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Interviews for Resistance: The March 8 Strike Is About Building Feminism for the 99%

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. Since election night 2016, the streets of the United States have rung with resistance. People all over the country have woken up with the conviction that they must do something to fight inequality in all its forms. But many are wondering what it is they can do. In this series, we’ll be talking with experienced organizers, troublemakers and thinkers who have been doing the hard work of fighting for a long time. They’ll be sharing their insights on what works, what doesn’t, what has changed and what is still the same.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: I am Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. I am the author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation and an assistant professor of African American studies at Princeton University.

Sarah Jaffe: You were one of the original people who called for a women’s strike on March 8th. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Keeanga-Yamahtta: The idea for the women’s strike actually didn’t originate in the United States, but it is a call in solidarity with women organizations from 30 different countries who put out a call for a strike on International Women’s Day, March 8th. This is our effort at trying to explain why it was important that American feminists sign on to this call and really try to be a part of this movement that is trying to, in this country, part of our intention is to bring politics back to International Women’s Day by turning it into a political event, by highlighting the ways that women continue to suffer from misogyny and sexism in the United States and to give concrete descriptions of that.

But also, the strike is about highlighting the ways that “women’s work” or “women’s labor” is at times unseen. It can be undervalued, underpaid. The strike is about drawing attention to that by, in effect, extracting those many different manifestations of women’s labor on March 8th to highlight the extent to which women’s labor continues to play a central role in the political and, I would say, social economy of the United States.

Sarah: The call to strike that you co-authored talks about building a feminism for the 99%. Can you talk a little bit about what that means?

Keeanga-Yamahtta: I think part of what we were reacting to—there are a couple of things. Part of the reaction is against the prevailing notion of “lean-in feminism,” which has been a popular idea, most notably in support of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president. The idea that the last frontier for women to challenge are these glass ceilings that block the ascension of women in electoral politics or in corporate America. I think for us, that actually is not the last frontier for ordinary and working-class women. The traditional shackles on poor and working-class women are still in effect and actually have to be responded to and attended to. The feminism for the 99% is about rejecting that idea that women are only or primarily concerned with their role in the elite male world, but that there are still very basic issues, such as access to reproductive healthcare, access to abortion, wage differentials. Black women make $0.63 for each dollar that white men make, for example, which, of course, is lower than the usual barometer that people use, the $0.78 to the dollar that white women make. Black women make substantially less than that.

There is still the issue of childcare. There is no access to public or state funded childcare. The attacks on public education. The attacks on the public infrastructure. All of these have disproportionate impact on the lives of women. On a very basic level, we need a feminist politics that responds to these issues as the most urgent. I think we saw that the outpouring around the January 21st protest showed that there is actually quite vast support for a resurgent feminist movement. Part of our objective is to argue for a certain kind of radical politics within that and not for a political agenda that is quite limited and has these kind of narrow goals about the social mobility of women within corporate America as a sole objective.

Sarah: Some of the women’s strikes that we have seen just in the past year have come around explicit attacks in different countries. Can you talk a little bit more about the connection with these other international women’s movements and the connection back to the history of International Women’s Day?

Keeanga-Yamahtta: I think probably the most well-known example involves the women’s strike in Poland in response to the attempt of the state there to impose a ban on abortion. I think that it shows the power of political protest, political demonstration, as opposed to the usual default of embroiling oneself in the formal political process. That was a powerful example. I think the women’s mobilizations, women-led mobilizations for abortion rights in Ireland have helped to create the conditions where there is an actual struggle for, not just abortion rights but to access to birth control. There are other examples of organizing in Argentina and South Korea and Italy where it is really about women trying to harness their social power outside of the electoral realm, through street demonstrations and organizing to fight for what I would consider to be basic rights.

It does really harken back to the origins of International Women’s Day, which, of course, have become lost over time. It has become this odd Hallmark holiday that has no connection to its radical roots. International Women’s Day came out of a demonstration of working class and poor women in Petrograd in Russia in 1917 in opposition to the first World War, to end the first World War and to fight for the redirection of resources out of war back into the lives of regular people. The slogan was, “Demonstration for Peace and Bread.”

