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Posts Tagged ‘Women’s Rights’

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.

'We Don’t Go to Work to Be Touched’: Sexual Harassment in the Warehouse

Friday, April 20th, 2012

kari-lydersen“We don’t go to work to be touched, to be talked down to, to be told what our bodies look like. We know what our bodies look like when we put on our clothes in the morning,” Uylonda Dickerson said.

But constant remarks about their bodies, and unwanted touching, advances, mean-spirited “pranks” and other forms of sexual harassment are a regular occurrence for many of the more than 30,000 women—like Dickerson—who work in the warehouse industry in the Chicago area, according to a report (PDF) released this week by the group Warehouse Workers for Justice (WWJ). And women often face retaliation for reporting harassment.

In an extreme example that is currently the subject of a lawsuit, 19-year-old Priscilla Marshall, her mother and her teenage friend allege they were repeatedly subject to aggressive and abusive sexual assaults and language by a 45-year-old manager at the Partners Warehouse in Elwood, Ill. After the three women and Marshall’s uncle and the mother’s boyfriend complained, they were fired or suspended and accused of theft, which resulted in Marshall and her mother spending 15 and seven days in jail, respectively, according to the lawsuit filed March 9.

WWJ’s Leah Fried told me that the same industry structure that allegedly allows for widespread violations of labor law, extremely low wages and unhealthy conditions also contributes to a climate of unchecked sexual harassment and retaliation. The warehousing (or logistics) industry is based on layers of subcontractors, so that major companies like Wal-Mart rarely own and operate the warehouses where their goods are stored and distributed. Fried said:

A major factor is the layering of management, it’s another way the owners say of WalMart shirk responsibility and subcontract and subcontract so no one is taking responsibility for a very basic legal obligation (avoiding sexual harassment). There’s also the low unionization rate – because so many jobs are temp jobs and because very few warehouse workers have a union, it makes it easier for management to get away with violating people’s rights. Not having a union is a big deal – and a big reason people can be exploited more easily.

WWJ (launched by the United Electrical workers union, for which Fried is an organizer) is trying to fill the gap by educating women and men about sexual harassment and their rights and responsibilities, and providing resources for legal action and a forum for organizing and leveraging community support. Various elected officials, religious leaders and other residents attended a forum on International Women’s Day, called “Take Back the Warehouse,” in reference to Take Back the Night marches.

WWJ’s extensive surveys of the Chicago-area industry found that about one quarter of warehouse workers are women; the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports similar numbers nationwide.

The report and forum are part of WWJ’s three-year-old campaign to improve conditions and accountability in the warehouses where consumer goods destined for stores around the country are staged for distribution.

The group has also recently launched a Warehouse Women’s Legal Defense Fund to subsidize legal action for women with sexual harassment or other gender-based complaints. In conjunction with the Working Hands Legal Clinic, WWJ recently helped Marshall and her mother, friend, uncle and mother’s boyfriend sue Partners Warehouse manager Brian Swaw, and people whom Swaw allegedly enlisted to intimidate and threaten the plaintiffs after they complained about his conduct. The lawsuit alleges Swaw repeatedly touched their breasts and buttocks, thrust his crotch in their faces and told Marshall’s then-17-year-old friend that when she turned 18 he would have sex with her.

The lawsuit also alleges Swaw also made frequent racial slurs toward Latinos, and suspended, and then fired, the plaintiffs after they complained. It also alleges he enlisted a former police officer (who was facing a federal indictment) and a private investigator to intimidate the plaintiffs and falsely charge them with theft, forgery and filing a false police report.

While that was an extreme situation, many other women told WWJ organizers that they deal with unequal pay, constant verbal and physical harassment and the threat of retaliation if they complain on a daily basis.

Elizabeth Labrador said after she complained about being paid $2 to $3 an hour less than men doing the same job at a warehouse for Petco, she was assigned to lift heavy fish tanks and ended up hurting her back.

Female workers report sexual harassment from both top managers and co-workers lower down the organizational hierarchy, so WWJ is trying to convince men they should be joining with their female co-workers to fight for better conditions rather than making their jobs even rougher. Fried told me:

A lot of men need to receive some education about what’s appropriate in the workplace. Because that’s not happening from the companies that employ them and operate the warehouse, because the industry is not doing their job, WWJ founded a women’s committee with one of the roles being to develop sexual harassment training for both women and men. The men have been incredibly supportive, it’s been eye-opening for them. They’ve found that absolutely this is an issue that affects women and also that it’s about making warehouses better for everybody.

Women quoted in the report describe constant patterns of humiliating and threatening behavior that left them exhausted and dreading their jobs. Dickerson, who worked at a Wal-Mart warehouse, said she was locked in a trailer and constantly derided by men asking things like “Did you chip a nail?” Latasha Davis described men gathering to watch women bend over to pick up boxes.

