Spencer is a groundbreaking labor leader who became IFPTE Local 195’s first female president in January 2023. With 28 years of experience in New Jersey’s labor movement, Spencer represents members in inspections, investigation and security, crafts, maintenance and operations, as well as New Jersey state employees. Prior to her election as president, Sister Spencer served as a business representative for Local 195, for which she negotiated contracts and handled grievances. Additionally, she co-chaired her union’s organizing committee and held the position of local secretary beginning in 2007. She started her union career as a school bus driver and proudly maintains her commercial driver’s license with passenger endorsement to drive a school bus.
United Steelworkers (USW)
Kisha Byrd is an active member of USW Local 10-00086 in Norristown, Pa., and serves as Women of Steel coordinator for USW District 10. She helps organize activities year-round, including a Christmas party for local families and volunteer days at a local pantry and soup kitchen. She believes every worker has power in the union. “We all have our different personalities that come together to create what we have,” says Byrd.
Heather Burke is a social caseworker in Adams County, Colorado, where she helps children in need find adoptive homes. Burke helped lead the effort to organize her co-workers to form their department's first union through AFSCME and advocated for passage of Colorado's collective bargaining expansion for county employees. Burke knows that by having a voice on the job, she and her co-workers can better fight for the resources and support they need to serve the children and families who depend on them.
Debbie Lee Stevens
Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT)
Debbie Lee Stevens is an industrial painter by trade, with more than 30 years in the industry. She is a leader by nature and continues to share her knowledge as a national instructor. She has achieved certifications, such as National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE), CIP 3, C3, C5 and, most recently, NACE CCA Examiner status. Stevens is a mentor and takes pride in her training and skill sets to encourage the "why" in the next generation.
Jessica LaPointe is the president of AFGE Council 220, which represents 30,000 Social Security Administration (SSA) employees, 70% of whom are women, in contract negotiations. She is also the vice president of AFGE Local 1346, a steward, the legislative and political coordinator, and the women’s and fair practices coordinator at the local.
Before she was elected as president at Council 220, LaPointe was a bilingual generalist claims specialist in the SSA field office in Madison, Wis. In addition to her work in the labor movement, LaPointe is a mother of 21-year-old twins, a 10-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter. She is also an avid capoeirista as part of the Madison Omulu Capoeira group.
Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE)
Pam Boyd has been a member of IATSE Local 336 for 27 years and a recording/corresponding secretary for 17 years. She continues to bring our local into the computer age and still manages our website. She was the political coordinator for the local up until this year and still continues as the IATSE Arizona AFL-CIO representative. She fought H.B. 2112 in 2016 and has done so much more. Our thanks go to you, Sister Boyd. In solidarity, your brothers, sisters and siblings of IATSE Local 336.
AFGE National Veterans Affairs (VA) Council President Alma Lee has proudly served veterans at VA hospitals and protected the rights of those who care for our nation’s heroes for more than 36 years. Lee is the first Black woman elected as the National VA Council president and continues to be a trailblazer for women and minorities.
Lee is a member of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the NAACP and the National Partnership Council. She received the Bernice Heffner Outstanding Women’s Achievement Award at AFGE and was the first recipient of AFGE’s Woman of Labor Award in 2020. Lee also was named the Outstanding Labor Woman of the Year in Virginia and has received numerous other awards and honors throughout her career. She shares that her greatest accomplishment is “helping create the strongest master bargaining agreement in the nation because all VA employees deserve to be treated with dignity, fairness and respect.”