March 17, 2015

Women’s History Month Member Profile: Local 5 Safeway Workers Joanne and Denise

Local 5 Member Joanne Murtha

Local 5 Member Joanne Murtha

We asked UFCW members across the country to share stories about women in their union as part of our ongoing celebration of Women’s History Month.

Denise Ward, a passionate Local 5 steward working at Safeway in Soquel, California, was eager to tell us about her coworker Joanne Murtha, who has worked at her store for close to 25 years.

“Joanne is the go-to person in the store,” says Denise. “She’s not an official manager because she’s chosen to remain a UFCW member, but she does all managerial duties and more. She interviews and orients the new hires. She does payroll . She works at the cash register, she helps customers find things in the store. She wears many hats and is great with all of them.”

Not only does she do all of this while still making time for her family at home, says Denise, but she does it all with a strong sense of compassion for all the people she works with. “She’s so sweet, and she makes everyone at the store feel comfortable and capable in their jobs.”

“If you’re having trouble at the register, and it’s broken or something, Joanne can come help and take over. She’s the hub of the wheel. If she doesn’t know how to help you, she’ll find someone who will. Everyone loves her–everyone’s a fan of Joanne,” Denise exclaims.

But Joanne’s compassion extends beyond the workplace.

Denise adds that when one of their elderly coworkers became sick and was ailing, Joanne and another coworker took care of him–buying his groceries, and becoming his caregivers.

Women like Joanne and Denise know that belonging to a union gives them greater opportunity and job protections than their non-union counterparts, creates a level playing field for female workers, and enables them to have a united voice on the job.

According to the Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR), women are a large and growing portion of the union workforce, currently comprising 45% of union members. Women are on track to become a majority of the union workforce by 2023.

On average, union membership increases a woman’s wages by 12.9%, or $2.50 an hour. Also, studies have shown that being in a union raises a woman’s pay as much as a full year of college does. Unionized women of color earn almost 35% percent more than non-union women of color.

CEPR also found that “the union impact on the probability that a female worker has health insurance or a retirement plan through her employer was even larger than the impact on wages. At every education level, unionized women are more likely to have employee benefits than their non-union counterparts with similar characteristics. In fact, for a women worker with a high school degree, being in or represented by a union raises her likelihood of having health insurance or a retirement plan by more than earning a four-year college degree would.”

Additionally, employer-provided retirements are one of the largest advantages that union-women have, when compared to non-union women, CEPR shows.

Denise herself has worked at Safeway for 21 years, and will retire at the end of the month.

“I’m retiring a little early at age 61,” she says. “My union benefits enabled me to do that. And I could have been unfairly fired several times over the years, but because my workplace is union, I am protected against that–our union establishes rules that the employer must follow. I’m about to retire now but I will always be a union member, for the rest of my life. I will always be pro-union.”

Do you know a strong woman in your life and your union that’d you’d like to share with us? Let us know at