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Women will lose big if state and local governments can’t close coronavirus budget gaps

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The United States is on track to lose millions of jobs if the federal government doesn’t help state and local governments fill in budget shortfalls. Some of the jobs will be in the private sector as governments drop contracts and as public workers curtail their spending, but it’s a guarantee that government workers will be hard hit. And like so much else about the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, that means increased inequality.

The National Women’s Law Center details the damage women, and especially women of color, have already experienced and face if things don’t get better. Already, women are 63% of the 1.5 million state and local government jobs lost between February and May. That’s in line with the six in 10 workers in state and local governments who are women. These aren’t the jobs of last resort, either. They’re jobs that do better by women than the private sector, reducing inequality.

“In 2018, women instate and local government jobs had a median wage of almost $7,000 more per year than women in private sector jobs,” the NWLC notes. “For Black women and Latinas, the difference was even more pronounced, with the typical salary for a Black woman working in state or local government exceeding the typical salary for a Black woman working in the private sector by $10,000 per year, and the typical salary for a Latina working in state or local government exceeding the typical salary for a Latina working in the private sector by $15,000 per year.”

That narrows the wage gap, with Black women coming 17 cents an hour closer to white, non-Hispanic men than they do in the private sector. Across all women in state and local government, the wage gap narrows by 3 cents an hour. That’s added to women working for state and local governments being much more likely to have health coverage. And it’s a significant source of good jobs for women of color: One in seven Black women in the workforce is in state or local government.

If the federal government doesn’t help state and local governments close budget shortfalls, the economic crisis across the country will deepen and settle in, making for a longer and harder recovery. “This is not an abstract concern—the historically slow recovery in state and local spending following the Great Recession by itself delayed a recovery in unemployment to pre-crisis levels by four full years,” according to the Economic Policy Institute.

And it won’t be rich white men—or even mostly non-rich white men—who pay the price.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on July 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


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Immigrant women workers on the front lines of meatpacking COVID-19 outbreaks speak out

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Coverage of COVID-19 outbreaks in North Carolina poultry processing plants began with an online tip, but soon multiple workers came forward—risking their livelihoods—to talk about the unsafe working conditions they faced inside the plants. All of them were women.

One of those women is Luz. The 38-year-old immigrant from Mexico has spent the last four years working at the Mountaire Farms poultry processing plant in Lumber Bridge, North Carolina. Luz, who is not using her real name, said she estimates nearly 50% of the plant’s workforce are women—some are pregnant, some are elderly, some have preexisting health conditions, and almost all of them are the caretakers and breadwinners in their families. If they get sick, it causes a ripple effect in their homes, in their extended families, and in their communities. 

The number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in rural central North Carolina, home to poultry processing plants owned by companies like Mountaire, Tyson Foods, and Pilgrim’s Pride. Nationally, North Carolina leads the number of COVID-19 outbreaks at meatpacking plants, ranking third in the country for the highest number of meatpacking workers who have contracted COVID-19. As of May 20, Enlace Latino NC’s Victoria Bouloubasis reported that there are 26 outbreaks at plants across the state and more than 2,000 workers have been infected. Three poultry workers are known to have died in North Carolina: Adelfo Ruiz Calvo, a 65-year-old Mexican immigrant and Siler City resident who worked at the Pilgrim’s Pride poultry processing plant in Sanford; an unnamed Butterball worker in Duplin County; and Byakubire Mkogabwe, a 71-year-old Congolese immigrant and High Point resident who worked at Tyson Foods in Wilkesboro. 

Dr. David Wohl, a professor of medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill and an infectious disease specialist, told Prism he was seeing a “huge” proportion of Latino community members tied to processing plants test positive for COVID-19. As more people get sick, women like Luz continue to speak out. 

In a conversation with Prism May 22, Luz told Prism what she and other poultry plant workers are up against. Here she is, in her own words, which have been condensed and edited:

I work at the Mountaire processing plant in Lumber Bridge, North Carolina. I have various jobs assigned to me every day. I debone chicken, but sometimes I cut wings or breasts. I work with probably 3,000 people at the plant. We have people who work on different shifts on the line and people who work on the cleaning crew. There are a lot of us, and I’m speaking out today because measures weren’t taken to protect us. The company does not care about our health.