Sarah: Talk about the organizing that is going on to make the strike happen and the connection with the Women’s March organizers.

Keeanga-Yamahtta: The organizing has been fast and furious because we have a limited amount of time before March 8th. There is some local organizing happening. I know there have been on-the-ground meetings in Philly and New York and Chicago and Berkeley, Pittsburgh, and other places that have called organizing meetings, but on a national level I think it was an important development that the organizers of the Women’s March—there is one person who was part of that organizing team who has been an active participant in the women’s strike organizing. There was an agreement that we would work together.

The women’s strike national coordinating committee has been working with the Women’s March, the January 21st organizers, in terms of trying to put out some joint statements in trying to bring attention to the women’s strike, but also, they are planning what they refer to as “A Day Without A Woman” also for March 8th, which has a different set of politics and a different platform than the women’s strike, but there is a sense that it is better to work together and try to combine our forces than to call a bunch of separate days of action. That is how we have proceeded.

Sarah: Many of the people, including yourself, that are involved with the call for a women’s strike are socialists. Can you talk about the role of socialism and socialist feminism in this country after the 2016 elections?

Keeanga-Yamahtta: At a very basic level, there is an understanding that the problems experienced by women in our societies today are rooted in an economic system that privileges the 1% over the 99% and that sometimes we think of women’s issues unto themselves, but really these are issues that arise out of an inherently unequal economic arrangement in this country. The fact that women make less, that women don’t have access to childcare provisions, that women don’t have access to reproductive healthcare. They are not just economic questions, but they are related to an economic arrangement that relies on the free labor of women to, in fact, reproduce itself as a political system.

In some ways, as this economic inequality, people have really been talking about with greater specificity and focus since the eruption of the Occupy movement in 2011, that within that context, those unequal economic relationships have disproportionate effect in the lives of women. I think that in this past election where you literally have a billionaire who has made his money through exploiting loopholes in the system and who has sort of ascended to the political top through his abusing women and his visceral sexism and hatred of women—it is not surprising given the centrality of sexism in Donald Trump’s campaign that the very first protests have been organized by women, mostly attended by women, that have become a focal point of the resistance movement.

Sarah: You wrote a wonderful book about the Black Lives Matter movement, putting that in historical context. I wonder what your thoughts are in how that movement is changing and shifting under Trump.

Keeanga-Yamahtta: I think that Trump put Black Lives Matter as a movement and the activist organizations affiliated with it in the crosshairs early on. I think his entire posture around law and order was created in opposition to Black Lives Matter and what he called a climate that was anti-police. That has had a particular impact. For the President of the United States and his supporters to refer to political activists and the political movement as terrorists, which they have done around Black Lives Matter, means a particular thing in the security state atmosphere of the United States.

I think it has put activists on the defensive and in some ways has created a situation where people have almost become internalized, meaning that they are looking inside of their organizations to figure out how to, perhaps, tighten things up and how to politically respond to Trump. It is understandable, but I think we are at a moment where now is the time to look outward and connect with other groups of people who are experiencing some of the same attacks.

There has been a lot of discussion about solidarity and what that looks like. In this climate, it has to look like the collaboration and coordination between groups of people who have all of the interest in the world in working together. So, police abuse and violence is not just an issue affecting African American communities, but that we have seen very early on that Trump is trying to expand the powers of the police, expand the responsibilities of the police, and in doing so, putting other groups of people in the crosshairs.

Obviously, the attacks on the undocumented and the attempts of the Trump administration to deputize police officers in the efforts to roundup undocumented immigrants, the attacks on Muslims and Arabs, also calls on greater powers of the state and its armed agents to do that. These create an almost natural alliance of people to stand up against policing and police abuse.

I think what all of this means is that we need a much bigger movement to confront the police. We need a movement that tries to connect the issues and by doing so, is actually connecting activists and putting people together to build the largest possible resistance. That also has to be connected to the other attacks that are coming from the Trump administration. That it is not just about policing, but it is also about how this lays the foundation for an attack on organizing, resistance organizing, opposition organizing, in the first place, by empowering the police to be able to have expansive and intrusive powers. It creates a problem for all of us.

