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Posts Tagged ‘Linda Meric’

Lawmakers Turn Back the Clock on Women's Rights

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Image: Linda MericOn this year’s Equal Pay Day, Linda Meric, the executive director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women 9to5.org, explains why pay equity is an economic plus for the United States

On April 5, 2012, Governor Scott Walker signed a repeal of Wisconsin’s 2009 Equal Pay Enforcement Act, which allowed victims of workplace discrimination to seek damages in state courts. Wisconsin was one of 44 states with laws providing remedies for employees who experience discrimination. When the bill was enacted, Wisconsin ranked 36 in the nation in gender equity; since then the state improved ten places in that ranking. Yet, instead of continued progress, Walker chose to protect companies proven to violate state law and hurt Wisconsin’s families and economy.

Wisconsin state senator Glenn Grothman, a major force behind the repeal, claims money is more important to men than to women.  With misogyny taking center stage this 2012 election cycle, let’s hope we don’t see repeats of this attack on equal pay for equal work. But so far, this “war on women” has legislators voting to limit women’s control over their health, men of national and international prominence assaulting women physically and verbally with carte blanche, candidates speaking against women serving in combat, and new data proving women pay more than men for the same health insurance. And the rhetoric claiming pay discrimination doesn’t exist is growing louder.

The simple truth is that a significant pay gap exists for women and people of color. In almost all the occupations tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women earn less than men. Today, April 17, is Equal Pay Day. People across the country are protesting the pay gap that is still shortchanging women. Women were paid 77 cents for every dollar men got paid in 2010 annual earnings. For women of color, the pay gap is even wider. African American women earned 67 cents and Latinas 58 cents for every dollar earned by white males, the highest earners.

Women don’t choose to earn less. But the pay gap is affected by several factors including occupational segregation—women who work primarily with other women in undervalued, underpaid occupations. For example, women make up 97 percent of office workers, 88 percent of home health care workers, 95 percent of child care workers, and 71 percent of restaurant servers. Overall, women remain overrepresented among low-wage workers, making up an estimated 49 percent of the workforce, but 59 percent of the low-wage workforce.

Even when working in the same occupation as a man, women earn less. The same is true for workers of color compared to white workers. Women lose hundreds of thousands of dollars, up to over a million, over their careers. That means less money to make ends meet and achieve economic security for families today. It also means less retirement savings for tomorrow—earning less, there is less to save, and social security and pensions are based on earnings.

Another cause for gender wage inequity is the lack of family flexibility. Too many working women are penalized financially for family caregiving because they lack access to policies such as paid sick days and family leave. This is particularly troublesome for single low-wage earning women with children, who on average have the lowest annual income.

?And then there’s the illegal gender discrimination that still occurs. For example, recent cases against Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest employer, allege unequal pay for equal work and lack of promotional opportunities for women. These practices still happen, which makes it more important than ever to have laws on the books like the one repealed by Governor Walker, which allowed women their day in court.

Governor Walker, other elected officials and even some presidential candidates are turning back the clock on women’s rights, and putting women’s economic security in further jeopardy, at a time they should be taking steps to assist women in getting ahead and strengthen the economy.

Pay equity is good for the the nation’s financial health—it reduces poverty and stimulates the economy. It reduces stress-related health problems and health care costs. The World Economic Forum estimates closing the employment gender gap could increase U.S. GDP by up to 9 percent.

The country is leading up to an election where women will play a major role in choosing our president. Candidates need to focus on issues that are important to women. Contrary to Senator Grothman’s fictitious claims, women do care about money. So for those political candidates vying to win the women’s vote, a word to the wise: focus on pay equity and the economy. All women deserve to be paid fairly, and when they are, their families and the economy will win.

About the Author: Linda Meric is Executive Director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women. 9to5 is one of the largest national membership-based organizations of working women in the U.S., creating a powerful force for change. Founded in 1973, 9to5 empowers women to organize and lead campaigns on family-friendly workplace policies, equal opportunity and economic security issues. To learn more visit 9to5.org or call the Job Survival Helpline at 800.522.0925.

