March is Women’s History Month. It is an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the amazing accomplishments of the many women who have helped build and lead our great nation -- women like Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks and Geraldine Ferraro.
All of these women – and many more who I simply don’t have enough time to name – are role models. They remind all of us of the many contributions that women leaders have made to our nation’s history.
As a young woman and aspiring teacher growing up in Westchester County in the 1960s and 1970s, I studied their stories. And, closer to my heart, I looked to my own mother and grandmother for inspiration for what I myself could accomplish.
As president of New York State United Teachers -- a union whose 600,000-plus membership is more than 70 percent women -- I am proud to be leading a steering committee that is exploring issues of particular importance to women in today’s society – issues like the minimum wage, child care and paid family leave.
And, I’m thrilled that so many of these issues important to women are now on the front-burner of the national dialogue in this year’s race for the White House.
For many years, NYSUT and other unions have been talking about economic security for working people and requiring everyone to pay their fair share. Organized labor has historically been at the forefront of the fight for equal pay for equal work; a higher minimum wage; accessible and affordable health care; and retirement security for all.
These issues have long resonated with union members – women and men – and now they are resonating with the entire nation.
These are the right priorities for our nation… regardless of which candidate or which political party you support.
At NYSUT, we believe that working families deserve a raise; that our economy should be creating good-paying, middle class jobs and America should be investing in infrastructure, clean energy and research. We should be closing corporate loopholes and making the most fortunate pay their fair share.
In order to raise incomes and re-build the middle class, America must strengthen unions and protect workers’ bargaining power.
Whoever is eventually elected president in November must value public education and respect the voice of teachers. Whoever is our next president should encourage greater investment in early childhood programs like Head Start and support our young adults by reducing student debt and making college more affordable.
These are priorities for organized labor and for women who consistently identify these as key issues for them when they cast their ballots in the voting booth.
As we begin Women’s History Month, what some have called a “Women’s Agenda” is a really a lot more than that.
In a presidential election year, I see it as the nation’s agenda.
Karen Magee, a former elementary and special education teacher in Harrison, is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.
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