On December 16, 1977, with a wind chill of 70 degrees below zero, eight women employees of the Citizens' National Bank in Willmar, Minnesota, donned their snowmobile suits and went out on strike. They were protesting the blatant sexism that reigned at the bank, and more subtly at other banks throughout the state.
The specific event that set them off was the hiring of a young man, inexperienced, to a position earning about $700 a month, significantly higher than the $400 monthly salary most of the women earned after years of service. And, more importantly, the women were not given the opportunity to apply for the position anmd were expected to train the new employee.
The community, in general, lent little support to the women. The strike caused stress within marriages, families, and among friends. They did, however, receive support from the local National Organization for Women group, much attention from the media, and from Hollywood when actress/director Lee Grant called and made a documentary covering the story.
Although in June 1977 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled there was "reasonable cause to believe" there had been gender discrimination at the bank, by the summer of 1979 the National Labor Relations Board issued its final ruling: the bank had committed unfair labor practices, but those practices had not caused the strike. It meant no back pay, and no guarantee of getting their jobs back. One after another, they found new jobs.
But they did make history. The Willmar 8 are now in the history books, and discussed in classrooms throughout the country. They changed the way labor and the women's movement interact.
Becuase of their bravery and tenacity, while under considerable economic and personal duress, I nominate the Willmar 8 to the MN 150. They deserve a page in Minnesota history.
~Sharon Howell, Brooklyn Park, MN