Sexual Harassment is Illegal: Know Your Rights

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

Image: Linda MericColorado newspapers have covered extensively the recent trial, conviction and sentencing of former 7th Judicial District Attorney Myrl Serra on extortion and unlawful sexual contact charges. The conviction against Serra stemmed from his illegal maltreatment of three female employees in his Montrose and Delta, Colorado western slope offices – sexually harassing and assaulting them, threatening their jobs, and forcing them to provide sexual favors.

This case, of a public official and lawyer breaking the law, reminds us that sexual harassment continues to occur in all types of occupations and workplaces. There are steps everyone can and must take to stop and prevent it.

If you experience sexual harassment on the job, remember that you’re not alone. Trust your instincts, and don’t blame yourself. Be assertive and say no clearly. Document every incident in detail. Look for witnesses and other evidence from co-workers or former employees. Research your employer’s and your union’s channels for reporting sexual harassment, and use them. As Serra’s staff found out, addressing sexual harassment in the workplace is difficult, so seek emotional support. If all else fails, take legal action.

If you are not the one being harassed, support your co-worker by validating that harassment is wrong, affirming her feelings, and listening without judgment. Be sure that your behavior isn’t part of the problem. Challenge the harasser’s inappropriate behavior. Work with others toward a harassment-free work environment, whether that harassment is sexual in nature or based on someone’s race, sexual orientation or other characteristics.

If you’re a manager, you have special responsibilities. You also have special opportunities to be part of the solution. Be a role model. Be a good listener. Be objective and consistent. Be informed, and be willing to ask for help when you need it. Be vigilant, and don’t wait for a crisis.

Employers can develop, update and uniformly implement policies to stop and prevent sexual harassment. Emphasize prevention through education and training. Clearly define procedures, give several options for reporting, and be sure that investigations are prompt and fair. Administer appropriate discipline, regardless of the position of the harasser.

To learn more about what you can do at work and what your legal rights are concerning sexual harassment, call the 9to5 Job Survival Helpline at 1-800-522-0925 or visit us online at www.9to5.org.

About the Author: Linda Meric is the Executive Director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, a multi-racial membership organization founded in 1973 to strengthen the ability of low-wage and low-income women to win economic justice through grassroots organizing and policy advocacy on workplace and safety net issues. Linda helped found 9to5 Colorado in 1996 and served as the chapter’s Director until the Fall of 2004 when she became 9to5’s national Executive Director. Under Linda’s leadership, 9to5 has won important victories in the arenas of work-family, anti-discrimination, wages, good jobs, welfare, unemployment and child care.

Attacking Wisconsin’s Middle Class

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Image: Linda MericMedia coverage of Madison’s thousands of demonstrators has focused on Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights.  Members of 9to5, Association of Working Women have stood with those calling for fairness for working families.  But it’s clear that governor and conservative state legislators’ agenda is bigger than just union busting.  To benefit their corporate masters, they are determined to deny the American Dream to the vast majority of Wisconsinites.

Public workers don’t make big bucks but they are the backbone of the middle class.  They are teachers who tutor struggling students so they’re prepared for college, vocational school or a trade.  They are police and firefighters who protect us when the unthinkable happens.  They are nurses who vaccinate children so we no longer have polio and diphtheria epidemics.  They are $9.00/hour home health care workers helping individuals live in their homes with dignity.  They keep the economy humming by paying their mortgages, buying groceries and purchasing clothes items that keep our Main Street small businesses afloat.

Throughout the years, public employees and their unions have accepted lower paychecks to defer money to their pensions and health care.  Despite this, they’ve agreed to wage and benefit concessions to help do their share in balancing the state budget.

In sharp contrast to their “jobs, jobs, jobs” campaign promises, Wisconsin Republicans are pushing tax breaks to corporations and the rich that will decimate the state’s budget revenue.  To pay for their millionaire friends’ favors, they propose to cut already stretched-thin funding for education, police, firefighters and human services, all provided by public employees.

In a now-public recorded call to Gov. Walker in which a journalist pretended to be anti-union billionaire David Koch, the men discuss plans to threaten public workers with layoffs, attempts to divide public and private sector unions, and their hope that their anti-union efforts could spread nationwide.