A lot of our workers have immune deficiencies because they are older. Some are pregnant, and others have chronic health problems. From the beginning [of the pandemic], [Mountaire officials] told us that they were not going to close the doors of the plant and that we had no excuse to stop doing our work. They even gave us all letters expressing to authorities that we are essential workers and that we were free to move around and travel to work. [Mountaire] only focused on the need of the company to keep producing. They never considered us as workers. We had to work side-by-side, elbow-to-elbow with no real protection.

They only started providing protective equipment about a month ago, very late into the pandemic, because of the outbreak happening at the plant in Siler City. Now we have a plastic, transparent shield on top of our helmets and there are hand sanitizer dispensers around the plant and the cleaning crew does deep cleaning in the bathrooms and common areas.

When our first workers started to get sick and started to miss work, Mountaire encouraged us to keep working. They offered us bonuses if we didn’t miss any work for the months of April and May. But a lot of people started to miss work, and the company wouldn’t tell us if they decided to stay home or they contracted the virus. Honestly, we don’t know how big the outbreak is. We don’t know the number of people we work with who are sick with the virus. They don’t tell us this information. We feel very vulnerable. We know people can get sick and be asymptomatic and then infect their families.

I do feel very vulnerable. Every day I wake up and I go to work and I feel scared. I use my protective equipment and I take my own protective measures. I do all of the things I’m supposed to, but you know what? I always think about my co-workers who are hired by contractors [and are not considered employees of Mountaire]. I think about them because they don’t have access to the nursing station like we do, they don’t have access to doctors or health care. They don’t make the money we make. They do not have medical or economic support.

None of us know who has or has not been exposed to the virus. [Mountaire officials] evade us at all costs. They don’t give us any answers. We ask: Are people I work with sick with the virus? We are told they can’t tell us or they don’t know. They tell us to ask the main office, but the women at the front desk there are very impolite, especially to Hispanic people. When we ask them questions about the virus, they tell us human resources is too busy for our questions and to come back later.

I don’t know a lot about how testing [for the coronavirus] works. Workers don’t know if the cost is high or if we can get tested without symptoms. I have heard from my friends who got sick that when you go to a hospital, if you tell them you work at the poultry processing plant, they test you immediately. This is because all of the outbreaks these plants have had. Some workers have gone to get tested and now they are afraid of receiving a bill. We don’t know if they will actually get a bill or not. We are not certain about a lot of things.

In my community, I haven’t seen information in English or Spanish with details about testing. Mountaire doesn’t provide us with this kind of information. All they have done is give us the letters that say we are essential workers, but they don’t give us any information about testing. I wish they would test all of us workers. If that day would come, we would feel calmer and safer.

At my plant I would say there are an equal amount of men and women working, but it is women raising our voices. The reason is because many of us are the head of households. We take care of the family, we take care of the children, and we are the breadwinners. We have to protect children, we have to protect our family and our community. Many of my coworkers are women with little children. Schools are closed and there is no place for the children to go. With all of this going on, with all of this stress, Mountaire is forcing us to work on Saturdays. We can’t afford to be vulnerable and exposed at work. This is why so many women who work in plants are speaking out.

I know six coworkers who have been sick with COVID-19. One of them is my close friend. She is an African American woman who is seven months pregnant and tested positive for COVID-19. She hasn’t come back to work. She sent me a message to tell me she contracted the virus. The rest of the people I know who got sick are Latinos. Everyone shared their symptoms and the experience they had so that we can be aware of what to look for.

It hurts me when I read articles where [company officials] blame Latinos and African Americans for our living conditions and say we are responsible for outbreaks in our communities. I’ve read articles where they blame Chinese people for the outbreak. These types of attitudes are very sorry. They are ridiculous. I’m not interested in blame; I’m interested in solutions. I feel very proud to be Mexican. I’m proud of my roots and I’m proud of my family. It’s important to have an extended family that is there for you, that can support you, that can act as a shoulder to rely on. That kind of support is not something to blame; it’s the support our communities need right now to feel safe.