I think there has to be a great effort among folks from Black Lives Matter and other organizations that have been at the center of fighting these things to make these connections with other groups for the sake of expanding the movement, while also preserving the space and understanding that these policies continue to have a disproportionate impact in black communities, but understanding that we need a much bigger movement to win.

Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. 

This article was originally printed on Inthesetimes.com on February 28, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Sarah Jaffe is a staff writer at In These Times and the co-host of Dissent magazine’s Belabored podcast. Her writings on labor, social movements, gender, media, and student debt have been published in The Atlantic, The Nation, The American Prospect, AlterNet, and many other publications, and she is a regular commentator for radio and television.

The Country’s Job Creators Are Increasingly Women Of Color

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

Bryce CovertShelly Kapoor Collins had spent more than 10 decades in technology, but she felt that something was still missing from her career. “I knew that I loved tech, but I never quite understood the concept of working for someone else,” she said.

And eventually, the mother of a 10-month-old daughter who was pregnant with a son got sick of waiting for the right time to branch out on her own. So she decided to go ahead and launch her company, Enscient Corporation. And she couldn’t be happier.

“The lesson I learned is that you can’t wait for the right time, you have to be the one to pick the right time,” she said. Now she’s taken her experience in the tech world — first at MCI, then at Oracle — and put it to work serving clients in government. “It was chaotic, but I thrived on the chaos,” she said of her experience launching a company while parenting young children with her husband. “I felt like I had found what I was looking for and I could sink my teeth into it.”

It seems that a lot of American women have decided that it is their time to take the same dive. According to an analysis of new data on business creation from the Census Bureau conducted by the National Women’s Business Council, woman-owned businesses increased 27.5 percent between 2007 and 2012, adding 2.1 million to the total, outpacing the growth the 20 percent growth they saw in the five years before that. Women now run more than 36 percent of all businesses (that aren’t farms), up from just under 30 percent in 2007.

Businesses owned by men, meanwhile, just puttered along. They grew less than 6 percent between 2002 and 2007 and less than 8 percent between 2007 and 2012.

And companies run by women now employ 8.9 million people. In fact, the number of people working for a woman-owned business increased 19.5 percent, while it only increased 11.5 percent for those run by men.

The increases are even more dramatic for businesses started by women of color like Kapoor Collins, who is Indian American. Businesses owned by black women increased 67.5 percent between 2007 and 2012, versus less than 19 percent growth for those started by black men. Nearly 60 percent of all businesses run by a black person are now run by women. Hispanic women saw an even bigger gain, as their businesses increased more than 87 percent in the same time period compared to about 39 percent growth for Hispanic men. And those run by Asian American women grew 44 percent, compared to 25 percent for Asian American men.

Of course there are still far more companies run by men. The total came to nearly 15 million as of 2012, compared to 9.9 million owned by women.

And money can be a concern. Kapoor Collins has experienced funding hurdles firsthand. When she decided to launch a new product that helps politicians and nonprofits fundraise, she needed funding herself to get it up and running. Two things got in her way, though: one is the time demand of fundraising for someone with young children, and the other was plain sexism. “Men give to men, they raise from each other and give to each other,” she said. “It’s an old boys’ network. As a woman, it’s hard to tap into that.” In the end she decided to have her company fund the project itself.

It’s a well-known problem that women struggle to raise money. They only net 13 percent of of venture capital funding and get less than 5 percent of government contracts. Business school students are four times more likely to recommend investing in a company led by a man, something that holds true even with the exact same pitch.

And once they get up and running, women’s businesses can struggle to bring in the big bucks. The vast majority of companies they own bring in less than $25,000 in receipts and companies that size saw the highest rate of growth. Just 1.8 percent make it past the $1 million revenue mark, compared to 6.3 percent owned by men.

Still, Kapoor Collins thinks the trend of women starting companies will only continue thanks to the visibility of female businesswomen like Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer. “Women can’t be what we can’t see,” she said. But things have changed. “Mentorship is on the rise, contributing to more women doing and starting businesses.”

