IOWA CITY — Women were almost the only ones in the room at a panel discussion featuring Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York on Thursday evening, but both the women asking the questions and the Democratic presidential candidates answering them made it clear they wanted to see women leading far beyond that room.
The Women Leaders Rising 2020 Issues Forum was part of the Midwest School for Women Workers, a conference being hosted by the University of Iowa Labor Center in Iowa City this week.
The women who attended represented dozens of occupations and labor unions, many traditionally reserved for men, with names like “Brotherhood of Boilers” baked into their identities. But Teamsters Central Region Political Coordinator Elizabeth Gonzalez introduced each panelist as “sister.”
Klobuchar said she understands something about being one of the only women in a workplace, noting only 56 women have served in the U.S. Senate, compared to around 2,000 men.
Equity in the workplace is something both she and Gillibrand addressed as an issue important to the nation as a whole. When women succeed, the country succeeds, Klobuchar said.
“What do we do about it? We make sure your workplaces are fair to women,” Klobuchar said. “We want to get more women in these jobs, more people of color in these jobs. Otherwise we’re not going to be able to compete globally.”
Both cited the need for policies that address issues like raising the minimum wage and protecting pensions.
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Klobuchar talked about the need for better family leave policies. Gillibrand gave a fiery call for the need for a strong advocate for women’s right to be in the decision room.
“Who do you want in the White House? Do you want a women who values you? Do you want a woman who will go to the bat for you, every time?” she said. “Not compromise on your women’s reproductive freedom, not compromise on your worker’s rights, not compromise on your ability to go to the workplace and not be sexually harassed?”
Both senators had 30-minute sessions with questions from three panelists from around the Midwest.
The first panel, with Klobuchar, included Johnson County Supervisor Royceann Porter, a member of Teamsters Local 238 who spoke about her efforts as president of the Corridor Temp Workers Co-op. She asked Klobuchar if she would stand up against businesses like temp agencies that she said exploit workers.
“Our economy is stronger when we have union workers,” Klobuchar answered. She cited her family’s history with labor unions and closed her remarks by calling on the women in the room to keep fighting for the future.
“You are the welders of this arc of justice, but you’re making it shorter so all of us can be a part of it,” she said.
Gillibrand’s panel included Candi Evans, vice president of the Golfview Residents Association, which she and her neighbors formed when a company bought their mobile home park in North Liberty and announced steep rent raises. Evans said rent on her manufactured home, where she has lived for 21 years, is to increase by more than 50 percent.
She asked if Gillibrand would support a national version of legislation like a tenants rights bill that passed in the New York Legislature in June.
“I will look at New York’s legislation and see if we can duplicate it on national level, and, if I can, I will do that in the Senate,” Gillibrand replied.
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That’s what Evans was hoping to hear. She’s been making a point to talk to as many candidates as she can and said she even extracted a promise from Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to pen op-eds in Iowa newspapers on the issue.
“I want to meet all of them, as many as I can,” she said, adding she hasn’t yet decided who she will support in the Iowa caucuses.
“But I definitely would like to see a women in there,” she said. “It’s time.”
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