It has been very sad to witness the deaths of so many Latinos [during the pandemic]. In many areas, like here in North Carolina, the majority of the people getting the virus are Latinos. It’s not because we are a dirty or inferior race. The reason is because we have to go to work. We have to provide for our families. We don’t have insurance. That’s the reason why we are exposed and why African Americans are exposed to the virus. There is a huge imbalance in this society and we don’t have any support.

Everyone always says America is wonderful; it’s a country where people have freedom. They say you are free here. But this doesn’t feel like being free. So much racism exists behind a curtain. For me, a very big problem is that people don’t see [immigrant workers] as human beings. We are just employees or just labor. I want people to really see us and care for us; I want people to think about us.

This blog originally appeared at The Daily Kos on June 1, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tina Vasquez is a gender justice reporter. She covers issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community, the fight for reproductive rights, and more.


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Women’s History Month Profiles: Alice Paul

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For Women’s History Month, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various women who were, and some who still are, leaders and activists working at the intersection of civil and labor rights. Today, we are looking at Alice Paul.

Alice Paul was born in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, in 1885, the daughter of Quaker parents. Her religious upbringing taught her a belief in gender equality and instilled in her a desire to work for the betterment of the whole society. Her mother, Tacie, was a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and often took Alice to meetings.

Paul attended Swarthmore College and was taught by some of the leading female academics of the day. Her experiences in college emboldened her not only in student activism, but beyond the college campus when she graduated in 1905. After graduation, she went to Birmingham, England, to study social work at the Woodbrooke Settlement. There she spent time with Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, the leaders of a militant suffragette faction that was focused on action, not just words. Paul participated in Pankhurst’s political actions, including hunger strikes and other tactics. Paul spent time in prison, but noticed the impact the actions taken by the Pankhursts and their followers led to success, and she believed it was necessary to bring these tactics back to the United States.

Upon returning to the U.S., Paul enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania and followed in her mother’s footsteps in joining NAWSA. She quickly became the leader of NAWSA’s Congressional Committee, which was focused on a federal suffrage amendment. In 1912, Paul and friends organized a women’s march to coincide with Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. When that event commenced the following March, Paul and her suffragists were so prominent that male onlookers insulted and assaulted the women marchers as the police looked on. But afterward, Paul and her fellow suffragists made headlines across the country.

Soon, Paul and several allies found themselves at odds with NAWSA’s leadership and they broke off and formed the National Woman’s Party (NWP). The NWP engaged in more active efforts to advocate for suffrage, including protesting the president during World War I, a serious break from prior protocol. The suffragists were painted as unpatriotic and were arrested or attacked by angry mobs. The threats of violence and imprisonment did not dissuade Paul or the other suffragists, even when the threats of imprisonment were carried out. Suffragists in prison were not passive, they engaged in hunger strikes and many came to support the cause of women’s suffrage because of the treatment of Paul and others.

Not long after Paul was released from prison, Congress passed the 19th Amendment and sent it to the states for ratification. It soon passed, after a 72-year-long battle. Afterward, many suffragists left public life as much of the movement had been focused solely on winning the vote. But many activists, like Paul, saw suffrage as the beginning, not the end goal. In 1923, on the 75th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention that launched the women’s rights movement, Paul began work on what she called the “Lucretia Mott Amendment,” in honor of one of the key Seneca Falls activists. The Mott amendment was the beginning of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) that is still being fought for nearly a century later. The ERA was introduced in every session of Congress beginning in 1923 up until 1972, when it finally passed Congress. Beginning in 1943, the ERA was rewritten and popularly called the “Alice Paul Amendment.” 

Paul continued to work on ratification of the ERA for the rest of her life. She also became a strong proponent for women’s rights internationally. She was a founder of the World Woman’s Party, which worked to make sure gender equality was included in the United Nations Charter. She also led numerous legislative victories in the United States, such as adding a sexual discrimination clause to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Paul died in 1977 in Moorestown, New Jersey, only a few miles from her birthplace. The years in between were marked by the efforts of an incredible woman whose efforts and agenda still dominate the civil rights sphere in 2020. We are working on continuing the legacy left by Paul and so many other women who fought to change the country, and the world, into a better place for everyone.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on February 4, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.


