What Ellen Pao and Sheryl Sandberg Overlooked…and Gawker Writers Get Right

This article was originally posted on Medium.

Earlier this month, the CEO of Reddit, Ellen Pao, announced the company would no longer allow employees to negotiate their salaries. Pao explained the move was an attempt to close the pay gap between women and men since, based on her experience, women are worse negotiators than men and as she put it, “From what I’ve heard from women, they…feel like there’s no way to win.”

Pao’s claim that some women lose out at the negotiating table is correct. And her instinct to take action and use her power as CEO to level the playing field is admirable. But her response misses the point of what’s really happening for women at work.

Women don’t need less negotiating power. They need more. And no one woman — CEO or front-line worker — can solve this problem alone.

Many hardworking women lose out on wages not because they are ineffective negotiators. Rather, they, along with their male colleagues, lack the power to come together to raise wages collectively.

As secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO and a woman who has dealt with her share of office politics, I understand the challenges that both Ellen Pao and Sheryl Sandberg describe on the job. But I have a very different solution.

I got my start in the labor movement working with the Electrical Workers (IBEW) union on an organizing campaign of clerical workers at Portland General Electric (PGE) in my home state of Oregon shortly after I graduated from college. While the power linemen at PGE were all union members, the clerical workers— mainly women — were not.

It became apparent that the linemen received good pay and benefits, thanks to their union contract; but the clerical workers did not have that collective power and lacked leverage to negotiate better pay and conditions in the workplace that they deserved. It wasn’t a big leap for the clerical workers to realize they too could raise their wages and secure benefits through a union contract like their linemen peers.

The labor movement views the struggle for women’s equality as a shared fight, especially considering women are the sole or primary breadwinners for 40% of families in the United States. Nearly 7 million women have a voice on the job due to their union membership and women in unions are more likely than their nonunion peers to have access to paid sick leave and family leave among other benefits.

And in direct response to Ellen Pao’s concern about the wage gap, union negotiated contracts narrow the pay gap between men and women significantly. In fact, a typical woman union member earns $222 a week more than a nonunion working woman. Most industries that are predominantly female like fast food and home health care pay low wages that often don’t even cover the basic necessities of life. These low wages act to keep women’s salaries down in every industry, not just in low-wage work.

The tech economy has changed a lot of things — from bitcoin to social media. But, unfortunately, some things have stayed the same. It’s hard to erase sex discrimination with a simple rule change and even harder to improve working conditions when employees aren’t allowed to sit across the table from their boss and negotiate.

But there’s a tried and true remedy to these problems. Why shouldn’t the women of Silicon Valley join a union if they want to close the gender pay gap?

And why shouldn’t they sit with their male colleagues and raise wages for workers across the board? Or negotiate workplace policies that ensure mothers and fathers are able to succeed at work and take care of their families?

Many high-tech workers already have said yes to a collective voice: From NASA engineers to professional, technical and other highly skilled workers at Boeing and computer scientists and technicians at AT&T. Tech workers have enjoyed the benefits of union membership for decades. Currently, groups of Silicon Valley workers such as shuttle drivers are trying to organize to gain a stronger voice on the job.

Even professionals at online blogs like Gawker are unionizing for a voice at work. If workers in new media can do it, anyone can. If people continue to re-imagine what a union can look like in their workplace and adapt the value of collective action to meet modern challenges — perhaps Reddit, too, can think about narrowing the pay gap by helping women and men negotiate better pay and a fair workplace through a union.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Unions Are a Woman’s Best Friend

With National Women’s History Month behind us now, it’s still important to celebrate the great strides women have made over the past decades. It is equally important to remember how many women workers still don’t have the basic necessities they need to support themselves and their families. The labor movement views the struggle for women’s equality as a shared fight, especially considering women are the sole or primary breadwinners for 40% of families in the United States. Women of color, in particular, have a hard time getting good pay and benefits, and they make up a disproportionate share of low-wage workers.

Nearly 7 million women have a voice on the job due to their union membership, and women in unions are more likely than their nonunion peers to have access to paid sick leave and family leave. Collective bargaining through unions also narrows the pay gap between men and women significantly. A typical woman union member earns $222 a week more than a nonunion woman and is far more likely to have health and retirement security. This puts upward pressure on wages and benefits throughout industries that are predominately female, many of which traditionally pay low wages. Every worker deserves to have protections on the job, and it is the goal of the labor movement to ensure that happens.

Recently I was in Chicago for the AFL-CIO Next Up Young Worker Summit, and I was inspired by how many young women I saw around me. Hundreds of young women came from across the country eager to learn and grow as leaders in the labor movement and to stand up for the rights of all workers. They were facilitating workshops, speaking on panels and leading their union brothers and sisters at demonstrations around the city in solidarity with local workers. Erica Clemons, a young worker with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), provided a snapshot into why it is so important for labor to be active in the fight for women’s rights. She said, “I’m a young organizer. A person of color. A mother. These identities matter to me. It’s important for the labor movement to understand unique struggles.”

