University of Rochester

Exploring Barriers to Women's Leadership in the Labor Movement

October 5, 2011

2011 Stanton/Anthony Conversations

Domestic workers like nannies, housekeepers, and caregivers make it possible for many Americans to work and provide for their families, but until recently have been excluded from the rights and benefits extended to other men and women in the workforce. It is a cause that advocate Ai-Jen Poo, who helped start Domestic Worker United in New York State, has been working to rectify for over the past decade.

Nicknamed "the Nannies' Norma Rae" by the New York Times Magazine, Poo will deliver this year's keynote address at the 2011 Stanton Anthony Conversations luncheon and participate in a subsequent panel discussion on Friday, October 21, as part of the University's Meliora weekend.

The annual event brings together women leaders to explore social hurdles women face as they seek to lead in business, academia, and government. This year's discussion looks at women in American labor organizations and the challenges they face as both workers and aspiring leaders of organized labor.

"Our participants have a wealth of expertise about labor history and contemporary struggles, particularly the challenge of recognition in fields in which women are typically overlooked or taken for granted," said Aimee Senise-Bohn, program coordinator for the Anthony Center for Women's Leadership.

As director and founder of Domestic Worker United, an organization of nannies, housekeepers, and elderly caregivers in New York organizing for clout, respect, fair labor standards for workers within the home, Poo led the campaign to pass the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in New York State and the formation of the National Domestic Workers

Of her own experience with organizing domestic workers, panelist Natasha Vargas-Cooper, writer and labor activist writes, "These were almost always women. No surprise, really. Whatever growth there has been in organized labor over the last few years and there hasn't been much has been primarily among service workers, that near-invisible class of underpaid workers." Also participating in this year's panel discussion is Dorothy Sue Cobble, labor historian and author of The Sex of Class: Women Transforming American Labor, and Patricia Greenfield '76, labor educator and advocate for more than three decades.

The event will begin with a memorial tribute to Anthony Center director Nora Bredes by Dr. Vivian Lewis, the University's vice provost for faculty development and diversity. Bredes, who died from complications related to breast cancer in August, was a tireless advocate of women's leadership, the environment, and public health.

"Although Nora won't be with us for this event that she organized, her dedication and spirit underscore our whole focus: women empowering themselves, each other, and their communities," said Lewis. As head of the Anthony Center, Bredes taught a course on women in politics, served as a mentor and role model for Rochester students, and chose the topic for this event. More information about Bredes' life and legacy is available online at

The 2011 Stanton/Anthony Conversations begins with Poo's keynote address during a luncheon at noon on the River Level of the Interfaith Chapel. The conversation among Ai-jen Poo, Dorthy Sue Cobble, Pat Greenfield, and Natasha Vargas-Cooper, moderated by Greenfield, will begin at 1:30 p.m. in the chapel's sanctuary. Tickets for the luncheon are $40 for the public and $20 for students. The conversations are free and open to the public. For more information, call the Anthony Center at 585-275-8799 or email

Guests of Meliora Weekend are encouraged to share their experiences by posting updates on Facebook, checking into "Meliora Weekend" and other locations around campus, and sharing conversations and photos on Twitter and Flickr using the common hashtag #meliora.