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The Short Course


The heart of labor education is still the not-for-credit course, conference, or workshop that deals directly with workers’ concerns and provides information and tools for students to act on these concerns collectively through their labor organizations. This chapter discusses short courses as a flexible format, using as its norm courses of four, six, or eight consecutive sessions, approximately one and one-half hours in length, conducted on a non-credit basis.

While this is a standard format through which unions and university labor educators have for years provided education for unionists, here we look at a new development: short courses offered especially for labor union and other working women. Many of these are offered through university extension programs. They deal with traditional subjects as seen through women’s eyes, for example, grievance handling for union women, public speaking, parliamentary procedures; and they offer new courses that meet special needs, such as assertiveness training, job hazards and the white-collar worker, women and the law, sexual harassment at the work place, coping alone, and working women and money.

Unions that utilize the services of university labor education centers for in-house programs are often the newer unions, or locals without their own education departments to call on, or union education directors who plan programs that provide expertise in particular areas that university centers can supply. However, university labor centers also initiate programs that reach a cross-section of union audiences, frequently by offering training in a variety of leadership skills (always in demand because of the high rate of turnover among local union rank-and-file leaders and committees). Since these are the levels where active women unionists enter the leadership scene, skill-building short courses are particularly critical for and popular with union women.

One advantage of the short-course format, then, is its flexibility. Classes can be scheduled at local union halls or in central locations, at times and places most convenient for participants. Unlike long-term evening or weekend credit programs, which must meet rigid university criteria on course content and faculty, the non-credit course relates to the immediate and practical concerns of workers—in this case, women workers—and can use as teachers practitioners who also provide role models for the students. The courses provide information and skills that women can apply almost immediately, whether on the job, in their labor unions, or in the community.

Short courses for trade union and other working women have a double purpose. First, they give women the chance to meet as women, to participate freely in a supportive, friendly environment. For some, this is a first experience in relating union issues specifically to their concerns as women workers. Courses must be designed to bring union women and these concerns into the reading materials as well as the class discussions. Second, and equally important, courses provide women with the specific knowledge and competencies that help to prepare them for leadership and more effective participation in their unions. The following section looks at short courses provided for individual unions by labor extension services and centers, and those school- (i.e., university) initiated programs open to all union and other working women.

In-service Courses for Local Unions

How are in-service courses organized and planned?

Arrange a planning meeting. Contact the union officer in charge of membership education activities (it may be the local’s president or full-time representative) and set up a meeting. A leader from a union with a high concentration of women members, or the chair of a women’s committee, might be responsive to a letter outlining your center’s educational services. (This assumes the university labor center has a card file of union contacts and / or a current labor union directory to use as a guide.)

If this is the local’s first program on or about women workers, discuss what the best, most acceptable focus might be. For example, should the course deal with the increased numbers of women in the work force and implications of this for the union? Should it be offered to men and women alike? Or should it be designed primarily for rank-and-file women? Some locals might prefer to hold a seminar-type program for officers first, to discuss the growing role of women in the union or the impact on the union of recent equal employment court decisions on women and minorities. Be prepared to make suggestions, to offer sample course outlines, to demonstrate how materials have been used in other union programs you have conducted.

Once you and the union have decided on the audience and subject matter, you can move to tuition cost; when and where to hold the course; the number of sessions; who else to consult about content. What material does the local’s international have available to distribute to the students? What can the union supply as background for the course developer and teacher? How long should each session run? Keep in mind that the program need not cover every aspect of the problem. The union may see this as a basic course to be followed by a more advanced one. If the course is to be held at union headquarters, is the necessary equipment (for example, blackboard, motion picture projector and screen) available? Will the union provide coffee?

The local will be responsible for recruiting students; to what extent will it also handle publicity? Often the university labor center will be called upon to prepare a flier describing the course. This flier and course registration form should include not only the student’s name, address, and phone number, but also what, if any, union office or committee post the person holds. The union will distribute these fliers to its membership and do whatever further recruiting is needed, perhaps utilizing its shop steward system, its own newspaper, bulletin boards, and membership meetings.

Make an advance roster that lists students’ addresses, phone numbers, and union offices held. This enables you to ensure that enough materials are prepared; to make up an attendance roster for the teacher (for determining who receives a university certificate of attendance); to provide information for the teacher on each student’s level of union involvement; and to notify students of the course’s starting date and place, or of last-minute changes. Either the union or university center should send out a reminder notice a week in advance, welcoming each student, stating the course’s purpose, time, and location, and mentioning the availability of university certificates for regular attenders.

Wherever possible, the teacher should meet at least once with the union education or other staff person for background information about the organization and its present structure. How the union sees the course and its purpose is important. There will be necessary background reading for the teacher to do, whatever the course content: the union’s contract, its constitution, its newspaper, and specific convention resolutions dealing with course subject areas. This is the teacher’s opportunity to get a feel for how the union functions.

Where specific union information may be necessary during the course, especially relating to union policy, plan for a union representative to be present to explain and to answer questions. However, individual problems relating to the subject under discussion, whatever it is, should not be allowed to take up class time unless they are general enough to relate to several members of the group. Labor educators know the danger of letting a class disintegrate into an individual grievance session between the union representative (there as a resource) and the members.

In-service courses have some advantages. They can be immediately applicable to students’ day-to-day activities. Case studies can deal with recognizable and relevant specifics, for example, the kind of grievances likely to occur in that local, or provisions of a collective bargaining agreement. Exercises can be developed around the experiences of women members who assume added responsibilities or new leadership posts within the framework of the local’s structure and traditions.

Working with a single local offers the university labor educator the chance to plan programs with and for the local that progress from one level to another, and to observe and even to measure results. A trust relationship can be developed and, as a result, education can over the years become an integral part of the local’s program.

School-Initiated Programs

University labor education centers augment educational services to individual trade unions through the programs they initiate and offer to unionists on a first-come, first-served basis. The choice of subject is wide open as long as there is an interest on the part of union members, leaders, or staff. Courses can be in the same skill-training areas that make for successful in-service programs, but here union women might attend where their union does not offer women’s courses or perhaps does not have any education program at all. Or courses can focus on problems women encounter as citizens and consumers: how to get involved in the political process, new developments in equal employment law, occupational health and safety. Or they can deal with subjects individual locals might consider too sensitive: sexual harassment at the work place, assertiveness training, or one that we have found quite popular, “Career Development and the Job Hunt,” which union women in white-collar, professional, and para-professional jobs register for in great numbers.

Consulting the labor center’s advisory committee is one good way to learn what new courses might be developed and offered. It is hoped that the advisory committee represents a cross-section of unions and racial and ethnic groups in the area; women, who are now close to 43 percent of the work force, should be well represented on it also. The advisory committee can provide guidance for developing programs of current concern to union leaders themselves; moreover, support of such a committee is invaluable for ensuring continuity of state funding for labor education, since most university labor centers are part of the state universities that depend on legislatures for annual budget appropriations.

How are school-initiated programs organized?

Programs for union women may be new to many local union leaders, most of whom are men, which can make uncertain how wide an audience of union women will be reached through usual recruiting channels. Therefore, a promotional campaign must go beyond saturating the mails with fliers, even beyond personal visits to education directors and union officers. Short-course planners must be prepared to “hit the road,” that is, to seek opportunities to talk about the university’s short courses and other offerings for union women at local executive board and general membership meetings, and to answer questions about why programs are offered especially for women. Union women can be reached through the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), which now has more than thirty regional or city chapters, many of them with education committees. Keep an up-to-date file of course registrations, in order to build a mailing list for future programs.

Publicity fliers should meet the same criteria as any successful leaflet: a title that commands attention; a brief summary of the course content; short, direct sentences; and all important facts: dates, meeting times, location, cost.

The major costs of short courses—instructors’ fees, design and production of materials, and staff time—are allocated differently depending on the university’s program budget. The labor center’s objective is to serve unions and their members to the widest extent possible, which means at the lowest feasible cost. Since universities are supported by workers’ tax dollars, workers are entitled to service from these centers. This often means an almost constant battle with university administrators who would like to see all adult education programs make money.

Program costs often can be reduced when university labor program staff coordinate, teach, and prepare the materials for the course, but this is not always possible. Part-time extension teachers must be hired to teach particular courses or conference sessions. This enables the university to utilize experts in such particular fields as labor law, arbitration, equal employment enforcement, and health and safety. It provides an excellent opportunity to seek out women accomplished in these and other fields and to employ them as ad hoc teachers—and not only in courses for union women. Women can be inspired by other women who have achieved, and men can learn that most roles traditionally thought of as male (for example, arbitrator, negotiator) can be filled capably by a woman.