Erica started out as a cashier at her local Kroger grocery store in Atlanta. After becoming a member of UFCW, she advanced through hard work and determination from cashier to a spot in the selective UFCW Gold Internship Program in Ohio, an intensive organizer training. Erica excelled in the program, and the organizing director of UFCW Local 881 took notice and offered her a job on the local’s organizing team. Now Erica works to help workers organize in grocery stores just like the one where she started out. She helped organize and lead hundreds of Next Up participants in the demonstration at a Food 4 Less grocery store last week in Chicago, advocating for higher wages. And in her spare time, she serves on the AFL-CIO’s National Young Worker Advisory Council.

The work that Erica and thousands of other union women are doing across the country offers a good reminder that if we work and stand together, achieving gender equality is possible for women all across the United States.

This is a cross-post from MomsRising.org.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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I’m a Koch Sister, Too!

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler with Joyce and Karen Koch

You’ve heard of the Koch Brothers, the ultra-rich, corporate extremists whose deep pockets are flooding election-season airwaves. Too often, their goals are part of a political playbook to drive down wages, cut Social Security and Medicare and secure more corporate tax breaks at the expense of our environment. Their money may dominate America’s politics and lawmaking, but their values and ideals sure don’t.

We have a better alternative. Meet the Koch Sisters, Karen and Joyce, who share the same last name but not the same values as the infamous Koch Brothers. They’re not related to David and Charles Koch or to each other. But they’re sisters where it counts—in spirit, in solidarity and in their shared values. The Koch Sisters are bringing to the forefront of political debate the issues most Americans care about—from fair wages to protecting Social Security.

They’ll tell you themselves in this video.

Karen Koch is a teacher and mother of two. As a college business professor at Mott Community College in Michigan, she has spent her career preparing students for internships and their first jobs. She is also a member of the Michigan Education Association and comes from a UAW family. Joyce Koch, also a mother of two, is a grandmother and is married to a retired AFT teacher. She spent most of her career as a social worker and an administrator for an anti-poverty organization in New York.

Like so many of us, Karen and Joyce have worked hard all of their lives and want to ensure their children and grandchildren have the same opportunities they did. They share the belief that the working families of this country should have every opportunity to get ahead. Unlike the Koch Brothers, the Koch Sisters don’t have billions of dollars and they certainly aren’t trying to buy our democracy. But they care about our country and what money in politics is doing to it. And they believe their voice, and the voices of millions more people like them—like you and me—are as important as the special interests who use their vast wealth to influence politics and policy.

Perhaps the Koch Sisters are so very different from the Koch Brothers because for Karen and Joyce it’s about people, not profits.

The Koch Sisters stand for the right things that matter most at the right time. I admire Joyce and Karen’s courage for making their voices heard in AFL-CIO television and online ads to get the word out. In fact, I’m a Koch Sister, too! Let’s all join them and become a nation of Koch Sisters! Sign up today at kochsisters.org.

This post originally appeared on the MomsRising blog

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Walmart Moms: ‘Their Fight Is Our Fight’

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This an open letter from AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler to the nation’s working women.

In a show of national unity, Walmart moms are walking off the job in stores throughout the country this week. After years of trying to support themselves and their families on wages that are too low, with schedules that rob them of full-time benefits and an employer who fires co-workers who audaciously ask for more pay, they have had enough.

And walk they should.

As Walmart’s annual shareholders meeting convenes this week, we must stand with these brave women who are demanding enough hours to gain basic benefits and a fair wage for the hundreds of thousands of Walmart workers who earn less than $25,000 annually.

Low pay,

inadequate hours and mistreatment are sadly common experiences for women in the workforce. Built into the fabric of Walmart’s business is a system that pays a majority of its workers—most of them women—so little annually they are forced to rely on food stamps and other taxpayer-supported programs to survive. It seems only fair that women who work at the largest retailer in the world should be able to afford to feed their families without having to rely on food stamps.

As the country’s largest private employer of women, Walmart sets the pace for all other retailers. Denying hours to its workers so they fall short of a full-time job keeps retail workers, the majority of whom are women, at the bottom, while Walmart continues to make huge profits.

But we know that standing together can make a difference for all working women. We know this because OUR Walmart recently demanded—and got—important changes to Walmart’s pregnancy policy. This week’s actions at Walmart are bigger than just one retailer. They represent a larger fight to ensure that all women receive respect and dignity on the job.

When women succeed in America, we all benefit. When women get a fair wage, entire families are lifted out of poverty and our economy benefits. When women gain basic benefits like health care and sick leave, families are stronger and healthier. When women—like the Walmart moms—organize for change, they are using their voice to give their families a chance at a better future. Let’s help their voices be heard. Let’s help them make their stand.

Their fight is our fight. It’s mine and it’s yours. Let the Walmart moms know we stand with them.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW.