Sunday, March 8, 2009

Support workers at the YWCA and its battered women's shelters

I was talking to an old friend of mine the other day, Nancy Lyman-Shaver, about whether she still was planning to write a book about the development of the battered women's movement in Western Massachusetts, which so closely parallels efforts around the country. Unfortunately, much of Nancy's material was lost in a flooded basement, but a very abridged version of the story goes like this: back in the late 60's and early 70's, if a woman was being battered at home, she had virtually no options. There were no battered women's shelters and the 209A restraining order laws did not yet exist. In Springfield, working class feminists rented a house for women who needed a place to flee to, and they staffed it with volunteers for a number of years. It was an effort women undertook willingly, but without funding, it eventually became too much. When the MA Department of Public Health decided to offer funding to agencies willing to operate battered women's shelters, it was, in many ways, the beginning of the end of the battered women's political movement, bureaucratizing essential services to they could be "delivered" more efficiently.

Maybe it was inevitable and necessary, but that bureaucratization has been a mixed blessing. We've replaced a political analysis with one that tends to treat women as part of a social pathology, and that brings with it all the concomitant mandatory "services.". And some battered women's services have even become the oppressors of their women employees.

Springfield's Young Women's Christian Association, which operates the ARCH and New Beginnings battered women's shelters, has been under criticism for some time by many in its workforce. This Thursday, the Western Massachusetts Jobs with Justice Workers' Rights Board will be holding a hearing on labor relations at the Y. The following is a press release from Jobs with Justice.


On Thursday March 12, a panel of the Western Massachusetts Jobs with Justice Workers' Rights Board will take the testimony of workers at YWCA of Western Massachusetts and issue a report on labor contract bargaining there. The hearing will be 3:00-5:00pm in Room 220, City Hall, 36 Court Street, Springfield. The public, the press, and the employer are invited to attend. Attendees are asked to come fragrance-free.

The YWCA’s workforce – predominantly women, many of whom are of color – claim it is not living up to its mission of “eliminating racism and empowering women.”

The United Auto Workers Local 2322 has been bargaining a new contract at the YWCA since May 2008. The employer is showing an anti-worker and anti-union animus at the bargaining table and has shown such animus since the workers organized in 2003. Despite being a non-profit social service agency subsidized by tax dollars and tax benefits and public and private donations, the YWCA has spent in excess of $300,000 on the well-known anti-union law firm, Skoler, Abbott & Presser, and has given sizable raises to its Executive Director, Mary Reardon Johnson. It claims there is no revenue to grant its employees decent raises.

UAW Local 2322 President Ron Patenaude will conduct the testimony by YWCA workers and also provide basic information including the YWCA’s many violations of the National Labor Relations Act.

The Western Mass. Jobs with Justice Workers' Rights Board consists of two dozen “public citizens” in Western Massachusetts. The following are on the March 12 panel:

Irene Kimball, Chairperson of the Western Massachusetts Jobs with Justice Workers' Rights Board; retired Regional Director, Massachusetts Office for Children

Anne Awad, President/CEO, Caring Health Center Inc, Springfield; Health Systems Consultant; former Amherst Select Person

Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, Director, Office of Peace & Justice, Catholic Charities Agency, Diocese of Springfield

Frances Borden Hubbard, Project Director, Springfield Adolescent Health Project; Retired Professor of Black Studies, Labor Studies, and Public Administration at several universities

Prof. Stephanie Luce, Acting Director, Labor Relations & Research Center, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Benjamin Swan, Massachusetts State Representative from Springfield and civil rights activist

William R. Toller, Deacon, Holy Cross Church, Springfield; Consultant, Hampden County Sheriff’s Department

E. Henry Twiggs, Chairman, Springfield Inner City Rehab Inc.

Across the U.S., Workers’ Rights Boards act as “the conscience of the community” regarding labor relations, exposing employers' misconduct and also helping workers form unions and reach collective bargaining contracts. There is more information at

More information about law firms like Skoler, Abbott & Presser is at

Jon Weissman, Coordinator,Western Mass Jobs with Justice,640 Page Blvd #101, Springfield MA 01104, (413) 827-0301

Photos: Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone, two Massachusetts feminists.

Today is International Women's Day, and my post is as part of a coordinated effort on the part of Bloggers Unite!,
an attempt to harness the power of the blogosphere to make the world a better place. By asking bloggers to write about a particular subject on 1 day of the month, a single voice can be joined with thousands to help make a difference; from raising awareness for cancer, to an effort to better education systems or supporting 3rd world countries. if you're a blogger, check it out!

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