Although millennial women comprise the most educated generation of women in history, we continue to face enduring discrimination and a stubborn wage gap. Making ends meet is that much harder for those also juggling hefty student debt or childcare bills. Despite the advancements women have made in the work world, we still cannot count on our employers to consider us equally for a leadership role, or to simply give us equal pay for an equal day’s work. But we can close the gap if more of us are able to join forces to negotiate the terms of our work.
I know of countless young women who are changing their workplaces and their communities by speaking up in one clear voice with their coworkers. Take Lakesia Collins, a home care provider from Chicago and a single mother. As an activist in the Fight for $15, she is speaking up for better wages to ensure she can provide for her son and provide the same quality of care and attention as she does with her patients. Lakesia also is leading young people in her union on racial justice advocacy to ensure that her son can grow up and thrive in safe communities.
Victoria Fisher, a member of the Communications Workers of America, has created innovative partnerships that have unified communities to build power for working people. For example, she teamed up with a Latina service sorority to register Spanish-speaking voters in New Jersey. And she recently hosted student debt clinics to educate her coworkers about student debt relief programs. Victoria’s organizing shows that our unions have the power to change the fabric of our communities.
Starting when she was a sophomore in college, Jenna Grady organized her workplace of undergraduate student workers in the residence halls at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with the United Autoworkers Local 2322. As a result, resident assistants and peer mentors at UMass-Amherst are the only student workers on any college campus in the country who have “just cause” in their workplace to protect against unfair termination.
It’s more important than ever for young women to organize in their workplaces and in their communities to fight for an economy that works for everyone today and well into the future. Yet there are still too many barriers getting in the way of young women being able to make ends meet and pursue their dreams. By amplifying our voices and taking bold action, together we can raise standards that truly value working women today and for generations to come.
Beth Huang is the national coordinator of the Student Labor Action Project.