And her message to any woman who might be considering making that move herself: jump in. “The worst thing you can do is to not do it,” she said.

This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on August 20, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

Female Executives Aren’t Just Paid Less, They Also Suffer More For Bad Performance

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

Bryce CovertThere isn’t just a gender wage gap among the highest-paid employees in the country. Pay for female executives also drops further when companies perform poorly compared to men but rises less during good times.

In a new note about their research, Federal Reserve Bank of New York economists Stefania Albanesi, Claudia Olivetti, and Maria Prados find that if a company’s value drops by 1 percent, female executives’ pay will drop by 63 percent, while male executives only see a 33 percent decline. On the other hand, if value goes up by 1 percent men will get a 44 percent boost but women will only get a 13 percent increase.

This leads to cumulative losses for women but gains for men. The economists looked at pay for the top five executives in public companies — CEO, vice chair, president, CFO, and chief operating officer — in the Standard and Poor’s ExecutComp database between 1992 and 2005. Over that time, women’s pay dropped 16 percent while men’s rose 15 percent. If a company’s value increases by $1 million, male executives will net $17,150 more in compensation but women will only get $1,670. “So, overall,” they write, “changes in firm performance penalize female executives while they favor male executives.”

There is still a tiny number of female executives to begin with. They made up just 3.2 percent of the people in the roles examined by the New York Fed economists, while they account for 4.6 percent of CEOs at S&P 500 companies and a quarter of executive and senior officers. But even so, they are still paid less than their male peers. The New York Fed research found that female executives’ total compensation was just 82 percent of men’s. The highest-paid female executives at S&P 500 companies made 18 percent less than male ones in 2013, and female CEOs made less than 80 percent of what male ones made.

Several prominent female executives have recently demonstrated the severity of the pay gap at the top. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was paid less in her few years than the man who had the job before her and ended up fired. Mary Barra, the first female CEO of General Motors, got a pay package for her first year that was less than half of what the man who had the job before her made, although her long-term compensation package will be higher. The value of that package, of course, will depend on the company’s value over time.

But part of the disparity is the way that female executives get paid in the first place. In their research, the New York Fed economists found that women’s compensation is made up of less incentive pay than men’s, which accounts for 93 percent of the overall gender pay gap among them. The biggest gap is in bonuses: female executives get bonuses that amount to just 71 percent of male executives’. But they also get less in stock options and grants, getting just 84 percent and 87 percent, respectively, of what men get. The gap in stock options alone explains 41 percent in the overall gender gap.

While there’s a gender wage gap at the very top of the economy, it’s part of a problem that follows women in virtually every job. They get lower salaries right out of college and will make less than men at every education level. While many factors go into the gender wage gap, women’s career interruptions to care for children can only explain about 10 percent of it and the most ambitious women will still make less.

This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on August 26, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

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Unless Something Changes, it Will Take Women 45 Years to Earn as Much as Men

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Jackie TortoraWomen will not receive the same median annual pay as men until 2058, if current earnings patterns continue without change, announced the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) this week.

“Progress in closing the gender wage gap has stalled during the most recent decade. The wage gap is still at the same level as it was in 2002,” said Heidi Hartmann, president of IWPR. “If the five-decade trend is projected forward, it will take almost another five decades—until 2058—for women to reach pay equity. The majority of today’s working women will be well past the ends of their working lives.”

IWPR released a new fact sheet that tracks the pay gap from 1960 to today and analyzes changes during the past year by gender, race and ethnicity.

“While there is no silver bullet for closing the gender wage gap,” said Ariane Hegewisch, a study director at IWPR and author of the fact sheet, “strengthened enforcement of our EEO laws, a higher minimum wage and work–family benefits would go a significant way toward ensuring that working women are able to support their families.”

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on September 20, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.

 

Working Women Need a Fair Shot

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

seiu-org-logoWhen I think of working women, I think of SEIU 32BJ District 615 member Yocelin Ratchell.

Yocelin works part-time as a baggage agent with Logan Airport in Boston. Her dream? To have benefits that include sick paid leave so that when her children are sick, she can take care of them and not have to worry about losing a day’s pay or even losing her job.