Wherever possible, university charges for school-initiated courses should be kept modest, and its in-service charges scaled to the local union’s size or ability to pay. For example, the labor center might absorb the costs of new, experimental programs with new kinds of audiences, or for small locals with modest treasuries, or unions hard-pressed financially because of recent strikes or layoffs.

Among other advantages, school-initiated programs supplement the services requested from the labor center by individual locals. Without these, some unionists would have no access to labor education. This is especially true when it comes to programs for union women. Inter-union programs offered at the university’s labor center provide a forum for women of various backgrounds, from different occupations and unions that can enrich students’ and teachers’ understanding of union issues, structures, and problems. They are one way to initiate and test new program ideas not yet requested by local unions; to ascertain the extent of interest in a subject; to revise, where necessary, and to ready new courses for local unions to sponsor. A specific instance is described below, a short course developed through Trade Union Women’s Studies. Trade Union Women’s Studies is a program of the Institute for Education and Research on Women and Work, New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University. Titled “Working Women and Money,” it proved so popular that it is now requested by local unions and is open to men as well as women. It has been renamed “Workers and Money,” although the special problems faced by women as workers and as single heads of families remain in the course content.

School-initiated programs, along with in-service courses, also provide an important channel for recruiting for the longer, credit-bearing labor studies programs that have come to provide another major focus of labor education.


New short courses call for the development of materials both for teacher and student. Through the Trade Union Women’s Studies program, a number of six-, three-, and four-session courses with manuals have been developed (see Courses and Manuals, below). The enterprising teacher will locate many free or inexpensive materials to augment courses: magazine articles, newspaper clippings, government publications, and materials or films available through the AFL-CIO and other souces (see the Appendix, A Resource on Resources).

Short-course manuals or kits should contain an outline for the student that describes the objectives of the course; a brief description of each session; and reading assignments. Articles, case studies, and exercises can be developed for each study unit. These provide a flexible framework that can be adapted to the requirements or interests of a particular local group.

Course Instructors

When ad hoc instructors are hired, university labor programs recruit from the ranks of government, labor unions, the professions, and various departments of the university itself. Those who teach working adults need to appreciate the problems of the worker-student, who comes to class after a full day of work, often without supper, eager, interested, but tired. The instructor must understand and sympathize with her aims and aspirations.

In addition, the instructor should be able to take advantage of the rich life experiences that students bring to the classroom, examining the subject matter in the light of practical problems working women encounter on the job or in their unions. Because the growth of the individual student is critical, the teacher may find herself in the role of counselor, mentor, and friend as she learns more about the students through discussions before and after class.

It is important to involve students in the development of mutual student-teacher goals for their study experience. To realize these, every technique should be used that can involve group members in the learning process and relate the material to their work experiences. These methods, discussed in later chapters of this book, include group discussion, case studies, small group processes, action projects, role plays, and, where appropriate, films or slide shows.

Teachers who have never taught in the university’s labor program should be invited to sit in on a class in progress to become familiar with the spirit of the program, methods the teacher uses, and the student body. It is helpful to have materials for the instructor to review that describe techniques in labor education instruction. If the teacher will be working from a prepared manual, she should review it well in advance of the program and discuss it with the program coordinator, feeling free to suggest changes and variations based on her own experience in teaching or in the subject area. Be sure she is briefed on the university’s own administrative procedures, including registration forms, taking attendance, evaluation sheets, and certificate presentation.

The program coordinator has an important role, even when an ad hoc teacher is used. The students in the course are not there in isolation. They are a direct link between the union and the university. Perhaps they have attended other university-sponsored courses; hopefully, they will be participants in future programs.

At the opening session, the coordinator welcomes them, explains briefly the role of the university labor center, and introduces the teacher. This sets the tone for the course. One of the first things that should happen is the introduction of the students to each other.

The assumption is made here that the necessary course materials are ready, and registration forms, audiovisual aids, and a blackboard and chalk or flipboard and felt pen are at hand. Ventilation, acoustics, lighting, and seating arrangements are in order. Room size is appropriate, as far as possible, to the size of the group. (Realistically, the labor educator is used to working with the facilities a union provides, which are not always ideal. Nonetheless, a check list is useful!)