Let’s be clear: This showdown is NOT about balancing the state budget.  It’s about union busting, pure and simple.  The upshot of these efforts is to take away power and family-supporting jobs from working families.

Meanwhile, Gov. Walker and allied legislators have launched other attacks on all working families in both the public and private sectors.  Their budget gives themselves the power to slash health care – a key middle class support – for the 1.1 million Wisconsinites relying on Medicaid.

They’ve proposed rolling back Wisconsin’s Family and Medical Leave Act.  Employees working less than 25 hours per week would no longer be eligible for family leave, and employers could deny the use of accrued sick time to cover lost pay.  Many would be forced to take unpaid leave for emergencies, putting their homes, families and even their jobs at risk.

In an end run around Milwaukee’s paid sick days policy, passed by 70% of that city’s voters in 2008, these legislators have introduced a bill to prevent municipalities from enacting paid sick days laws.

Proponents of these measures suggest they’re needed to boost industry and jobs but Wisconsin’s biggest companies are thriving, even through the recession.  Mercury Marine reported profits of $1.1 billion between 2000-2007 while paying nothing in state corporate income taxes.  Harley-Davidson’s profits have increased – profits The New York Times documented as “…mostly going to shareholders instead of the broader economy.”  Nevertheless, hearing the mantra of “you’re lucky to have jobs,” Harley workers were forced to take pay cuts.

The Governor and allied legislators are pulling the rug out from under middle class families because they want to bust unions and strip hard-won protections like health care, family leave and paid sick days from workers to enrich their corporate campaign contributors.

It’s time for people across Wisconsin and the nation to stand up for working families against policies that would degrade their pay and security.

About the Author: Linda Meric is the Executive Director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, a national membership-based organization of low-income women working to improve policies on issues that directly affect them.

In Honor of Martin Luther King Jr.: Let’s Protect Worker’s Rights

Monday, January 18th, 2010

Martin Luther King Jr. will always be revered as one of the greatest civil rights leaders in America and the world. Most people know King died in Memphis, but did you know that he died while fighting for the right of sanitation workers to organize unions and choose their own leaders?

King called unions “the best anti-poverty program available to poor people with jobs.” He worked with leaders of all the country’s major labor unions and supported union membership all his life.

At a press conference before his assassination in 1968, King said: “It isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. … What is the profit in being able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if one doesn’t earn enough money to even buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?”

On this MLK Holiday, pay tribute to Dr. King’s vision of economic justice by speaking out for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

EFCA will protect every worker’s right to form, join and assist labor unions – and bargain for a better wages, benefits and a better life. The legislation now has 225 co-sponsors but hasn’t moved in Congress because of the attention focused on health care reform. Still, now is the time to contact your members of Congress. Let them know that as soon as the health care reform legislation is passed, you expect them to turn their attention to the passage of EFCA.

Dr. King said “All labor has dignity.” Let’s restore dignity to workers by moving toward passage of the Employee Free Choice Act!

*For more on the Employee Free Choice Act visit the Workplace Fairness Employee Free Choice Act page.

About the Author: Linda Meric, a nationally-known speaker on family-friendly workplace policy, is executive director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women. A diverse, grassroots, membership-based nonprofit that helps strengthen women’s ability to win economic justice, 9to5 has staffed offices in Milwaukee, Denver, Atlanta, Los Angeles and San Jose. Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at editors@womensenews.org.

National Influenza Vaccination Week Calls for Paid Sick Days

Monday, January 11th, 2010

Statement of Linda Meric

Executive Director – 9to5, National Association of Working Women

Denver, CO, January 10, 2010 — The Department of Health and Human Services has declared this week “National Influenza Vaccination Week” in the United States to encourage more widespread flu vaccination and call attention to the possibility of a third mass outbreak of H1N1 flu in the U.S.

Americans – especially those with chronic health conditions who may not realize they are at high risk for developing complications from influenza – are warned not to become complacent because of the lack of  H1N1 news coverage and make decisions to skip the vaccine altogether.

But the United States faces another hurdle in ensuring that those who need the vaccine most receive it:  the lack of a national paid sick days policy.