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Building Power And Raising Voices Of Rural Women

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Here in North Carolina, like many other rural areas around the country, reactionary forces have used trends like the decline of jobs, infrastructure, and public services to consolidate power, advance racist and misogynist narratives, and erode public confidence in the power of government to work for the common good.

The impact is real: every day, people in rural areas of North Carolina get sicker, die sooner, and have less access to what they need to thrive than their counterparts in the rest of the state.

Women in rural communities are most affected by these crises. And we are uniquely positioned to be a key part of the solutions.

For rural women in Appalachia, life is a juggling act of caring for family, friends, and community. The many different roles that rural women play in their communities and organizing spaces can be woven together like the quilts that have been beautifully crafted by the women before us. For as long as I can remember, my Nana and Granny and Mimi and all the women in my life have been the pillars that hold up their loved ones and hold folks together — raising the children, keeping everyone fed and clean, and carrying the traditions of our history.

In the past decade, the right wing capitalized on a void in North Carolina left by the lack of progressive investment in rural and small-town communities. Where progressive organizing might have offered working-class residents of rural counties opportunities for engagement, white supremacist and neo-Confederate groups stepped in. Today, progressive community organizing led by rural women is emerging as a tool to keep one another alive through times of desperation and struggle.

Down Home North Carolina, part of the People’s Action network and a founding member of the Rural Women’s Collaborative: Uniting Across Race and Place for Racial and Economic Justice, is organizing working people to grow democracy and improve the quality of life, so that our grandbabies inherit a state that is healthy and just. We are shifting what’s possible in rural America by building the feminist leadership of rural women and promoting values of inclusion in communal life, interdependence, care for the elderly, love of earth and humanity, dignity of all work, and protection of the vulnerable.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. What I have noticed from the rural women in my life is that they come together as a village to care for one another. They know what it means to be stronger united, to put their brains and bodies together to do what needs to be done to keep moving forward with all the weight that they are carrying.

In the 1970s, the women of Harlan County catalyzed the multi-gender, multi-racial solidarity and civil action that won recognition for striking coal miners. In the 1960s, it was Ollie Combs, a rural woman, who laid her body on the line in front of a bulldozer to save the foundation of her family’s livelihood and led to the first stripmining legislation. It was rural women like Judy Bonds who risked everything to pioneer the fight against mountaintop removal.

Today in Down Home Alamance County, the story of our rural women looks like Robin Jordan, who lost her daughter in 2018 because she didn’t have access to the healthcare that she desperately needed. Robin fights to protect families across North Carolina from experiencing the loss that she had to go through, while she — like many rural women I know — raises her granddaughter.

In Down Home Jackson County, the rural women’s story looks like Kellie Smith, who still has her waitress apron tied around her waist from working her 8th shift trying to catch up on rent after relentlessly searching for jobs in a depleted market for months, but who shows up anyways because there’s nothing left to lose and “we can’t afford to keep sitting around not doing anything.”

The story looks like Carrie McBane, who despite facing the views against her as an “outsider” for the brown hue of her skin, still pushes against the struggle to communicate with her neighbors and to build bridges across her community because “we are all stronger when we work together.”

In Down Home Haywood County, the story of rural women is painted by Natasha Bright, who brings her two kids with her to organizing meetings after spending a whole day working full-time to support her family and her husband, who is a veteran. Natasha, who doesn’t have health care for herself, fights for her community because “no one is going to fight for us.”

Building on these legacies, our Radical Hope Fund grant has allowed us to invest in the feminist leadership of a multiracial cohort of rural women to lead transformative campaigns bridging urban and rural communities across race and gender, while restoring democracy, confronting corporate abuse, and helping build models of community control of the economy.

Rural women have served as the educators, healthcare givers, nurturers, and fighters for our community for generations. Now the women of Down Home are carrying forward this torch.

