The all-male executive council of the AFL-CIO yesterday opened its ranks to a woman for the first time in the labor federation's history.
Joyce Miller, 52 a vice president of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union and a leader of efforts to unionize women, was elected formally to the federation's 35-member ruling body at a meeting of the full council in Chicago yesterday. The Executive Council is the policy-setting group for the AFL-CIO's 13.5 million members.
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Thomas Donahue said that placing a woman on the council will help the labor movement organize women.
"The fact that women or minorities are on that council strengthens the ability to organize in the eye of the beholder," he said.
Miller's appointment was hailed as a recognition of the growing presence of women in the American workplace. Women have entered the workplace at twice the rate of men in the last decade.
The sharp increase in the number of working women has given the trade union movement a large, new group of workers to organize. About 30 percent of the AFL-CIO's members are women.
Miller, who has been president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women since 1977, spends about half her time on the road talking about the needs of working women, according to her assistant, Ellen Gurzenski. Her theme is that organizing women is the key to women's equality.
A Chicago native, she gained her union spurs organizing the union's child care program for its members there. The union international then brought her to New York in 1972 to start a nationwide social services program for its membership. She has headed its social services department ever since.
Some say that Miller's appointment is a token gesture that does not necessarily mean the traditionally male-dominated AFL-CIO will pay more attention to the needs of working women.
But Gurzenski was hopeful that Miller's appointment does signal the AFL-CIO's willingness to listen to vocal, strong-willed women.
"I think she'll put up a fight for women's issues because she has a constituency -- the Coalition of Labor Union Women -- both behind her and to answer to," she said.
In electing Miller, the AFL-CIO leadership broke with a tradition that had been maintained by late AFL-CIO President George Meany. Under Meany, no union was permitted to have more than one representative on the council. The council had to bend the one-man-to-a-union rule because Clothing Workers President Murray H. Finley already sits on the council.