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.
Sometimes life throws you a curve ball that you weren’t expecting.
After spring-like weather earlier this week, Minnesota is getting hit with yet another in a series of snow storms. Already as of Friday morning, state troopers have responded to 174 car accidents, and schools from Mankato to St. Paul have closed for the day.
“I’m lucky,” wrote Minneapolis Rep. Frank Hornstein, ”I have a salaried job, so a snow day allows me to still earn an income. Minimum wage earners don’t have that luxury.”
For many low-wage workers, if work is shut down because of a snow storm, or their bus is severely delayed in the snow, that means they’re not getting paid. Snow days and unexpected circumstances mean one less meal to put on the table and one more bill that could go unpaid.
“Most people would have a car payment, but luckily I don’t, because my car is a ’99,” he told us. With his insurance payment of $138 a month, he’s left with $32 a month for gas and maintenance.
One spin-out or collision with another car, like the 174 accidents already reported in this current storm, would mean a trip to the shop that would put him deep in the red.
It was sobering, Metsa told us, that he would literally have to take out a loan if he wanted to get home to the Iron Range. “This budget has no room for mistakes, no room for an emergency, and it’s almost an extra job to make sure I’m spending each penny wisely,” Metsa reflected.
Across the country, the stormy winter has thrown states into havoc, exemplified by the disastrous high-profile traffic jams in Atlanta. But what you won’t hear about in the news are the burdens borne by low-wage workers: the server who is fired because her delayed bus didn’t get her to work on time, the Walmart associate who sold her car to make a heating payment, or the thousands of children who skip meals on snow days because school is their only source of hot lunch.
“Minneapolis Public Schools are closed today, people were just informed at 5:30 a.m. of that,” said Rep. Hornstein, “So they are choosing between the job they possibly can’t get to and having to scramble for child care.”
He added: “These are choices no one should have to make.”
The fate of comprehensive immigration reform with a road map to citizenship that fully protects the rights of all workers is in the hands of House Republicans. Today, the AFL-CIO launched a multi-city ad campaign telling Republicans to take action now. The ads also hold anti-immigrant Republican lawmakers accountable for their hostile statements about Latino immigrants.
The Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill in June, and last month a House bill patterned on the bipartisan Senate measure was introduced. But House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other Republican leaders have indicated they will not allow a vote on a comprehensive immigration reform bill with a road map to citizenship.
You can help “Fight the Hate,” by texting SHAME to 235246 and telling House Republicans it’s time to vote on citizenship. (Message and data rates may apply.)
The ads (see the videos above and below) will air in Spanish in Atlanta, Bakersfield, Calif., Denver and Orlando, Fla., and in English in metropolitan Washington, D.C.
In addition to the ads, labor will launch in-district mobilizations to increase pressure on House Republicans to support immigration reform with a road map to citizenship that protects workers’ rights. Says AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:
The time for acting on immigration reform is now, and the labor movement has decided to throw down in a big way to make it happen, Every day, over 1,000 people are deported, while House Republicans refuse to act on immigration reform with a road map to citizenship and workers’ rights. We won’t stop until the deportation crisis ends and aspiring Americans have the road map to citizenship they deserve.
Occupy Atlanta is getting personally involved with members of the 99%. From ThinkProgress:
Last week, Tawanna Rorey’s husband, a police officer based in Gwinnett County, e-mailed Occupy Atlanta to explain that his home was going to be foreclosed on and his family was in danger of being evicted on Monday. So within a few hours Occupy Atlanta developed an action plan to move to Snellville, Georgia on Monday to stop the foreclosure. At least two dozen protesters encamped on the family’s lawn, to the applause of neighbors and bystanders
The Roreys haven’t been evicted yet. They tried to work with the mortgage company, but, like millions of other Americans, they were unsuccessful.
Experts were doubtful that the protest could do much to help the family. Misty A. Oaks, an Atlanta lawyer who specializes in foreclosure, said sitting in at an foreclosed home won’t be effective legally.
“But it certainly will make for an interesting story and bring attention to the issues surrounding foreclosures and the enormous ramifications foreclosures are having,” she said.
It seems that idea has been on the minds of the Occupy Atlanta’s organizers:
Tim Franzen, one of Occupy Atlanta’s organizers, said the group had been seeking a good story to highlight the problems with the mortgage industry. He said Rorey’s husband, a law enforcement officer with DeKalb County, sent Occupy Atlanta an e-mail detailing their plight last week and within a few hours they formulated a plan to bring attention to the foreclosure. “What I envision is a model of protest coming out of this,” Franzen said. “We plan to develop an occupy community in this neighborhood and maybe create something that can be duplicated nationally.”
I love this! This is community organizing at the grassroots level – this is taking direct action on behalf of a family that is part of the 99%. It would be great if this kind of direct action catches on, since there is certainly no shortage of foreclosures. This kind of outreach action makes an excellent addition to the OWS encampments.