This piece is part of the NoVo Foundation’s Radical Hope Blog Series, a platform for social justice movement leaders from around the world to share learning and insights, hear what’s working and what’s not, build solidarity, and spark opportunities for collaboration. Amid daily headlines of division, this blog series is intended to serve as an active and dynamic beacon of hope, possibility, connection, and healing.This piece was published by the AFL-CIO on December 4, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 


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‘It’s terrifying’: Why women’s hockey players are risking their careers for this boycott

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Women’s hockey players are fed up with being told to be grateful for the scraps of professional leagues they’ve been given, so they’re taking a stand. Last Thursday, more than 200 of the best women’s hockey players in the world announced they would not suit up for any North American professional women’s hockey teams this season until there’s a league in place with the resources and support deserving of the best athletes on the planet.

“We are fortunate to be ambassadors of this game that we revere so deeply and yet, more than ever, we understand the responsibility that comes with that ambassadorship: To leave this game in better shape than when we entered it,” the women said in a statement.

“We cannot make a sustainable living playing in the current state of the professional game. Having no health insurance and making as low as $2,000 a season means players can’t adequately train and prepare to play at the highest level.”

Up until a few weeks ago, there were two professional hockey options for women in North America. But on March 31, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL), abruptly announced it was closing its doors after 12 years due to an “unsustainable” business model. The CWHL, which operated as a nonprofit, began paying its players stipends between $2,000 and $10,000 in 2017. It officially folded on May 1.

Currently, the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) is the only viable professional women’s hockey league in North America. It operates under the same $100,000 salary cap as the CWHL did, and pays players a minimum of $2,500. But since it launched in 2015, the NWHL has faced criticism from the media and players for a lack of transparency when it comes to finances — it does not disclose its budget or revenue, and only some of its investors are known to the public. This has led to a lack of trust between the NWHL and many elite players in he sport.

Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Latmoureux-Davidson, members of USWNT and twin sisters, carefully told ThinkProgress that the players were not boycotting the NWHL specifically, but rather were refusing to play in any North American professional women’s hockey league. However, considering the only existing league in North America is the NWHL, that seems to be just a matter of semantics.

“The league that exists right now is not sustainable, it doesn’t have our best long-term interests in mind,” said Lamoureux-Morando.

Liz Knox, a former CWHL goalie and co-chair of the CWHL Players Association (CWHLPA), told ThinkProgress that after the shock of her league folding, she immediately began hearing from colleagues who weren’t ready to give up on their professional dreams. They wanted to stick together and fight for a better future.

“What we want, what we’ve always wanted, is to have a sustainable league, something to be proud of,” Knox said. “Billions goes into global hockey. We don’t have pennies.”

Soon, Knox got a call from U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) stars Hilary Knight and Kendall Coyne Schofield, who made a suggestion: What if everyone joined together and took a stance, and said, we’re not playing? Knox was excited by the idea, and immediately reached out to members of the CWHLPA.

“The resounding answer was yes,” she said.

Conversations about a sit-out actually began back at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, according to Lamoureux-Morando and Lamoureux-Davidson. However, after the CWHL unexpectedly closed its doors, the discussions escalated quickly. The players were already intimately aware of the power of a boycott.

Two years ago, the USWNT threatened to skip the world championships if USA Hockey did not provide them with an improved contract. At the time, the women’s national team players were only earning $6,000 every four years of an Olympic cycle, and were provided with far inferior travel accommodations and benefits than their male counterparts. That boycott was a success; USA Hockey ended up offering them a contract that included a base salary of approximately $70,000, and the boycott ended just in time for the world championships on home soil.

That boycott certainly provided an infrastructure of solidarity, communication, and messaging that can be built on this time. But this current movement — which is being referenced by the hashtag #ForTheGame on social media — is much more complex. It’s much bigger, because it includes players from all over the world, and it doesn’t yet have a concrete set of demands. Rather, players are taking a leap of faith hoping a net appears.

While most players are willing to take this risk, #ForTheGame doesn’t have unanimous support. In an interview with The Ice Garden, NWHL Player’s Association (NWHLPA) director Anya Battaglino said that none of the #ForTheGame organizers called her to talk about this movement, and expressed frustration that this was slowing — or at least fragmenting — the progress that women’s hockey was making. To her, it makes sense to fight for the improvement of the league that’s already in place, rather than asking for something that doesn’t exist.

The players behind #ForTheGame don’t believe that the NWHL holds the keys to a viable future for the sport. Rather, many want to see the National Hockey League (NHL) to put legitimate resources into a professional women’s hockey league.

“If you look at the history of women’s sports, the successful leagues are attached and linked to an already existing league,” said Lamoureux-Davidson, pointing to the WNBA, which is supported by the NBA, and the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), which is supported by U.S. Soccer. “We’re confident that can happen in women’s hockey, too.”

The NHL has expressed reluctance to get involved in women’s professional hockey, in part because it didn’t want to chose sides between the NWHL and CWHL, and also because it didn’t want to “look like a bully” by putting the independent leagues out of business. But to some, those were convenient excuses, not legitimate reasons.

Last season, the NHL gave $50,000 annual contributions to each women’s league. When the CWHL folded, the NHL upped its contribution to the NWHL to $100,000. To the NHL, flush with cash, that’s a laughable amount of money. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman makes around $10 million per year. In the 2017-18 season, NHL revenue was about $4.86 billion. The average value of an NHL team is $630 million. The average team makes $25 million in profit, according to Forbes. The salary cap this season was $79.5 million.

“The [NHL] has never been healthier,” Bettman said last year.

But #ForTheGame isn’t just looking to the NHL to step up. It’s also hoping that U.S. and Canadian hockey federations — which benefit immensely from the success of their women’s national teams — support a pro women’s league, too.

“USA Hockey, they say hockey is for everyone, that they’re trying to make hockey more diverse and include everyone and show everyone that they can play the game,” said Lamoureux-Morando. “By making women’s hockey more visible from a year-to-year basis, you’re going to inspire girls to put skates on, you’re going to have more people playing the sport, and then you’re going to have more fans. In that scenario, everyone wins.”

It seems simple when broken down like that, but nobody is fooling themselves into believing that the path forward is going to be easy. Knox, who works as a contractor during the day and is training to be a firefighter at night, isn’t one of the players who has a national team contract to keep her in the sport. She knows that by the time the league she wants is established, the sport might have passed her by. After all, there are more than 200 players involved in this boycott, and it’s unrealistic to think that any new league would have that many roster spots right out of the gate.

“It’s terrifying, honestly,” Knox said.

“That’s what’s so powerful: This many women saying, ‘I might never play again, but I want the next generation to have something better,’” said Lamoureux-Davidson.

Of course, it helps to have words of encouragement from legends such as Billie Jean King, one of the founding members of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). King spoke to the players leading the organizing and made sure a message was passed along to the entire group: “Change is hard. If you’re looking for the right time to make change, it’s never going to happen.”

Knox said that there have been plenty of moments of doubt over the past few weeks, but that’s why she’s grateful to be part of a team. There’s always another player in the group text sending words of encouragement; they take turns lifting one another up and recognizing the big picture.

And since the boycott went public, she’s been getting plenty of strength from outside her circle, too. On Friday, the father of a young girl that Knox coaches reached out to her. “He said, ‘You’ve taught my daughter so much on the ice, but that all pales in comparison to what you taught her yesterday.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on May 6, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Lindsay Gibbs covers sports for ThinkProgress.


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Today’s Working Women Honor Their Courageous Foremothers

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Nearly two centuries ago, a group of women and girls — some as young as 12 — decided they’d had enough. Laboring in the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, they faced exhausting 14-hour days, abusive supervisors and dangerous working conditions. When threatened with a pay cut, they finally put their foot down.

The mill workers organized, went on strike and formed America’s first union of working women. They shocked their bosses, captured the attention of a young nation and blazed a trail for the nascent labor movement that would follow.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, working women are proudly living up to that example—organizing, taking to the streets and running for office in unprecedented numbers. It is a reminder that the movements for worker and women’s rights always have been interwoven.

