BALTIMORE – Women on the Move for Empowerment Now (WOMEN), a committee of the Metropolitan Baltimore AFL-CIO Council, held its Annual Leadership Conference here Sept. 22.

Keynote speaker AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson opened her remarks with an account of the labor federation’s national effort to extend help to union families after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Some forces in government are using the Sept. 11 disaster, she said, to tell the union movement, ”Don’t bring up issues, like opposition to Fast Track, which will divide us.’ We’ve even heard, ‘We can probably do away with contracts.”

But political action is union women’s answer to such anti-worker positions, she said. ‘We will be registering voters for the 2002 election.’

Chavez-Thompson spoke of her own personal struggle with racist and political attacks from anti-union forces as she rose to leadership positions in the AFL-CIO.

The next period, she suggested, will need to include organizing more women into the union movement, bringing more women of color into leadership positions and advancing issues that affect working families, such as paid family leave and pay inequity.

Conference participants attended workshops designed to help build leadership on critical issues facing working women.

Facilitating the workshop on child care, Linda Heizner, executive director of the Maryland Department of Human Resources Child Care Administration, spoke of the work of her agency in regulating child care in Maryland and in offering working families financial assistance with child care expenses.

A Baltimore school teacher described the effect the lack of appropriate child care has on the school system. Children enter elementary school without adequate preparation and continue through middle school as latch-key children.

Asked what can be done to advance the availability of affordable child care, Heizner suggested that union women urge their union locals to make the child care issue a number-one priority with union lobbyists.