Too many American workers lack the time they need to get themselves and their families vaccinated because they do not have access to paid sick days. For these workers – many of them low-wage workers struggling mightily to make ends meet in a tough economy — taking the time away from work to be vaccinated might mean the loss of pay or even a job.

Nearly 60 million workers lack paid sick days on the job and nearly 100 million do not have a single paid sick day in which to provide preventive care for a child or other loved one. The lack of this basic labor standard means that workers who deal with the public, like waiters and child care aides, often go to work sick, jeopardizing others because they cannot afford to lose pay in this tough economic time. It also means that they do not have the time for preventive care – like getting a flu vaccination or getting children vaccinated.

The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world without a national paid sick days policy. But lost productivity due to sick workers costs the U.S. economy $180 billion annually. And the Institute for Women’s Policy Research actually found that, while a paid sick days policy would impose modest costs, the estimated business savings total $11.69 per week per worker from lower turnover, improved productivity and reduced spread of illness.

So, in addition to catching us up with the rest of the world, and ensuring the public health, paid sick days are good for business and good for our economy.

As we again consider the impact of H1N1 flu, we must move decisively toward passing the Healthy Families Act, federal legislation, currently pending in Congress that would guarantee paid sick days for American workers, ensuring that all Americans have the time to care for themselves and their families.

For interviews, or for more information on 9to5 and our paid sick campaigns, contact Public Relations Coordinator

Rosemary Harris Lytle at (303) 628-0925 or visit www.9to5.org.

About the Author: Linda Meric, a nationally-known speaker on family-friendly workplace policy, is executive director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women. A diverse, grassroots, membership-based nonprofit that helps strengthen women’s ability to win economic justice, 9to5 has staffed offices in Milwaukee, Denver, Atlanta, Los Angeles and San Jose. Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at editors@womensenews.org.

Women's Equality Day - Continuing the Fight

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Eighty-nine years after women finally won the right to vote, we honor the past success of the women’s suffrage movement and recommit to today’s continuing fight for equality.

There is still much work to be done. Women still earn less than men, and are still more likely to live in poverty. The lack of workplace policies means it is still difficult for working women, particularly those earning low wages, to meet our dual responsibilities at work and at home. And, even though we’re in the toughest economic times in recent memory, there is still no federal legislation that guarantees the time to care for yourself or your family in times of illness without losing your pay or your job.

Even as we recognize the struggle that won women the right to vote, the fight to win a minimum labor standard of paid sick days is at full pitch. In Milwaukee, 9to5 has filed an appeal to a judge’s ruling to void the sick days ordinance passed by 70 percent of Milwaukee voters last November. And in Washington DC, the Healthy Families Act, federal legislation that would guarantee paid sick days to American workers, is moving in the Congress. 9to5’s members, activists and allies are contacting members of Congress, telling their stories, and helping to build awareness that paid sick days are good for working families, good for the flailing economy, good for business.

Visit www.9to5.org to learn more about how we organize women to speak out to end the pay gap, change work-family policy and win paid sick days.

On this Women’s Equality Day, the legacy of the suffragists who organized women to win the right to vote compels us to recommit to winning equality and justice for working women.

Linda Meric is Executive Director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, an inclusive multi-racial membership organization founded in 1973 to strengthen the ability of low-income women to win economic justice through grassroots organizing and policy advocacy.

Under Linda’s leadership, 9to5 has won important victories on minimum wage, good jobs, work-family, anti-discrimination, pay equity, welfare, child care and other issues affecting low-income women. Linda has spent more than 30 years as a labor and community organizer. She also serves as an adjunct professor specializing in sexual harassment and other workplace issues.

Linda is a member of the Governor’s Colorado Pay Equity Commission, serves in the leadership of several state and national policy coalitions, and has received several awards for her work with and on behalf of low-income women, including the “Be Bold” Award presented by the Women’s Foundation of Colorado. She was recently appointed to the National Board of Directors of the American Forum, a progressive media organization.

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Paid Sick Days

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

In November 2008, almost 70 percent of Milwaukee voters approved an ordinance granting paid sick days to every worker in the city. But the paid sick days ordinance has not yet been implemented in Milwaukee because of a legal challenge from the business lobby.