Yocelin is a strong, inspiring woman. Yet her struggle to support her family and get ahead is not unique. Across the country, millions of working people are trying to keep their heads above water and women are overrepresented in low-wage jobs.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to share Yocelin’s story during an event to announce the launch of a major new initiative, “A Fair Shot: A Plan for Women and Families to Get Ahead.”SEIU is joining with the Center for American Progress, American Women and Planned Parenthood Action Fund to call for bold policies that will improve women’s economic, health and leadership outcomes.

I was proud to be part of the event as an ambassador for the millions of hardworking women who just want to be able to work, earn a living wage and take care of their families. But, unfortunately, for too many women, that’s easier said than done. Just look at the statistics:

  • Women represent nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers; a woman working full time, year round at the federal minimum wage will still need to come up with an extra $4,000 a year to make it to the poverty line.
  • Eight of the 12 fastest growing occupations over the next 10years are low-wage. Seven of these jobs, including home care provider and child care providers are in industries in which women are disproportionately represented.
  • Women make up nearly two-thirds of workers in tipped occupations and the federal minimum cash wage for tipped workers is $2.13 per hour.

Working women are the sole or co-breadwinner in two out of three families in America.

The question we should be asking is what can we do to ensure that women get a fair shot so that they are not only getting by, but also getting ahead? How do we ensure that Yocelin and millions of other working women like her don’t have to choose between caring for her children and losing her job?

We can start by advocating and implementing policy initiatives like paid sick leave and raising the minimum wage. The good news is that we are already moving forward.

In my home state of Massachusetts for example, we have taken steps put minimum wage increase and paid sick leave up for a vote via a ballot initiative. These initiatives benefit all workers and are also especially important to the economic viability of women. If the federal minimum wage is increased, 5.5 million working mothers with children under 18 will have more money to support their families.

We also have some victories under our belt.

This week, after decades of lobbying, marches, and protests, the Obama Administration announced that minimum wage and overtime protections will be extended to two million homecare workers, 90 percent of whom are women. Before the announcement, homecare workers in the majority of states did not receive the same basic protections provided to most U.S. workers.

Policy initiatives like the one announced by the President aren’t only the right thing to do, but also makes economic sense because our country can no longer afford to leave American women behind. And it is proof that when policymakers, business leaders and working people come together, we can make a difference in the lives of working people.

A fair shot for women is a fair shot for all working people, communities and families.

Read more about the initiative launch in The Washington Post, ThinkProgress and The Huffington Post. SEIU’s statement can be found here.

This article was originally printed on SEIU on September 19, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rocio Saenz is the District Leader of SEIU 32BJ New England District 615.

Iowa Supreme Court re-affirms statutory right of jittery, insecure spouses to interfere in the workplace

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Curt SurlsImagine the pilot episode of a revival of the 1970’s situation comedy “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”  It is July 2013.  After a painful break-up with her fiancé, 30-year-old Mary Richards relocates to Des Moines, Iowa, to start a new life.

Mary interviews for a secretarial position at a local television station with Executive Producer Lou Grant.  Lou is an overweight, balding, married father of three grown daughters.  Lou offers Mary an associate producer position, reporting directly to him.  Lou’s wife Edie is threatened by the presence of an attractive, young woman in the workplace.  Edie demands that Mary be fired immediately.  Lou admits that he is attracted to Mary, even though their workplace relationship has been strictly professional.  Lou fires Mary.  He replaces her with Rhoda.  In Iowa in 2013, Mary has no legal recourse.

This month, the Iowa Supreme Court reaffirmed its controversial December 2012 decision holding that a fifty-something Fort Dodge, Iowa dentist acted legally when he fired his 32-year-old dental assistant for being too attractive.  Although the dental assistant had shown no interest in her married boss, both the dentist and his wife feared that he would be powerless to resist her charms.  In a decision insulting to both major genders, the Court reasoned that the firing did not constitute gender discrimination because it was not “because of sex.”  Instead, the Court reasoned, it was motivated by the dentist’s feelings of attraction for a specific person (I suppose you could call it “because of sexy”).

