Miller saw union membership, collective bargaining and labor contrracts as the road to equality for working women, and she believed that women should be a part of union management to make sure that attention was paid to issues like equal opportunity, equal pay, parental leave, child care, health insurance and discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace.
She was a tall, formidable presence, possessed of a strong voice that carried well without a microphone (although she had avoided speaking out at her first AFL-CIO meeting because, she said, she did not want to seem like a “pushy woman,” The AP reported).
“Joyce didn’t hesitate to speak out, to speak out when she thought something was going in the wrong direction,” said John J. Sweeney, a former AFL-CIO president, adding, “She was very focused on fairness and justice.”
In 1982, at a Manhattan conference on women’s difficulties in being admitted to skilled union trades like construction and plumbing, Miller predicted a “feminization of poverty.”
“Employers will say that no real woman wants to work in overalls,” she said. “The truth is that no real woman wants to starve.”
And to anyone who argued that women earned less than men because they tended to pick less challenging work, she had a reply.
“When secretaries were men, clerical work was well paid, upwardly mobile and high status,” she wrote in a letter to The New York Times in 1985. “When women became secretaries, they hit a low-paid dead end. The same thing happened when women replaced men as sewing-machine operators, bank tellers and telephone operators. The market seems to notice when the workers in a job undergo a sex change.”