Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘women’s issues’

Can Americans Care for Their Families Without Losing Their Jobs?

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Image: Gloria PanDid you see the announcement? Fem2.0 is kicking off the New Year with Wake Up, This Is the Reality!, a campaign to help change the way Americans talk and think about work and to begin shifting the national narrative away from privileged “balance” and corporate perspectives to one that reflects the reality on the ground for millions of Americans and American families.

On January 25, we will launch a two-week blog radio series on how work policies impact specific communities. That will be followed by a week-long blog carnival (Feb. 6-13) that will flood the public space with articles, opinions and personal stories about what it’s like to work in America today.

Fem2pt0In the inaugural show, Elisa Camahort Page, co-founder of BlogHer, will interview Joan Williams, director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California – Hastings, and Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress, about their new report, The Three Faces of Work/Family Conflict: Can Americans Care For Their Families Without Losing Their Jobs? To be released later this month, the report considers the impact of work policies on American workers and families at different income levels, revealing the all-too-common, gut-wrenching choices Americans face between being able to care for loved ones and being able to pay the bills.

On January 29, we’ll focus on Work Policies and Single Women: An Examination of the Work Issues Facing Single Women, With or Without Children. Lisa Matz, AAUW’s director of public policy and government relations, Melanie Notkin, founder of Savvy Auntie, and Page Gardner, founder of Women’s Voices, Women Vote, join moderator Marcia G. Yerman of the Huffington Post to discuss how the continuum of single women are challenged by work policy issues. Topics will include:

+ The challenges faced by women in the workplace without children (50% of American women)

+ The challenges faced by never married women with children (19%-20%)

+ Reframing the family structure as horizontal (acknowledging that not all family responsibilities are “parental”)

+ Legislation to implement change (family and medical leave, Social Security, care giving credits, pay equity, retirement benefits)

+ Is the workload being left to single women without children?

+ Validating single women as heads of their own households

The blog radio series will also be looking at the impact of today’s work environment on men, seniors, businesses, and on the military, LGBT, Latino, and African-American communities. See entire series here.

Please forward this email to friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, and anyone else who might be interested. Find out other ways you can get involved, here.

If you have any questions or comments, please let us know!

*Cross-posted from Feminism2.0 with permission. Check out the 2010 Wake Up! This is the Reality! Campaign happening now, and submit your pieces for the ongoing blog carnival.

9to5: Celebrating Labor Day by Working for Change

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

*****

For far too many women, work isn’t working. That’s why passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is so critical.

Women still earn only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men – and for African American women and Latinas the gap is even wider. Far too many working women labor in jobs that do not provide a family-supporting income. Far too many women, particularly low-wage women, lack paid sick days to care for themselves during occasional illness. And far too many lack even a single paid sick day to care for a sick child.

As we mark Labor Day 2009 – a day to pay tribute to the historic achievements and contributions of workers — it’s time to call attention to this fact:  Union membership is one sure way to address gender-based workplace disparities and unionization can provide important economic security for low-wage women and their families.

According to “Unions and Upward Mobility for Women Workers,” a December 2008 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in the 15 lowest-paying occupations, union members not only earned more than their non-union counterparts, they were also 26 percentage points more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and 23 percentage points more likely to have a pension plan.

“For women, joining a union makes as much sense as going to college,” said John Schmitt, author of the upward mobility study. “All else equal, joining a union raises a woman’s wage as much as a full-year of college, and being a member of a union raises the chances a woman has health insurance by more than earning a four-year college degree.”

As the entire country debates health reform, it’s important to note that health insurance is just one of the positive workplace standards unions can provide for working women. Union representation is also one of the strongest predictors of family-flexible workplace policies.

More than 60 million American workers lack a single paid sick day to care for themselves when ill, and nearly 100 million workers lack paid sick time to care for an ill child. Especially in this economy, no one should lose a job just because they or a loved one gets sick. Companies with 30 percent or more unionized workers have been documented to be more likely than non-union companies to provide paid time off to care for sick children (65 percent compared to 46 percent).

So, how can women work for workplace change?

Speak out in support of the Employee Free Choice Act. EFCA would put the choice of how to form a union back into the hands of workers. A free choice means that workers would have the option of unionization if a majority of them sign up. EFCA will protect women and men who join together to negotiate with their employers for health care, fair wages, retirement security and paid sick days.

