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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Bill Would Make 9/11 Survivors Health Care Program Permanent

A bipartisan group of lawmakers, along with Sept. 11 first responders and union leaders, today announced the introduction of legislation to make permanent the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The act makes critical health care available to first responders and workers suffering illnesses from the toxic stew at Ground Zero after the World Trade Center’s twin towers collapsed.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers, along with Sept. 11 first responders and union leaders, today announced the introduction of legislation to make permanent the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The act makes critical health care available to first responders and workers suffering illnesses from the toxic stew at Ground Zero after the World Trade Center’s twin towers collapsed.

The original legislation passed in 2010, but two key components are set to expire this fall. The bill is named after James Zadroga, a police officer who died in 2006 from respiratory disease attributed to his exposure to the deadly toxins at Ground Zero following the attacks. (See the video above from the Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act.)

More than 33,000 9/11 responders and survivors have an illness or injury caused by the attacks or their aftermath, and more than two-thirds of those have more than one illness. Many are disabled and can no longer work. They are suffering from a host of chronic diseases, including serious pulmonary disease, cancer and more caused by exposure to toxins and carcinogens at Ground Zero.

Fire Fighters (IAFF) President Harold Schaitberger said:

For almost 14 years, first responders have been dealing with the after effects of the 9/11 attacks. For many, this is a fight that will never end. It is our duty to honor those who worked in the terrible aftermath by making sure that the critical programs authorized by the Zadroga bill are renewed.

The World Trade Center Health Program, which provides health services to people who developed cancers and other illnesses as a result of the recovery and cleanup effort, expires at the end of September. Nearly 71,000 people are in the program and 58,924 of those received treatment in 2014. The measure would make that program permanent.

The bill also would continue the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund that provides funds for medical care and treatment to responders who worked at any of the sites that were targeted on 9/11. Said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler:

We can’t and won’t let this law expire. As a country, we owe the heroes of 9/11 the care and support they need and deserve. We must pass this bill to renew and extend the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

Studies show that 9/11 workers have gotten certain cancers—including prostate, thyroid and multiple myeloma—at significantly higher rates than the general population. More than 80 New York City Police Department and more than 100 New York City Fire Department personnel have reportedly died from their 9/11-related illnesses since Sept. 11. More police officers have died from their injuries since 9/11 than perished on Sept. 11.

Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO, said AFL-CIO state federations will work to secure bipartisan support for the bill.

The labor movement remains committed to ensuring that the people who are suffering as a result of their bravery and determination continue to receive the care and support they deserve.

Click here to read more comments from lawmakers and to learn more about the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

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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Healthy Families Act Would Let Workers Earn Paid Sick Days

There are at least 43 million U.S. workers who cannot earn a single paid sick day and have to decide between losing wages or even risking their jobs to take care of their own illness or a sick family member. On Thursday, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced the Healthy Families Act that would give workers the opportunity to earn up to seven paid sick days they could use for personal illnesses or to take care of sick family members.

In related news (see below), the Philadelphia City Council passed a new paid sick days law on Thursday.

Responding to the Healthy Families Act, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler said:

Too many people are still being forced to choose between getting a paycheck and taking care of a loved one. Let’s pass the Healthy Families Act and make sure no worker has to make that choice again.

Nationally more than four in 10 private-sector workers and 81% of low-wage workers do not have paid sick days. A 2014 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows that Latinos and those who make less than $20,000 a year are the workers least likely to have paid sick days. Only 47% of Latino workers get paid sick days.

Even worse, less than 28% of workers who make under $20,000 a year have paid sick days and many of those are food service workers, and only 24% of food preparation and service workers have access to paid sick days, despite the fact that most health departments recommend that these workers not go to work sick. Said Debra L. Ness, president of National Partnership for Women & Families:

The Healthy Families Act is about allowing moms to stay home to care for children with strep, without having their pay docked. It’s about adult sons being able to miss a day of work to take an aging parent for medical tests, without losing their jobs. It’s about child care and nursing home staff being able to stay home when they have the flu, instead of infecting the people they care for. It’s about restaurant workers not being forced to report to work, and handle food, when they are infectious. It’s about being able to see a doctor for an eye infection before it becomes severe. It’s about common sense, public health and family economic security. It’s about dignity.

There also is a growing move across the nation, from Congress to statehouses to city halls, to pass paid family leave and paid sick days legislation. Twenty jurisdictions across the country now have paid sick days standards in place.

