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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On Equal Pay Day, Mind the Gap, All $431,000 of It

Today, Equal Pay Day, marks the day when women workers close the 2014 pay gap, and that wage gap is huge. Women, on average, earn 78 cents on the dollar compared to men’s wages and that adds up to more than $10,800 a year and more than $400,000 over a career.

A new report finds that wage gap is even wider for mothers, especially single mothers and mothers of color, most of whom are essential breadwinners and caregivers for their families.

The report, An Unlevel Playing Field: America’s Gender-Based Wage Gap, Binds of Discrimination and a Path Forward, by the National Partnership for Women & Families, finds mothers who work full-time, year-round in the United States are paid just 71 cents for every dollar paid to fathers who work full-time, year-round. Single mothers are paid just 58 cents for every dollar paid to fathers. And African American and Latina mothers suffer the biggest disparities, being paid just 54 cents and 49 cents, respectively, for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic fathers.

National Partnership President Debra L. Ness said:

At a time when women’s wages are essential to families and our economy, the persistence of the gender-based wage gap is doing real and lasting damage to women, families, communities and to our nation. It defies common sense that lawmakers are not doing more to stop gender discrimination in wages.

In 2009, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which overturned a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that denied many pay discrimination victims their day in court. But since then, Republican lawmakers have blocked votes on the Paycheck Fairness Act.

That legislation would strengthen 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.

The bill was reintroduced last month by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who said:

Equal pay is not just a problem for women, but for families, who are trying to pay their bills, trying to get ahead, trying to achieve the American Dream and are getting a smaller paycheck than they have earned for their hard work.

Last April, President Obama signed two executive orders on equal pay, one that banned retaliation against employees of federal contractors for discussing their wages and another that instructed the U.S. Department of Labor to create new regulations requiring federal contractors to submit data on employee compensation. While these actions will help federal contractor employees, congressional action is needed to end gender-based pay discrimination for all workers.

Here are some other facts on unequal pay and the wage gap between men and women.

  • If the pay trends of the past five decades remain the same, it will take nearly another five decades—until 2058—for women to reach pay equity with men.
  • If women and men received equal pay, the poverty rate for all working women and their families would be cut in half from 8.1% to 3.9%.
  • The gender wage gap among union members is half the size of the wage gap among nonunion workers.
  • Union women working full-time earn, on average, 90.6% of what their male peers earn.
  • The wage gap for union members fell 2.6 cents between 2012 and 2013 but was virtually unchanged for nonunion workers.
  • Paying women the same wage as their male peers would have added an additional $448 billion to the economy in 2012 or roughly 3% of the country’s GDP.
  • 62% of women who work in the private sector report that discussing pay at work is strongly discouraged or prohibited, making it harder for women to discover if they are missing out on wages they deserve.
  • Requiring employers to disclose employee pay rankings would allow women to know if they are being paid the same wage as comparable workers.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Why Is This Woman Smoking At Her Desk? Doesn’t She Know What Year It Is?

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With Mad Men wrapping up this season, we will no longer be getting a weekly dose of what the workplace was like during the 1960′s.

Well, in a way, we will.

Mad Men actress Christina Hendricks appeared in a video on the site Funny Or Die this week in which she points out that when it comes to wages for women and the gender pay gap, we’re very much stuck in the 1960′s.

Hendricks appears as her Mad Men character Joan Holloway, recently hired at a modern office. She is hopelessly out of place: she can’t use the modern phones, mixes a martini instead of using the water cooler, and even tries to erase text on her computer with the back of a pencil.

When questioned about her odd behavior, she brings up a few key statistics: women make 23 percent less than their male counterparts, nearly 70 percent of minimum wage workers are women, and only 15 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are female.

“So I figure if we’re going to run our businesses like it’s the 1960′s,” she says, “I’m going to act like it.”

“Or I could’ve had a stroke…I smoke a lot.”

Here’s what Hendricks doesn’t mention: that lawmakers across the country are working to to make these grim statistics a thing of the past, and that there are forces fighting equally as hard to keep the status quo.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) would have made it harder for companies to pay women less than men and easier for women to take legal action against employers who deliberately pay them less. On April 9, 43 Republican Senators and 1 Independent joined to filibuster the bill, requiring a 60 vote threshold and denying us a public debate.

As for low wages, Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced a bill to raise the minimum wage to $10.10, but it never reached an up-or-down vote. On April 30, 41 Republicans lead by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell filibustered the bill. All this while at least 69 percent of Americans support raising the wage.

(More on the ridiculousness of these filibuster votes and how the media reports them.)

Luckily, there’s been action in the states. In June, Massachusetts became the tenth state this year to raise the minimum wage, a list that includes Republican-dominated Michigan. And Gov. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) signed into law a statewide version of Sen Mikulski’s pay gap bill in the Granite State.

Like its viral video hit “Minimum Wage Mary Poppins” last month, Funny Or Die is writing the book on how to use parody videos to shed light on economic issues. But often, when you include the part of the story about the individuals and forces working hard to keep things the way they are–or make them worse–everyone stops laughing.

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