Two weeks ago, a judge’s ruling in the case caused the will of the voters to be further delayed. Judge Thomas Cooper ruled that a provision granting paid sick time to help protect the safety of survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking was not “rationally related to the overall objectives of the ordinance.”

His ruling shocked advocates for those who have lived the reality of domestic abuse.

Read the reaction of Milwaukee residents Jennifer and Peter Buffet, co-chairs of the NoVo Foundation of New York, in an op-ed printed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this week — “Sick Pay Law Should Cover Abuse Victims,” http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/48927532.html.

Judge Cooper DID uphold paid sick days as a basic labor standard. He rejected the arguments of the business lobby that the ordinance was unconstitutional. And he essentially validated the hard work and dedication of the Milwaukee Paid Sick Days Coalition, led by the members of the Milwaukee Chapter of 9to5, National Association of Working Women.

But for too long, victims of domestic violence have been blamed for their plight and the Buffet’s op-ed shows why this ruling should not be allowed to stand as precedent.

About the Author: Linda Meric is Executive Director of 9to5, National Association of Women, which helps strengthen women’s ability to achieve economic justice. 9to5 has staffed offices in Wisconsin, Colorado, California and Georgia and activists in cities across the country.

This article originally appeared in 9to5.org. Re-printed with permission from the author.

For Dad: Healthy Families Act Is Perfect Gift

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Even the White House is calling extra-special attention to Father’s Day 2009.

President Barack Obama is kicking off a new initiative on fatherhood, by hosting a town hall meeting on personal responsibility and by inviting male students to the White House to hang-out with some famous Dads.

As on Mother’s Day, many of us will bestow all manner of gifts on Dad – but the last thing Dad needs is another necktie.

For Father’s Day, we need to ensure that Dads can stay home from work when they, their children, spouse, or parents are ill — without putting the family’s economic self-sufficiency at risk. That’s why, for Father’s Day, we need to pass the Healthy Families Act (HFA).

Co-sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Sen. Edward Kennedy, the HFA would make it possible for workers – Dads, Moms and others – to earn up to seven paid sick days per year. The HFA would also allow all workers access to paid sick days to recover from domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault.

Almost 60 million Americans lack a single paid sick day in which to care for themselves when illness strikes. In addition, nearly 100 million workers don’t have a paid sick day they can use to care for an ill child.

Everyone occasionally gets sick – Dad included. And everyone needs the time to recover. But those without paid sick days risk their jobs to do so. If we listen to the President’s wisdom about personal responsibility, we also know that Dad needs time to share in the family care-giving responsibilities. Being able to use paid sick days to care for a sick child would make this more possible.

This year, to truly celebrate fathers, we need to give the gift of paid sick days by passing the HFA. Contact your members of Congress to let them know you support passage of the Healthy Families Act. Visit www.congress.org to find their contact information.

Give Dad a gift that –unlike all those ties – will never mysteriously disappear; a guaranteed basic labor standard of paid sick days.

About the Author: Linda Meric is Executive Director of 9to5, National Association of Women, which helps strengthen women’s ability to achieve economic justice. 9to5 has staffed offices in Wisconsin, Colorado, California and Georgia and activists in cities across the country.

This article originally appeared in 9to5.org on June 21, 2009. Re-printed with permission from the author.

Trying Times Call for Healthy Families Act

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

These are challenging times for America’s families. One in 4 Americans, or about 23 percent of those surveyed in a recent Gallup Poll, report that they are “very worried” about keeping up with their monthly bills over the next six months. That’s up from 19 percent a year ago and 15 percent in March 2007.

And while many of us are working harder than ever to keep pace under the current economic pressure, workplace duties are not the only duties we have.

Family responsibilities await us at home. That is why we must pass the Healthy Families Act, introduced in the 111th Congress on May 18 by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, and Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, also a Democrat.

Workers still get sick. Children still get fevers and runny noses. Mom or Dad still needs to take them to the doctor or just stay by their bedside to nurse them back to health. No matter how dedicated workers are to hanging on to their jobs at all cost, the need to occasionally take time away from work never goes away–not even in a tough recession, not even when jobs are this hard to come by.