Samantha Rodriguez, a former Wal-Mart warehouse worker, is quoted in the report:

When I went to another supervisor about the harassment, he asked me out on a date. I said “no,” and eventually I got fired. I pride myself on being an independent woman. I do remodeling, I hang drywall, I put in floors. That’s my profession. So I went to warehouses because I like doing that kind of work. Now, I won’t step foot in a warehouse. I refuse to. Because, the way they treated me wasn’t right.

This blog originally appeared in Working in These Times on April 19, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist whose works has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her most recent book isRevolt on Goose Island. In 2011, she was awarded a Studs Terkel Community Media Award for her work. She can be reached atkari.lydersen@gmail.com.

Happy 40th Reed v. Reed!

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Maria SaabOn November 17, 2011, the National Women’s Law Center held a celebratory panel to honor the forty-year old landmark Supreme Court decision that held the Equal Protection Clause applied to women. The Reed v. Reed at 40: Equal Protection and Women’s Rights” panel was moderated by Nina Totenberg, NPR’s legal affairs correspondent, who posed questions to four academics and the guest of honor, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Reed v. Reed was decided in 1971 on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement and changing perspectives on gender, race, and sexuality in American society. The case arrived at the United States Supreme Court after an Idaho Probate Court ruled that the mother of a deceased man could not be named the administrator of his estate because “males [are] preferred to females” in this respect. The appeal addressed the issue of how far the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment could be stretched and whether women were entitled to the safeguards provided by the clause.

Justice Ginsburg was the director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project when she was appointed as lead counsel for Mrs. Reed in the case. She authored the brief that would convince a bench of all-male Supreme Court Justices to strike down conceptions of over-generalization and arbitrariness of the sexes and extend the Equal Protection Clause to women. In his opinion, Chief Justice Burger stated:

“To give a mandatory preference to members of either sex over members of the other, merely to accomplish the elimination of hearings on the merits, is to make the very kind of arbitrary legislative choice forbidden by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and whatever may be said as to the positive values of avoiding intra-family controversy, the choice in this context may not lawfully be mandated solely on the basis of sex.”

-Reed v. Reed, 404 U.S. 71 (1971).

This monumental decision marked the first instance that the government recognized women were entitled to the same treatment under the law as men. As Jackie Berrien, Chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, stated, “Reed opened important doors to the constitutional analysis on sex-based classifications of the law.” Therefore, one of the main themes covered by the panel at the NWLC’s presentation was how Reed has affected American jurisprudence today.  Justice Ginsburg remarked that the decision highlights the evolution on the view of equality from the time of our Founders till the modern day. Responding to Professor Earl Maltz, a fellow panelist, who provided the perspective that originalism would have precluded the decision of Reed v. Reed, Justice Ginsburg stated, “equality was the motivating idea of our founding documents.” However, “it could not come into the constitution because the odious practice of slavery had to be retained.” She went further to say, “the genius of the United States has been the Constitution where ‘We the people” consisted of white, property owning men to now encompassing a wide variety of people.”

Case law has thus followed. The panelists gave examples of how the precedent set forward in Reed opened the door for men and women to bring forward discrimination cases under the Equal Protections Clause. This included cases about men facing adversity applying to nursing school, men applying for benefits as widowers, and homosexual individuals facing discrimination in the work place. As Nina Pillard stated during the panel discussion, Reed empowered the government to work against not only sex-based discrimination, but also other forms of discrimination as well. Jackie Berrien added that federal statute and federal enforcement have helped to address the kinds of discrimination Reed initiated a fight against- including the Fair Labor Standards Act, Title VII, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Today, it’s hard to imagine a case with the same circumstances as Reed that would foster so much controversy; it would probably be a no-brainer. For many young ladies like myself, a world where women can’t attain the same opportunities or capture the protections of certain laws because they are solely restricted to men is unthinkable. Nonetheless, the message of Reed v. Reed, even till this day, teaches both the older generations and the younger ones that everyone is entitled to the fight for the equal protection of their rights. At least in this country; we should all be thankful for that.

This event was sponsored by American University Washington College of Law, George Washington University Law School, Georgetown University Law Center, Howard University School of Law, National Women’s Law Center, the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law, and the Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia.

About this Author: Maria Saab is a law student intern at Workplace Fairness. Her Bachelor of Arts in International Studies combined with her career experiences working on Capitol Hill and with Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 encouraged her to pursue law school. As a hopeful lawyer, she plans on specializing in regulatory law and hopes to one day concentrate her work efforts towards policy development.

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