The latest version of the case, Melissa Nelson v. James H. Knight, DDS, P.C. can be read in full here.

Here is the official photo of the Justices of the Iowa Supreme Court.  See if you can spot what they all have in common.

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Melissa Nelson was only 20 when she was hired by Dr. James H. Knight as a dental assistant.  For ten years, she was an exemplary employee.  She regarded her boss as a “father figure.”  Dr. Knight, on the other hand, found himself growing increasingly attracted to his young assistant.   In 2009, Dr. Knight’s wife insisted that her husband’s unilateral attraction to Ms. Nelson was a threat to their marriage.  Dr. Knight and his wife consulted with the senior pastor of their church, who blessed the decision to terminate Ms. Nelson.   Ms. Nelson sued for gender discrimination.  The trial court and the Supreme Court of the State of Iowa agreed with the Knights — and their pastor–and held that firing Ms. Nelson for being a potential threat to Dr. Knight’s marriage did not constitute illegal gender discrimination.

The Court’s original decision in late 2012 was greeted with outrage and ridicule.  In June 2013, the court withdrew its opinion and agreed to reconsider the matter, giving rise to the hope that they had seen the light and would permit the case to go to trial.  Those hopes were dashed when the Court reaffirmed its position that there is a difference between an employment decision based on personal feelings towards an individual and a decision based on gender itself.  “In the former case, the decision is driven entirely by individual feelings and emotions regarding a specific person,” stated the opinion’s author, Justice Edward M. Mansfield (he’s the one in the back row, far left).  “Such a decision is not gender-based, nor is it based on factors that might be a proxy for gender.”

Wait a minute, argued Ms. Nelson’s attorneys and reasonable people everywhere.  Of course it was “because of sex.”  If she were not female, she wouldn’t be in danger of involuntarily attracting the unwanted attention of her heterosexual male boss.  If it is illegal to sexually harass an employee, why should an employer escape liability for firing an employee out of fear that he was just about to harass her.  Under this logic, even an employee who spurns the sexual advances of her supervisor is vulnerable to dismissal under a fabricated “my wife made me fire you to save our marriage” defense.

But back to Mary Richards.  In the eponymous spin-off series “Lou Grant,” Lou found a job as a newspaper editor for the fictitious Los Angeles Tribune.   What if he re-hired Mary?  Could Edie get her fired again in California?  Not likely.

The Iowa Supreme Court was interpreting Iowa law and federal law from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.   The Court relied heavily on 8th Circuit precedent holding that sexual favoritism is, in essence, a private matter between the parties that doesn’t warrant regulation as gender discrimination.  California state law takes a broader view of the impact of sexual favoritism on the workplace environment.  Our Supreme Court has recognized that sexual favoritism is not merely a private matter.  Instead, favoritism can create an atmosphere demeaning to women, giving rise to claims of a hostile work environment by both men and women.  California courts are, therefore, likely to view conduct such as Dr. Knight’s in the broader context, and find a termination under similar circumstances in California to be discriminatory.

And besides.  Why would Lou even listen to Edie?  They got divorced after the third season of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and Edie promptly remarried.  You can watch the wedding here.

Article originally appeared on CELA Voice on July 25, 2013.  Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Curt Surls has been practicing in Los Angeles, specializing in employment law, for almost 25 years. Mr. Surls is a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation and has worked for the State of California as counsel to the Director of the Department of Industrial Relations.  CELA VOICE is a project of the California Employment Lawyers Association.  Our goal is nothing short of changing the discussion about issues of importance to California employees.  Our method is simple.  We will amplify the voice of worker advocates on issues that are vital to our economy, our way of life, even our health. The contributors to the CELA VOICE bring a unique perspective to understanding what is working and, too often, what isn’t working in California workplaces.

80% of Low-Wage Workers Lack Even One Paid Sick Day a Year

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Jackie TortoraMore than four in 10 private-sector workers and 80% of low-wage workers do not have paid sick days. This means people, especially women who are more likely to work in low-wage jobs, constantly have to choose between their health and a paycheck.