Unfortunately, nearly half of private sector workers in the United States don’t have a single paid sick day to care for themselves. Additionally, nearly 100 million Americans get no paid time off to care for an ailing child or an aging parent.

Fewer “Wives” at Home

While this is an issue for all workers, the reality is that women, or “wives,” have historically been tasked with the family care-giving responsibilities–and most families do not have a “wife” at home these days.

The numbers speak for themselves. According to a 2007 report by the Multi-State Working Families Consortium, “Valuing Families: It’s About Time,” less than 6 percent of all women in the U.S. were in the work force at the turn of the century. By 1950, that number had climbed to 24 percent; by 2000 to 60 percent.

Meanwhile, the number of single parents–mostly women–has also mushroomed and single mothers are working many more hours than they have in past years. Why? The Valuing Families report attributes this to pent-up demand among women for career opportunity and economic independence–and economic necessity. Simply put, over the last 35 years women’s increased work and earnings has been the only avenue for many families to attain or maintain economic self-sufficiency.

Though the flood of women into the work force has been beneficial, it has raised an obvious question for families: how to provide all the care, support and supervision that children need without jeopardizing family economic self-sufficiency. For working women without paid sick days, occasionally staying home when a child is ill could mean the loss of a day’s pay, or worse, the loss of a job.

It’s a terrible choice that strikes fear in the hearts of all workers; a fear grounded in workplace reality.

Consequences of Time Off

In a 2006 survey, conducted by the Center on Work Life Law at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law, 1 in 6 workers said they or a family member had been fired, suspended, punished or threatened by an employer for taking time off to care for themselves or a family member when ill.

This is all highly counterproductive.

Healthy workers are key to a healthy national economy.

Paid sick days reduce the business costs of turnover, absenteeism and lack of productivity when workers are sick on the job. In fact, if workers were provided just seven paid sick days annually, according to information released by the National Partnership for Women and Families in 2008, our national economy would enjoy an annual net savings of more than $8 billion.

Healthy workers also contribute to a healthy public. As public health experts and our own government have repeatedly warned as we contend with H1N1 swine flu, sick workers can protect public health by staying home. But they shouldn’t have to pay the awful price of job loss and family financial instability to do so.

For all these reasons we need to pass the Healthy Families Act.

It would allow workers to earn up to seven paid sick days a year to recover from their own illness, to care for a sick family member, or for diagnostic and preventative care. Equally important, it would allow workers time to recover from domestic violence or sexual assault. Just as no worker should have to choose between pay and health, no worker should have to choose between pay and safety.

Need for Federal Policy

In the last three years, paid sick days legislation has passed in three cities: San Francisco, the District of Columbia and Milwaukee, where implementation is being held up by legal challenges.

This year, there are 15 active paid sick-days state campaigns. But what America needs most in these tough economic times is federal policy like the Healthy Families Act.

A broad coalition of women’s, civil rights, health, children’s, faith-based and labor organizations supports the act. It has more than 100 co-sponsors in the U.S. House, strong leadership from Ted Kennedy in the Senate and the steadfast support of the White House.

In accepting his party’s nomination last August, President Obama said, “We measure the strength of our economy by whether the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off and look after a sick kid without losing her job.” Later he reiterated, “Now is the time to help families with paid sick days, because nobody in America should have to choose between keeping their job and caring for a sick child or an ailing parent.”

Congress must pass the Healthy Families Act. The President must sign it.

We must ensure that all families have the tools to be as healthy and as economically self-sufficient as possible as we move toward recovery in the days ahead.

About the Author: Linda Meric is a nationally-known speaker on family-friendly workplace policy and executive director of 9to5, National Association of Women. A diverse, grassroots, membership-based nonprofit that helps strengthen women’s ability to win economic justice, 9to5 has staffed offices in Milwaukee, Denver, Atlanta, Los Angeles and San Jose.

This article originally appeared in Women’s eNews on June 8, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.

For Mother’s Day, Let’s End Pregnancy Discrimination

Friday, May 8th, 2009

Forget the fancy brunches, chocolates and flowers for a moment. Mother’s Day is the perfect time to call attention to a persistent workplace issue: pregnancy discrimination.