It’s critical that we pass this federal legislation. Tell your family, friends, colleagues and neighbors about EFCA. And, most important, let your members of Congress know that you support it and expect their support as well.

On this Labor Day, it’s time to ensure that the workplace work for us all.

About the Author: 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.

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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The Trouble With Women at Work, part 2 of 2

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

Just as it’s hard to blame the Democrats for anything that happened during the Bush Administration (if you look up the word “irrelevant” in the dictionary, don’t be surprised if you see the world “democrat” listed as a synonym—when all control was in the hands of the GOP).

It’s also hard to blame women for the mess that work has become.

Let’s face it; work is still a patriarchy. Okay, I know there are a few men out there who work in a women-managed department or company, but they’re the exception and certainly not the rule.

Work is a tree house and the boys are in charge. That said, although women might not be the major part of the problem most of us call work, they do have their issues. I’m not going to go all Oprah on you, but I do want to point out a major challenge facing many women at work.

I call it “divorced women’s syndrome” and I’ve had this conversation with at least thirty women. Going through a divorce a woman learns one thing; she can’t rely on anyone else. It’s her life, and her family, and the only person who will be there for her at the end of the day is herself.

Then she goes to work and an interesting thing happens—she relies only on herself. If this woman is approached for advice, mentoring or support by a colleague she will do whatever she can for them. But when it comes to her asking colleagues for advice, mentoring or support—NO WAY. As Bette Midler once said about Madonna, it’s all about lifting yourself up by your own bra straps (seriously, how many women have boot straps today?). Work, for many women, becomes a solitary activity.

Unfortunately, this runs against how the work really works. The workplace is built on favors and on give and take. You do favors for people and they return the favor back to you. The philosophy of not relying or depending on anyone else isolates her from lots of great resources, ideas and efficiencies.

I’m not saying that self-reliance is always bad thing. It gets many women through their divorce intact. I am saying that as important as this trait is to survive a divorce, it’s very dangerous to bring this to work as the defining aspect of your personality.

So if I had a magic wand I’d encourage women to be sure that they are making both deposits and withdrawals with the people they work with. To both give and get in the favor economy that sustains every business.

If I still haven’t sold you on the importance of giving AND receiving, here is a hypothetical. Imagine you have a friend who is going through a rough stretch. And you could be a big help to her during her struggles. How would you feel if you learned much later she never let you know that she needed a helping hand? You’d feel terrible, like you let her down. So how are your friends and work colleagues supposed to feel when you don’t reach out to them?

Here is a saying to adopt—L.Y.F.H.Y. Let your friends help you. The workplace is so much easier to handle when you tackle it with the support of your colleagues. You go girl!

QUOTE.

“No one should have to dance backward all their lives.” Jill Ruckelshaus

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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.

Are Fox and American Idol Guilty of Age Discrimination?

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

It would have been hard to miss the heartwarming story last week about Susan Boyle’s performance on the British version of American Idol called Britain’s Got Talent. The New York Times and CBS News have extensively covered it as have most of the other media outlets.

The episode, according to the Times, has provoked a debate about the “not so young and not so beautiful” that has many people talking.

Here’s how one blogger, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, described  what happened on the show in her excellent piece in The Huffington Post:

Once on stage, her interrogator, Simon Cowell, asks about her dream. To be a professional singer, she says, and as successful as Elaine Page — a statement that elicits great hilarity and hyperactive camera close-ups of the judges’ bemused disbelief and the snickering, eye-rolling audience.  . . .

Cheerful and unperturbed, the contestant blithely announces that she is going to sing, “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables.

“How old are you, Susan?” asks Simon, in a tone more appropriate to an interview with a toddler.

“Forty-seven,” she says. The audience cracks up. Pixels of ridicule fill the screen, incredulity, patronizing sneers, smirks, whispers you can almost hear: Look at her, will you! Frumpy from the Fifties, got a double chin, a silly Scottish accent, hails from some tiny hamlet, can’t remember the word “villages,” and to top it off, Omigod, she’s old! Either she’s a ringer and we’re in for some weird parody of Dame Edna or we’re about to see this dowdy dame make a fool of herself on the hottest show on British telly.

Finally, Susan Boyle steps into the spotlight and opens her mouth, and before she’s sung three glorious, crystal clear notes, the audience is cheering, the judges’ jaws have dropped, and I’m choking back tears.

