Interviewee: Hedy Ferreria
Interviewer: Lyn Goldfarb
Date: November 18-21, 1977
Hedy Ferreria, from New Bedford, Massachusetts, attended the IWY National Women’s Conference as an alternate delegate. She was a business agent working in union shops and had extensive experience as a union organizer. She spoke Portuguese and would use this skill to reach communities of workers. Ferreria hope to leverage the conference as a means to endorse non-traditional jobs for women in economically depressed regions like her own. She believed that working class women did not receive enough notice or information about the IWY events. Important issues to Ferreria included: blue collar and working class rights; equal employment; supporting the ERA; and economic concerns.
Hedy Ferreria: Hedy Ferreria.
Lyn Goldfarb: And where are you from?
HF: New Bedford, Mass.
LG: And why did you decide to come here today?
HF: Well first I’m an alternate and I ran as an alternate because I wanted to represent the working people in New Bedford; blue collar workers and people in the garment industry. I also wanted to see that equal employment would be implemented in the proposal to the President. And also I’ve been very active with the ERA and a lot of the women’s groups in New Bedford. I’ve been attending a lot of seminars and all. And I figured this was sort of the last step and this was to see whether really I want to continue working for the Equal Rights Amendment and the follow up meetings. And after the conference is over then I will determine whether I’ll become active or I will disassociate myself and just work with my own membership and within my own means.
LG: Okay, what will determine that for you?
HF: Well, I really – okay, one of the things I’m doing is I question some of the delegates are here, finding out who they represent, and my observation so far are they’re mostly professional people that are here and not the housewife, not the blue collar worker or the office worker. The little people. This is a conference for the high echelon. A lot of people are here for political prestige, to say that they’ve been to the conference. My goals are much further than that. I have nothing political to gain, I want no political prestige, I just want to see that the working people and also equal employment, we come from an area that’s very depressed, the high unemployment. And if there were equal employment then our people would be able to go into non-traditional jobs which they’re just not available because of the unemployment within my area.
LG: Do you feel that the non-traditional jobs are the way that women, they go and get better pay, better working –
HF: They’ll get better pay and they’ll have more of a chance to advance in the field that they want to advance with equal employment. When there’s a lack of employment these fields through the unions and all is by seniority and it’s very difficult to get the women to go into these non-traditional jobs because of lack of employment. And the people here are higher education and people with lack of education, many shy away from this, they feel as though they’re not part of them. And there’s still the stigma of, that it’s the gay task force, it’s for housewives that now want to enter a field of work into a professional field. And they feel that this still holds true with a lot of the people that do work in jobs and do work in factories, that they’re not really part of the whole movement.
LG: Uh-huh. What do you feel should be done for, what do you feel that could be or should be a movement for working class women?
HF: I think that maybe the working class should’ve been notified a little more of the conference itself. I think that, I don’t think there was enough done in the state committee people really trying to implement this into the housewives, homes, or into the media. There wasn’t enough until after the elections throughout the state. And this should’ve been done much prior. I myself, I’m a union representative and I didn’t find out about it until maybe a month and a half or two months before the actual election. And there was a slate which would represent the area that I come from, which is 12th Congressional District, and the committee people were the people that got elected. And it seems that the rank-and-filers really almost did not have a chance of making it because they were not informed of going there and what the political outcome of it would be.
LG: Uh-huh. Let me ask you something about yourself. When did you first become interested in the union?
HF: I’m a rank-and-filer. And I was very fortunate to have a business agent at that time that believed that women were part of the whole movement and women should go into it. And he thought at that time that I was one of the people that had a bookkeeping background in the industry. I worked in an office, I was a stenographer, and also an operator, a stitcher in the industry. And he figured with all that background that I would be ideal. And he really did a polish job for me to go into it.
LG: What did you think about the union when you first heard about it? Like, was your, because you were unionized, did you have to join the union to get a job, or did –
HF: No, no. I’d go out and organize non-union charts to go into the union. I’d do organizational work.
LG: You do that now.
HF: I did organizational work in Upstate New York, Vermont, New York City. I’ve worked in Chicago, Illinois, I’ve worked throughout organizing. I’m now a business agent, I serve the union shops. And I’ve been in many very bitter strikes, and at that time it was almost, it was disgraceful for a woman to be on protest. Now we’ve declined and it’s become, protest has become very sophisticated to protest on an issue. At that time we really protested low wages and we were ridiculed; ridiculed by college towns and everything. We were professional agitators. I’ve been beaten in the picket line, ended up in the hospital, and the whole community, the newspaper and all, consider that I was a professional agitator when all I was trying to do was get better work, better wages and conditions for some of the women that worked in shops. And I think that they were exploited, really.