The new Philadelphia paid sick leave will require employers with 10 or more employees to allow their full-time and part-time workers to accrue at least five days of paid sick leave a year. Marianne Bellasorte of the group Pathways PA said:

We are the 17th city to pass paid sick days. So far, there have been no bad reports, nothing has gone wrong. Businesses are thriving, workers are thriving. There’s no reason to believe Philadelphia will be any different.

California, Connecticut and Massachusetts have state-paid sick day laws.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Give Responsible Student Loan Borrowers a Chance

Student loan borrowers are trying to do the responsible thing by paying off their loans but are being punished with high interest rates.

When you take out a mortgage or car loan, you can refinance the loan to get a better interest rate. With student loans, however, you’re stuck with the interest rate set by Congress, even though that rate is high enough to produce massive profit beyond the costs of operating the student loan program. And that’s just not fair.

The student loan refinance bill, sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), would allow 25 million student loan borrowers to refinance the interest rates of their student loans, and those extra savings will go a long way in this economy where unemployment is still too high and wages aren’t rising fast enough.

The Senate this week is poised to take a vote on Warren’s student loan bill (S. 2432). Unfortunately, the last time the bill came up for a vote, Senate Republicans chose to stand with their wealthy campaign contributors over tens of millions of students and their families.

Thankfully, Senate Republicans will have one more chance to change their minds.

Call your senators today at 1-855-712-9375 and tell them to pass S. 2432 so student loan borrowers will no longer be punished with high interest rates. 

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Equal Pay Day: Bridging the Pay Gap Takes 3 Extra Months of Work

Women have to work more than three extra months to earn what men earn in a year because, on average, they make 77 cents on the dollar compared to men’s earnings. Today, Equal Pay Day, marks the day women workers close the 2013 pay gap.

That 23 cents on the dollar pay gap adds up over time—$11,607 a year for women working full-time is more than $440,000 over a lifetime. Bridging the annual difference would make a huge impact on the lives and families of working women.

A new study by the National Partnership for Women and Families finds that if the gap were eliminated, women who work in California could buy 59 more weeks of food. Ohio’s working women could afford nine more months of mortgage and utilities payments. Working women in Georgia could afford 10 more months of rent. And women employed in Florida could afford 1,900-plus more gallons of gas.

National Partnership for Women and Families President Debra L. Ness says the analysis shows:

When women and their families lose thousands of dollars in critical income each year, they have significantly less money to spend on food, gas, rent and other basic necessities, and the consequences for their families and our state and national economies can be devastating.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler said, “The best pay equalizer is union membership, but most workers don’t have that advantage.” That’s why, she said, legislation such as the Paycheck Fairness Act is needed to help close the pay gap.

That bill, which the Senate could vote on today or Wednesday, would close loopholes and strengthen current equal pay laws, including strengthening penalties that courts may impose for equal pay violations and prohibit retaliation against workers who inquire about or disclose information about employers’ wage practices. The bill also would require employers to show pay disparity is truly related to job performance—not gender.

Most Republican members of Congress are opposed to the Paycheck Fairness Act. In 2012, they blocked a vote in the Senate on the legislation. However, in a 2014 nationwide survey, 62% of likely voters said they supported the Paycheck Fairness Act—83% of Democrats, 58% of independents and 44% of Republicans. And the majority of GOP women (51%) support the bill.

Today, President Barack Obama will issue an executive order that will apply some provisions of the Paycheck Fairness Act to federal contractors. Read more here.

Click here for the National Partnership for Women and Families study that breaks down the wage gap by state and examines the even bigger wage gap in 20 states African American women and Latina workers face. Nationally, African American and Latina women are paid just 64 cents and just 54 cents, respectively, for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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9 Key Facts About Women Workers Today

Liz Shuler is secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO.

Today, we earn more college degrees and have infinitely more choices, but what has it meant? Take a look:

  • Progress toward gender equality has stalled. Women’s annual earnings are just 77% of men’s.
  • Most (60%) of women’s job gains during the economic recovery have been in low-wage jobs.
  • The unemployment rate for young (ages 16 to 24) women workers is 14.5%.
  • 43% of women working in the private sector are not able to take a single paid sick day when they are ill, and more than half of working mothers (54%) do not have even a few paid sick days they can use to care for their sick children.
  • Women in unions, on average, make 12.9% more than their nonunion counterparts, are 36.8% more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and are 53.4% more likely to have participated in an employer-sponsored retirement plan.