It is truly a great story and if you have not seen the video, I strongly suggest that you join the thirty million people who have. It will surely bring a tear to your eye.

But here’s what struck me when I first saw the story: How come she gets to try out  and she’s 47? Not so in the U.S.A.

While most people may not have given it much thought, it’s pretty obvious that all of the singers on American Idol seem quite young  Well they are, and it’s no coincidence

My husband  is a pretty good singer (for sure I have a bit of a bias) and we have a good time at karaoke clubs.  My son is an agent in the entertainment business.  I  mentioned to my son that I thought it would be fun if my husband tried out for American Idol — not that he would win of course, but that it would be fun to go to a tryout. After he stopped laughing he said:

He can’t try out

Why not?  I said.

Because he’s not under 30.

Yes, that’s right.  In order  to try out for American Idol you have to be under thirty years of age.  I checked the rules and here’s what I found:

You have to be a legal U.S Citizen or a permanent U.S resident. You also have to be between the ages of 16 and 29. Make sure to bring 2 forms of I.D with you, at least one form must be a photo I.D. If you are under 18 you need to have a parent or legal guardian with you.

So is it age discrimination? It’s not a real simple answer.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age. The ADEA applies to:

  • all employees and job applicants.
  • all terms and  conditions of employment including: hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training.

It is crystal clear that an employer can not lawfully have a rule which prohibits it from employing anyone over the age of 30.

There are times when employers can lawfully use age in making employment decisions.  For example,commercial airline pilots are required to retire at a certain age. It’s simply not safe to have 80 year old pilots flying commercial jet planes with hundreds of  lives at risk.

For that logical reason, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act permits exceptions for:

a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the par­ticu­lar business

That provision, commonly called the “BFOQ” exception, allows airlines as well as other industries (where safety, for example, may be an issue) to require retirement at a designated age.

But singing?  What could possibly be the bona fide occupational justification for statinging that an excellent singer has to be under 30?  Paul McCartney and Barbara Streisand still sound just fine. In fact, it seems to me that many singers get better with age.

The problem with this scenario is that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits age discrimination in employment and folks on American Idol are not applying for jobs, so the the act arguably does not apply.

I am not, however, completely convinced that’s the end of the story and this is why.

American Idol is broadcast by Fox. Fox Broadcasting Company is a network that is heavily regulated by the federal government.

In fact , Fox is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to do business and is subject to the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992 as well as a host of other federal laws.Television networks have all sorts of civil rights compliance requirements and regulations which prohibit discrimination.

While I understand that this is not a case of discrimination in employment, it certainly seems to me that it may be a case of discrimination in the award of a contract.

This is my argument:

  • when you win American Idol you get a recording contract
  • the contract is offered on to those under 30
  • Fox Broadcasting, through American Idol, is committing age discrimination in the award of contracts by not allowing those over 30 to compete.

I am not entirely sure whether the argument is constitutionally sound, but I am not convinced that it’s not.

As a constitutional matter, if a governmental entity awarded contracts to whites only,  we would no doubt be outraged. The government would have the impossible burden of showing that it had a “compelling governmental purpose” for doing so and the alleged justification would be given “strict scrutiny”. In other words, we would have little trouble proving that the contract is unconstitutional and illegal.

But even at the lower level of constitutional scrutiny used in cases of gender or age discrimination, how could  a contract awarded only to singers under the age of 30 be “rationally related to any legitimate governmental purpose” ? ( if Fox is considered to be taking governmental action because of it’s federal license or because it is heavily regulated by the federal government a constitutional analysis could kick in)

Yes, it’s all quite complicated.  Constitutional law is not easy. But it’s not hard to ask this question: If American Idol only permitted white individuals to audition, or permitted only men to try out, how would we feel about it and what would we do?

Putting all of the legal complexities aside, from one Simon to another, I feel compelled to ask: why can’t the show let everyone try out  to be the next American Idol?

Equal opportunity in England, but not the United States, just doesn’t seem right.

image: weblogs.newsday.com

Crossposted from Ellen Simon’s blog Employee Rights Post.

About the Author: Ellen Simon is recognized as one of the foremost employment and civil rights lawyers in the United States. Ms. Simon is the owner of the Simon Law Firm, L.P.A., and Of Counsel to McCarthy, Lebit, Crystal & Liffman, a Cleveland, Ohio based law firm. She is also the author of the legal blog, the Employee Rights Post. Her website is www.ellensimon.net.

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