A post in Jezebel, brought to you by the AFL-CIO, explains why the lack of paid sick days causes a ripple effect on our health and communities:

In fact, more than 80% of low-wage workers don’t receive a single paid sick day all year. This contributes to the creation of a sickness loop: contagious kids go to school because mom can’t stay home with them; expensive emergency room trips are made that could’ve been prevented; employees show up to work and spread viruses to their customers and co-workers.

When young women can’t stay home to get their sleep and soup on, they venture out into the world where they touch handrails with contaminated hands and sneeze on things. This is the sick, sad world Daria warned us about.

The National Partnership for Women & Families reports that adults without paid sick days are 1.5 times more likely to come to work sick with a contagious illness like the flu:

For example, more than three in four food service and hotel workers (78%) don’t have a single paid sick day—and workers in child care centers and nursing homes overwhelmingly lack paid sick days. This threat to public health is clear.

Last week, House Democrats released a women’s economic policy agenda that including expanding paid sick and family leave.

Originally posted on AFL-CIO NOW on July 22, 2013.  Reprinted with permission

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.

Most Minimum Wage Earners Are Women

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012
Credit: Joe Kekeris

Credit: Joe Kekeris

One of the stats that always amazes is this: If the federal minimum wage had kept pace with the rising cost of living over the past 40 years, it would be $10.52 per hour today.

Instead, the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. That translates to $15,080 per year, below the poverty line for a family of three—if the work is full-time.

Stunning as that is, it gets even worse when you realize that the majority of those paid the minimum wage are women: In 2011, more than 62 percent of minimum wage workers were women, compared with only 38 percent of male minimum wage workers, according to a new report by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

It’s especially bad that women make up the majority of minimum wage earners because women are paid 77 cents for every dollar a typical man earns. Women of color are far more likely to hold low-wage jobs than men, and two-thirds of mothers now are either the breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their families. Their lower wages mean they will receive less from Social Security, their primary source of retirement income.

Slightly more than 2.5 million women earn the minimum wage or less, while about 1.5 million men do.

Pointedly, the report notes:

From 1968 to 2010, incomes for the top 1 percent of earners increased by 110 percent, but the inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage has fallen by 31 percent. If the federal minimum wage had kept pace with the rising cost of living over the past 40 years, it would be $10.52 per hour today.

But these same 1 percenters are some of those who block efforts at the local and national levels to raise the minimum wage. In fact, research has shown no job loss results from reasonable minimum wage increases, even when the economy is struggling.

On the contrary, a minimum wage increase boosts consumer spending and can improve the nation’s weak economy by growing demand through increased purchasing power.

This blog originally appeared in ALC-CIO on June 21, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee they were represented by a hotel and restaurant local union (the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism (covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia) she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.

Working Women’s Bodies Besieged by Environmental Injustice

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Michelle ChenFrom birth control pills to equal pay, women are a favorite target in the country’s most heated political wars. But a much quieter struggle is being waged over women’s bodies in their neighborhoods and workplaces, where a minefield of pollutants threaten working mothers and their children.

According to new research from the the National Birth Defects Prevention Study, working pregnant women who are exposed on the job to toxins known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are more likely to have children with gastroschisis, a rare birth defect in which the intestines stick out from the baby’s body, generally requiring surgical repair.

The study, summarized by Environmental Health News, reveals a distinct link between women’s occupational exposure and the prevalence of the defect: “mothers who were exposed to PAHs had 1.5 times the risk of having a baby with gastroschisis compared to women who were not exposed to PAHs at work.”

While this is a rare defect, the troubling context of these findings is the prevalence of PAH pollution in women’s workplaces. The researchers noted, “assessing workplace exposure to PAHs is important because ‘more than 95 percent of employed women in the United States remain employed during pregnancy’ and ‘an increasing number of women are being exposed in their jobs to chemicals that can harm the fetus.’” The researchers especially noted exposures among women working as “cashiers in fast food restaurants.”

PAH’s are an ubiquitous byproduct of everyday combustible materials like oil and coal. Studies have linked the contamination they cause when burned and churned into the atmosphere with health problems that can shape a kid’s entire upbringing, ranging from developmental disabilities to childhood obesity.