How can we get progress on gender equality moving again? We could start by raising the minimum wage, enacting family-friendly policies like the FAMILY Act, investing in good jobs and restoring collective bargaining rights so all workers can stand together.

Photo by National Nurses United on Facebook

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Let’s Talk: Moving Forward on Creating an Economic Agenda for Women

Today, Nov. 12, at 3 p.m. EST, the AFL-CIO invites you to participate in a tweetchat on creating momentum around economic policy for women. Join AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler, National Organization of Women’s (NOW’s) Terry O’Neill, Black Youth Project 100’s (BYP 100’s) Charlene Carruthers and Upworthy’s Laura Willard for a discussion on paid sick days, the minimum wage and other issues important to women in the workplace.

Follow the hashtag #1uwomen to join the conversation and see the list of the participants’ Twitter handles here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Trumka, Shuler, Gebre Elected to Lead AFL-CIO


New AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre

Delegates to the 2013 AFL-CIO Convention today elected a trio of top officers to lead the labor movement to become, said re-elected AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, “the movement America needs us to be and we must be.”

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler was elected to a second term and, in a classic American success story, Tefere Gebre, a 45-year-old Ethiopian political refugee who immigrated to the United States as a teenager, was elected executive vice president.

In his acceptance speech, Trumka, a Pennsylvania coal miner who rose to the presidency of the Mine Workers (UMWA) and then served as AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer until his election to the top post in 2009, called himself “an example that a man or woman can be carried far by those who came before.”

He spoke of his grandfathers who were UMWA organizers, his coal mining father who also served as a union officer and “the union brothers and sisters who showed me the ropes, who taught me about life and unionism, who stood strong with me when I was too young to even know what it meant to stand.”

Noting that many of the union members in the convention hall and around the nation share similar legacies and owe much to those who came before them in the labor movement, he said:

It is a gift we can only repay by giving it all—and more—to those who come along with us and after us. That is why we are building a stronger, broader movement. We have a responsibility to lift others up, to give to those in need in this generation and in future generations what has already been given to us. And more.

Shuler’s union career began with the Electrical Workers (IBEW) in Portland, Ore., and she has served as AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer since 2009.

She said that strengthening the AFL-CIO’s finances—with transparency and accountability—was her major goal when she took office and, like the federation’s affiliated unions, the AFL-CIO would have to tighten its belt.

So we scrutinized our finances to the smallest detail. We made tough choices and set priorities. The result is, as of the latest fiscal year, we have a balanced budget. The result is a $22 million turnaround in our net assets….Of course, we are nowhere out of the woods yet. We know there will be challenges ahead.

Shuler also said that developing and launching the long-term campaign to redefine how the public sees unions has made progress and “we must move it forward.” The most rewarding—and challenging—part of her job for the past four years, she said, has been engaging young workers in the labor movement and giving them “a sense of belonging and ownership.”

I don’t have the words to fully describe the feeling when you see the light in a young person’s eyes when they realize that their desire to be part of something bigger than themselves is within reach, when they see that they have power. Let’s harness that power and bring the old school and new school together in solidarity.

Prior to his election, Gebre—a former director of government relations of Laborers (LIUNALocal 270 and a member of the Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and IBEW—served as the executive director of theOrange County (Calif.) Labor Federation. He was also executive director of Frontlash, the first youth and college arm of the labor movement.

At 14, after walking across the African desert from his native Ethiopia to a refugee camp in Sudan to “escape the horrors of war and a brutal military government,” Gebre said he won a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come to America as a political refugee.” He told the convention delegates:

At the tender age of 15, I started a brand-new life in this ‘City of Angels’….This is not just my story. It’s a story of millions who proudly call America home. Documented or undocumented, the immigrant story is what makes this country of ours so special.

Gebre made a commitment to work with the state federations and central labor councils:

To my brothers and sisters in local labor movements, state federations and CLCs, I am one of you. I know how hard your job is, and how important your role is. Each of us has the responsibility to convene the labor movement in our own communities—across unions and sectors and to work in real partnership with allies in the community….I pledge to you that I will always be there to listen, advise and help our CLCs and state federations be the best we can be.

Click here to read more about Gebre.

Photo by @RickEiden on Twitter

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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