Newsletter

Stay up to date with the latest from MAKERS delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for new stories from trailblazing women, a big dose of inspiration, and exclusive MAKERS content.

Newsletter Confirmation

Thank you for joining! Please check your inbox for our special welcome letter
with exclusive updates from MAKERS.

MAKERS Moment

Deciding to Unionize

Deciding to Unionize

More From Karen

In this video

Nussbaum remembers the initial reluctance at her 9to5 organization to start a union and why they eventually did so.

Karen's Biography

Childhood dream: To become a social worker.
First Job: Babysitter
Favorite advice: “Keep an open mind but don’t let your brains fall out.”
Cause of Choice: Working America

Karen Nussbaum is an activist, labor leader, and founder of 9to5, a pioneering labor organization for female clerical workers. She has also served as Director of the Women’s Bureau of the Labor Department during the Clinton Administration, and as the head of the Working Women’s Department of the AFL-CIO from 1996-2001.
 
Nussbaum was born in Chicago in 1950, where her mother worked as a publicist and her father as an exterminator. She dropped out of the University of Chicago after a year and a half in order to move to Boston and devote herself to the anti-Vietnam movement. During this time she began supporting herself as a clerical worker at Harvard University, an experience that opened her eyes to the inequities and privations faced by middle and lower income working women throughout the United States.
 
By 1973, she and several colleagues had formed 9to5, an organization that sought to address these issues and forged a union for female office workers in 1975. In contrast to many labor organization, 9to5 focused on the plight of what Nussbaum calls “mainstream working women,” many of whom were performing the same work as men but for lower pay. Within just a few years the organization had gained national attention and, in 1981, it joined with the SEIU to form a partnership known as District 925.
 
Nussbaum served as director of District 925 from 1981 to 1993 when she stepped down to join the Clinton Administration. She held the position of director of the Department of Labor Women’s Issues—the highest ranking position devoted to women’s issues in the government—for three years before joining the AFL-CIO. She currently heads Working America, the community affairs affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Related Videos

Diane English
Diane English
Creator of "Murphy Brown"

Diane English is an Emmy-winning film and television producer, director, and screenwriter. She is best known for creating the show "Murphy Brown," which ran on CBS from 1...

Miranda July
Miranda July
Artist & Filmmaker

When Miranda July (née Miranda Jennifer Grossinger) dropped out of college to move to Portland in the 90s, it was clear she was already adept at conveying gravitas. Through ...

Joan Ganz Cooney
Joan Ganz Cooney
Co-Founder, Sesame Workshop

A founder of the Sesame Workshop and co-creator of Sesame Street, Joan Ganz Cooney knew that educational television was her calling the moment she walked into Channel 13. Born and ...

Gabrielle Giffords
Gabrielle Giffords
Former Congresswoman (D-Arizona)

Former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords became known for her resilience in the face of violence after a shooting at a local event that left six dead and Giffords with severe ...