In this country, anchored by adoration for Mom and apple pie, it’s almost unfathomable that discrimination against expectant mothers even exists. It is illegal under federal and state laws to discriminate against a working woman because she’s pregnant or has just given birth. Still, of the various types of workplace discrimination, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports the largest rate of increase is in pregnancy discrimination charges.

While you’re out perusing the Mother’s Day cards, consider this: The number of pregnancy discrimination charges received by the EEOC increased from 3,387 cases in 1992 to 5,587 cases in 2007 – a jump of 65 percent. According to figures released in March, the EEOC received a record 6,285 complaints of pregnancy discrimination in 2008 and officials say they expect pregnancy complaints to rise even more sharply this year.

Why the dramatic increase? Women have a better understanding of their rights and are more willing to assert them. But there’s something else: It’s the economy. In tough times, complaints of discrimination always increase. This time around, pregnant workers are among those who appear to be taking the hit. But tough times also mean working women are less inclined to just walk away from discriminatory treatment – especially when finding another job isn’t such an easy thing to do.

Their stories are disturbing; even more so around the second Sunday in May.

Kelly worked part-time for a big-box retailer. When she was six months pregnant with her second child, she was told all part-time workers would have their hours reduced. Later, she learned that the other part-timers, both men, had maintained their hours. She filed a complaint with her HR office. She’s now seeking advice from an attorney.

Angelika had excellent performance reviews at the pharmaceutical company where she worked – until she announced she was pregnant. Suddenly, she began receiving sub-par evaluations. One hour after returning to work from maternity leave, she was told that she had been removed from all projects and her direct reports had been re-assigned to others. She was given a choice: enter a performance improvement plan or take a buy-out. She filed a state civil rights complaint. It’s been nearly a year. Her case is unresolved.

Thirty years after the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 was signed into law, too many women still face workplace jeopardy. PDA says that an employer cannot refuse to hire a woman because she’s pregnant, cannot fire her because she’s pregnant, and cannot demote her or dock her pay because she’s pregnant. Even asking a woman about her child-rearing plans is illegal if an employer does not do the same for male job applicants or employees.

Last month, responding to the dilemmas pregnant workers, new Moms and other caregivers face, the EEOC released employer best practice guidelines. The agency urged employers to adopt policies that could help them avoid discrimination complaints and see increased benefits to the business bottom line – regardless of the economic climate. The EEOC guidelines encourage employers to recognize that workers with care-giving responsibilities need family-flexible workplace policies.

Paid sick days and paid family leave are critical so workers can care for themselves and their families without losing their pay or their jobs. The U.S. is one of only six countries in the world that doesn’t require paid sick days or family leave. While the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the arrival of a new child or the serious illness of a spouse or parent, it only covers large employers and many workers cannot afford to take it.  Nearly 57 million American workers lack even a single paid sick day to care for themselves, and 100 million don’t have a paid sick day to care for a sick child.

Employers must also establish policies that increase workplace flexibility. Inexpensive solutions like accommodating unique family situations by allowing workers to set their starting and ending hours or decide when they take breaks or lunch periods, can make a huge difference for families and have been shown to positively affect worker productivity, as well.

Here’s some advice for workers who are pregnant, just had a child, or feel they may be discriminated against on the job because of their care-giving responsibilities: Know your rights! Document everything and keep a copy of your notes at home. If you belong to a union, talk to your steward. Or, seek help from your HR office. If you suspect discrimination, file a complaint. And speak out to support company and public policies that establish family-flexible workplace standards.

Government must protect workers with family responsibilities from illegal treatment and unfair job loss. But if we’re really sincere about showing Mom our gratitude, let’s get serious about supporting working mothers and mothers-to-be – not just on Mother’s Day, but every day, with workplace policies that provide the real economic security they need.

About the Author: Linda Meric is Executive Director of 9to5, National Association of Women, which helps strengthen women’s ability to achieve economic justice. 9to5 has staffed offices in Wisconsin, Colorado, California and Georgia and activists in cities across the country.

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