It is suggested that program coordinators sit in on at least one class in the middle of the course to see how it is progressing, and that they be on hand at the final session to award certificates and announce other university-sponsored courses and programs. No labor educator ever underestimates the importance of the certificate that the university awards: these get framed and kept for years, and more frequently these days are accepted as proof of course work by universities and colleges that give degree credit for life experience.


In the short course, evaluation is necesary. The most important kind is classroom observation by the program coordinator. Another gauge of how the course is going is the dropout rate. If it is high, you won’t know why unless you have visited the class—and then you may be able to reduce it by working with the teacher between sessions.

A written evaluation questionnaire distributed at the last session of the course also provides valuable information. It gives students a chance to comment on the teaching techniques used, on the materials and the content of the course, and to suggest ideas and subjects for future programs. Working adults as students tend to be both kind to and accepting of the teacher. Thus the questionnaire should elicit specific information about what students feel they have learned, what they liked best, and what they would like to see changed if the course were given again. If they are disapproving of the teacher, believe them! They don’t express disapproval lightly.

Once you have the evaluations from the class, use them to improve course materials to meet student needs and expectations. Instructors will benefit from a frank discussion about their teaching methods. Only if they seem both willing and able to incorporate suggested changes into future teaching should less successful instructors be given a second chance. On the other hand, poor instructors with a special area of expertise might be more useful as guest speakers at particular course sessions, or worked into the program in another way more agreeable to students and perhaps to the teacher as well.

How One Course Was Developed: A Case Example

The problem addressed in this course is one of the most pressing of our times: inflation. When women shop, pay their utility bills, purchase clothing, pay their rent, or buy on credit, they are confronted with the fact that spendable income has dwindled. It is increasingly difficult to manage money.

The Trade Union Women’s Studies coordinator decided to develop a course that would help women manage their money more effectively and, at the same time, show how their union worked for them beyond negotiated wage increases, through the range of fringe benefits that usually make up the union contract and collective bargaining settlements (for example, health coverage, pension plans, legal services), and such services as credit unions and counseling.

Linda Small, a talented young writer, was interested in developing and teaching a pilot course. She is not an economist. Until the time she put together a course on managing money for an audience of trade union women, she had never researched the subject. In a series of planning meetings, we discussed the goals of the course, the issues that should be covered in its six sessions, and the basic skills it should communicate.

“Working Women and Money” was the result. When completed, it contained a wealth of information on taxes, banking and credit, fringe benefits, retirement (social security and union-negotiated pension programs), and the working woman as consumer (see Working Women and Money, below). Women learned to prepare budgets, fill out tax forms, shop around for credit, estimate their retirement needs, and shop and buy wisely.

For each subject a resource list is provided, along with course handouts, most of which are available free from banks, insurance companies, the government, and unions. A questionnaire (unsigned) is distributed at the first session to provide the instructor with a profile of the participants (marital status, income range, financial history). Thus details of the course can be shaped around student interests and needs. Classroom discussion at an early stage elicits other areas of concern.

Students find especially helpful the sessions on fringe benefits and retirement. A worksheet on contract provisions for health and related benefits is included as homework (see Worksheet on Benefits, below). Women refer to their own union contracts or information booklets that outline benefit plans and analyze their hospitalization and surgical coverage, other health-related benefits the union may provide, and pension programs.

If the course is offered as an in-service program for a particular union, the union’s pension plan officer should be asked to speak and answer questions at this session. Retirement is often a source of anxious concern for women workers, who traditionally earn less than men and draw lower Social Security payments. In this course many women learn for the first time what vesting means and how to calculate their retirement incomes.

“Working Women and Money” lends itself to the use of outside resources. For example, if it is offered early in the year a representative of the Internal Revenue Service can attend the class on taxes and explain the latest revisions in the law that apply to filing tax forms.

The best of courses can fail in the hands of a poor instructor. “Working Women and Money” is not useful if students focus on individual grievances (for example, against the utility company that never answered their calls, against the department store that sold them shoddy merchandise). For this reason Linda Small included a section on how and where to complain, and offered students her own “Complaint Combat Rules.” Then she referred them to this section of the manual when individual problems threatened to take too much class time.


Short-course planners provide a direct educational service that combines meeting the needs of unions for member education and of women for special training and information. While union women are not yet represented in most unions’ top levels, they are beginning to run for office more frequently, and their first steps in participation may well be through enrolling in a course for union women.

