Obituary: Joyce D. Miller / Advocate for working women
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Joyce D. Miller, an influential advocate for women who believed that equality for them in the workplace could be best achieved through labor unions, and who championed that cause when she broke into the male-dominated leadership of the AFL-CIO, died June 30 in Washington. She was 84.
The cause was a stroke, her son Joshua said.
Ms. Miller was an advocate for women in the workplace for decades. She was a founding member and later president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, a national group that since 1974 has helped organize women into unions.
In 1980 she became the first woman elected to the executive board of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.
And in 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed her executive director of the Glass Ceiling Commission, created by the Civil Rights Act of 1991 to study the barriers to promotion that women and minority employees faced in large companies.
When she was elected to the AFL-CIO board, she had been in union management for about 20 years and used to working in a "sea of men," The Associated Press quoted her as saying. She was 52 and divorced with three children. A 1981 photograph of the board shows her in a blue outfit and pearls, smiling, smack in the middle of 33 men in suits and ties.
Ms. Miller saw union membership, collective bargaining and labor contracts as the road to equality for working women, and she believed that women should be a part of union management to make sure that attention was paid to issues like equal opportunity, equal pay, parental leave, child care, health insurance and discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace.
In 1982, at a Manhattan conference on women's difficulties in being admitted to skilled union trades like construction and plumbing, Ms. Miller predicted a "feminization of poverty."
"Employers will say that no real woman wants to work in overalls," she said. "The truth is that no real woman wants to starve."
And to anyone who argued that women earned less than men because they tended to pick less challenging work, she had a reply.
"When secretaries were men, clerical work was well paid, upwardly mobile and high status," she wrote in a letter to The New York Times in 1985. "When women became secretaries, they hit a low-paid dead end. The same thing happened when women replaced men as sewing-machine operators, bank tellers and telephone operators. The market seems to notice when the workers in a job undergo a sex change."
Joyce Dannen was born in Chicago on June 19, 1928. Her mother was a teacher, and her father owned a dry-goods store. She was raised "with a social conscience," she said in an oral history project in 2000. She received a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago in 1950 and a master's in social sciences and education there in 1951.
Classes about factory workers and the unemployed seeded her ambition to become involved in the labor movement. But despite her education, the only union job she could find at first combined secretary, receptionist and switchboard operator -- even though she could not type or take shorthand -- at the Cooperative League of America, a group for jointly owned businesses.
Later, as a regional education director for a union in Pittsburgh, she found that its employees received food allowances, but that women were given less than men because it was assumed that men would take them out for dinner and pick up their checks.
Everything changed in 1962, when the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America asked her to become its education director in Chicago. She took the job and rose to vice president.
She helped set up day care centers for the union, including one that a government report called "the Rolls-Royce of day care," as well as housing, legal assistance and college scholarship programs for union members and their children.
After joining the Glass Ceiling Commission under Mr. Clinton in 1993, she later became a special adviser to Robert B. Reich, the secretary of labor.
First Published July 7, 2012 12:00 am