LG: Um-hum. What do you feel, when you became active in the union were you always interested in bettering the conditions of women in particular?
HF: Yes, I was. With that I, I work with a majority of women. I worked in a community that have a lot of immigrant people, they’re Portuguese speaking. And their level of education is not very high, education has been very low. And so, the (unintelligible at 6:36) Klein, which is very good, and I thought that I could service them, I speak Portuguese and I figure that I could be of service to them. And that’s one of the reasons I joined.
LG: Uh-huh. Okay, let me just take you way back. When you first heard about the union, okay?
HF: I idolized the union.
LG: Did you? Okay, what made you become interested in it when you first –
HF: When I first, well I worked in a shop as a bookkeeper and I would see the business agent come into the office and negotiate for the employment for conditions for the workers in the shop. And I was impressed, I was totally impressed that he had so much power, that he could get the people in the factory increases. And being the bookkeeper I know what the employer was doin’ and it always amazed me that he knew that what we were doin’ and he had to come in and straighten it out. And that’s where I really became very fascinated with his job, I thought it was one of the most rewarding jobs that there was. And then when I went into the factory knowing that I did office work, I became chair lady, and from that I went to a training institute to head to New York City for a year. And because I did field work; six months of school work, six months of field work, organizing.
LG: Did you have any trouble moving up in that – to be active in the union did you face any discrimination within the union?
HF: Well, one of the things, and this I have to say is that at one time I probably was the first woman organizer and business agent in the New Bedford area. Now in our office we have two women business agents and we have the manager which is a woman. And I think, and the reason that we haven’t got more women in the top is that the women don’t enter the field. And now that we’re entering the field I expect that someday that we’ll also be like everybody else; there’ll be more women representing on the top, top echelon.
LG: What are you doing in particular to help that happen? Or what do you think should be done?
HF: Right now I’ll tell you the truth, what should be done, I think that the women themselves that work for the union, I would say they’re not aggressive enough. I probably in my office outta the three that work there, I probably, I am the only one that has been workin’ for the ERA as great as I have.
LG: Um-hum. Maybe they need to be more aggressive about more leadership?
HF: Well I mean, you come from an area where you have a job which is a job that’s paid, highly paid as far as the area is concerned. And then some women feel that this is enough for them, and they have a job. The responsibility isn’t as great and so you don’t want to, you know, keep steppin’ up because responsibility becomes greater. Then the other thing is there’s a lack of education. The majority of the women that are in it from the industry itself, and with lack of education is becomes very difficult to get the top echelon jobs. Because the majority of them are lawyers, they are people that are very political minded and people that really have to talk and converse with people and be well educated in all phases of life. And if you haven’t had the education, you just can’t make it. And I don’t think it’s out of discrimination, I just think it’s that the women haven’t educated themselves enough for some of these positions.
LG: So you would see some point at this point to really set educating women –
LG: – within the union as well as prior to even, when they’re younger still.
HF: That’s right.
LG: One last question. You said that this conference will determine whether you become active or still remain active, what with the ERA or with –
HF: With the ERA and after this there should be a lot of follow up meetings. Go talk to the congressmen and representatives, and the senators, to make sure that if there’s a proposal that becomes law, that they vote in favor of what we want. This is what’s going to determine whether I’m going to do that type of work.
LG: So you’ll continue, you’ll continue to push for working class women’s needs?
HF: That’s right.
LG: And if you decide not to work –
HF: And also for professional women. But I mean, I wanted them jointly.
LG: Uh-huh, what, if you decide not to work with it what will you do –
HF: I’ll do my every day job which is political within our organization, working political with all the representatives; better working conditions and better labor laws for health insurance, for national health insurance for our people, organizing the non-union, servicing the union charms, doing educational work with our membership.
LG: Okay, good. Do you think it’s important though that you work with the organization has developed its core working class or aim more towards working class women to achieve many of these same things that they’re trying to achieve here? Do you think that that kind of organization would be important?
HF: Well, I think the women need organizations that have a lot of political clout. Because if they don’t get it, it becomes very difficult. When you go into a senator or you go and talk to a representative, you have to have organizations back in there that have a lot of membership, have a lot of political clout, and move (recording cuts out at 11:35).
End of Interview