A separate study on women in New York City linked prenatal PAH exposure to behavioral issues that could pose a lifelong burden. Researchers with the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found a connection between a pregnant woman’s exposure to PAH-laden air and the chances that her child will by age 6 or 7 show mental health symptoms such as anxiety or attention problems. These long-term behavioral patterns, the researchers wrote, “suggest an adverse impact of prenatal PAH exposure… that could impact cognitive development and ability to learn.”

The ramifications of toxic childhood environments are a global issue. A 2010 study on women in Krakow, Poland, revealed similar impacts of PAH exposure in the womb, with a significant effect on intelligence tests at age 5.

To environmental justice activists, the synergy between pollution and social hardship intersects with barriers surrounding urban communities. Environmental hazards compound the burdens that already shadow children growing up in disadvantaged communities: poverty, gaps in healthcare and education, racial segregation.

The recent Columbia study, which focused on New York City women of black and Dominican descent, noted that “Urban, minority populations in the U.S. often have disproportionate exposure to air pollution.” According to ABC News, the investigators also accounted for other issues associated with the stresses and hazards urban life–like exposure to secondhand smoke and the mother’s mental health (“demoralization” was one potential factor)–which can also shape children’s development.

Much of this environnmental research focuses on everyday exposures, not work-related pollution specifically. But in unhealthy workplaces, there’s a unique convergence of economic, gender and environmental injustice. The economic and ecological abuses looming over working-class women on the job each day may pose crippling costs for the whole family.

Urban environmental justice advocates recognize that workplace protections, especially for working moms and women of childbearing age, are critical for community health. Cecil Corbin-Mark, deputy director of the Harlem-based environmental group WE ACT, says, “It’s a good thing to avoid creating a dynamic where a worker has to choose between their health and their livelihood. It’s like forcing someone to choose between either having a heart or having lungs.”

Dr. Shanna Swan, a professor of Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, says more research is needed on the intersection between workplace health and the everyday exposures that encircle expecting mothers in struggling communities:

This is an important and understudied area, especially since exposures are usually far higher in the occupational setting than those to which the general public is exposed, and because the period of fetal development is the most sensitive window; developmental damage during this time is irreversible. We have just begun to recognize that this may be a sensitive window, not only the developing fetus, but for the pregnant woman herself, since she is subject to the stress of pregnancy, workplace stress and likely the added stress of low socioeconomic status. All of these may contribute to adverse development for the fetus and challenges to the woman’s own health.

The right rallies to defend the sanctity of “the unborn” while vilifying women for trying to exercise reproductive choices in response to socioeconomic realities. This is the same kind of rhetoric that assaults environmental regulation, healthcare programs, and labor protections that alleviate gender inequity. So the ideology that claims to honor life actually militates against the right to a healthy childhood and safe community. Women’s bodies carry the burden of this hypocrisy, and the next generation will bear the fruits of the injustice.

This blog originally appeared in Working In These Times on June 8, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Michelle Chen work has appeared in AirAmerica, Extra!, Colorlines and Alternet, along with her self-published zine, cain. She is a regular contributor to In These Times’ workers’ rights blog, Working In These Times, and is a member of the In These Times Board of Editors. She also blogs at Colorlines.com. She can be reached at michellechen @ inthesetimes.com.

Chart: Averge Woman’s Wages Stop Growing When She Turns 39

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Image: Pat GarofaloThe New York Times’ Catherine Rampell highlighted data from Payscale, a salary tracking firm, showing that “by the time women reach age 39, their wage growth pretty much stops altogether.” By that age, the average college-educated, full-time female worker is making about $60,000. For men, meanwhile, wage growth doesn’t stop until age 48.

womenwagechart

This post originally appeared in ThinkProgress on May 30, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Pat Garofalo is Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Pat’s work has also appeared in The Nation, U.S. News & World Report, The Guardian, the Washington Examiner, and In These Times. He has been a guest on MSNBC and Al-Jazeera television, as well as many radio shows. Pat graduated from Brandeis University, where he was the editor-in-chief of The Brandeis Hoot, Brandeis’ community newspaper, and worked for the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life.

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