In order to influence union policies, women must understand their rights and obligations as members and at the same time develop the special skills they will need as leaders. University and college labor education programs are uniquely suited to provide this training.


The following courses and manuals are available through Trade Union Women’s Studies, Cornell University, 3 East 43 Street, New York, N.Y., 10017.

Six-session courses: Beginning Journalism; Effective Letter Writing; Grievance Handling; Health Hazards; Mathematics of Work; Effective Speaking; Advanced Speaking; Working Women and Money; Career Development—The Job Hunt; Sexual Harassment at the Workplace; Coping Alone.

Three-session Courses: Union Women and the Political Process; Internal Organizing; External Organizing; Building Committees and Coalitions; Public Speaking; Parliamentary Procedure; Increasing Women’s Participation; Getting Women’s Story into Print.

Four-session Course: Leadership Skills for Union Women.

Modules: Working Women in Organized Labor; Women in American Labor History.


This course will take you through the “money maze” and help you acquire basic skills so that you can deal with money matters.

Session 1: Working Women and Money. An introduction to the course and each other. How we relate to money. How to manage it better. How to prepare a budget.

Session 2: Tax Clinic for Working Women. Highlights of the Tax Reduction and Simplification Act. How to file. How to fill out tax forms. How to get help.

Session 3: Banking and Credit. How to shop around for financial institutions. Services offered by commercial banks, savings banks, credit unions. Current credit legislation. Establishing your own credit history. How much debt is too much? How to get help.

Session 4: Beyond the Fringes, or, What Is Your Salary Package Really Worth? What are fringe benefits? How “good” is your fringe benefit package? How much health insurance do you need? How much life insurance? Sexism and the insurance industry.

Session 5: Can You Afford to Retire? Planning for your financial future. The two main sources of retirement income: social security, union-negotiated pension plans. What is social security worth to you? What is your union plan worth to you? How to estimate your retirement needs. Budgeting for the future.

Session 6: The Working Woman as Consumer, or, How Not to Be Taken. An introduction to wills. What to include. Why write one. What to look for in a contract. Rules to eat by. Shopping and buying wisely. How and where to complain.


For the purposes of this worksheet on contract provisions, health and related benefits will be considered in four parts. Refer to your contract and / or your own booklet outlining your benefit plan.

1. Hospitalization and surgical coverage

Who is covered? Member? Spouse? Children? Age limit?

Hospitalization coverage, per day (Private? Semi-private?) Length of stay?

Incidental expenses—what do these include?

Are maternity stays included in hospitalization coverage?

Surgical allowances:

Set fee schedule?

Are certain operations disallowed? Which?

Maternity provisions? What are they?

Family coverage? Spouse? Children? Are provisions same as for member?

Other benefits not included in the above that you are eligible for in the area of hospitalization and surgical care? (For example, after care, home visits, visiting nurse care, doctor visits related to surgery, etc.)

2. Medical coverage outside of hospitalization

Doctor office visits? For member? Spouse? Children?

Amount allowed for visit?

Number of visits per year?

Other services allowed (X-rays, dental, eye examinations, specialists such as on

hearing, gynecology, obstetrics, etc.)

Drug and treatment benefits (Medicines; physiotherapy, etc.)

Home visits? For member? Spouse? Children?

3. Pension program

Amount at 65 years? At 62 years?

Can member work longer than age 65?

Vesting: do you know amount after 20 years of work on the job? after 10 years?

If you do not know, how can you find out?

What determines the amount of the members’ pensions? How is it set?

4. Other health-related benefits

Disability for illness? How long?

Is pregnancy-related disability included?

Does your local have a health and safety committee? What is its job?

Are there any health-related programs in your local? (Blood pressure; yearly X-ray of chest; special testing; other.)

What health-related services does your local offer? (Alcoholism program, referral service for family problems, etc.)

5. How are these benefits paid for?

Percent of payroll paid by employer? Which ones are paid for this way?

Joint contribution by worker and employer? Which are paid for this way?

Entirely by worker? Which are paid for this way? (Voluntary extra coverage; inclusion of family and spouse on some benefits, etc.)

Are any health-related benefits paid by union alone? (Education programs on health, other.)

6. How are contract demands related to health determined in your local?

Is paid maternity leave included in your contract?

If so, how long and how much?

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