But even as we rally together, our opponents are proving to be as relentless as ever. It’s been 184 years since that first strike in Lowell, and our rights still are being threatened by the rich and powerful. The Janus v. AFSCME case currently before the Supreme Court is one of the most egregious examples.

Janus is specifically designed to undermine public-sector unions’ ability to advocate for working people and negotiate fair contracts. More than that, it is a direct attack on working women. The right to organize and bargain together is our single best ticket to equal pay, paid time off and protection from harassment and discrimination.

Women of color would be particularly hurt by a bad decision in this case. Some 1.5 million public employees are African-American women, more than 17 percent of the public-sector workforce. Weaker collective bargaining rights would leave these workers with even less of a voice on the job.

This only would add insult to injury as black women already face a double pay gap based on race and gender, earning only 67 cents on the dollar compared to white men.

This is a moment for working women to take our fight to the next level. For generations, in the face of powerful opposition, we have stood up for the idea that protecting the dignity and rights of working people is a cause in which everyone has a stake.

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on March 19, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Liz Shuler is secretary-treasurer of the 12.5 million-member AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States.


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If Trump Has His Way, You’ll Certainly Miss This Agency You Probably Don’t Even Know Exists

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The Trump Administration has released its proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year. Who’s set to lose big if this budget comes to fruition? Women—specifically working women and their families.

The only federal agency devoted to women’s economic security—the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau—is on the chopping block. The agency, which currently has a budget of only $11 million (just one percent of the DoL’s total budget), would see a 76 percent cut in its funds for the next fiscal year under the proposed budget.

Despite making up only 1 percent of the Department’s current budget and having only a 50-person staff, the Bureau serves in several crucial roles—simultaneously conducting research, crafting policy and convening relevant stakeholders (from unions to small businesses) in meaningful discussions about how to best support working women. The Women’s Bureau’s priorities have changed with the times—focusing on working conditions for women in the 1920s and 30s, and helping to pass the monumental Equal Pay Act in the early 1960s. (President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, making pay discrimination on the basis of sex illegal. However, because of loopholes in the 54-year-old law, the wage gap persists.) Throughout its nearly 100-year history, however, the agency has remained a powerful advocate for working women and families. Recent efforts have included advocating for paid family leave, trying to make well-paying trades jobs available to women and supporting women veterans as they re-enter civilian life.

Eliminating or underfunding the Women’s Bureau would be a huge setback for working women across the nation. Take the issue of paid family leave, for example. In recent years, the Bureau awarded over $3 million in Paid Leave Analysis grants to cities and states interested in creating and growing their own paid leave programs while federal action stalls. With the funding provided by the Women’s Bureau, states and localities have developed comprehensive understandings of what their own paid leave programs might look like. In Vermont, where the Commission on the Status of Women received a Paid Leave Analysis grant in 2015, state lawmakers are now on track to pass a strong paid family leave policy.

So why is the Trump Administration considering cutting such a low-cost, high-impact agency? Some suspect it’s at the suggestion of the conservative Heritage Foundation’s 2017 budget proposal, which calls the Women’s Bureau “redundant” because “today, women make up half of the workforce.”

What this justification conveniently leaves out is that despite important gains in recent decades, too many women, particularly women of color, are still stuck in low-paying, undervalued jobs, being paid less than their male counterparts and taking on a disproportionate amount of unpaid labor at home. It also leaves out the fact that those previously-mentioned important gains are largely the result of targeted efforts led by government agencies like the Women’s Bureau. Eliminating the agencies responsible for immense strides in preserving civil rights is, to quote the brilliant Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” Instead of punishing an agency for its accomplishments, the Trump Administration should give the Women’s Bureau the resources it needs to tackle the problems remaining for working women.

Donald Trump is happy to engage in shiny photo-ops and feel-good listening sessions about women’s empowerment, but when it comes to doing concrete work to support the one government agency tasked with supporting women’s economic empowerment, this administration is nowhere to be found. If this government actually cares about women at all—that is, cares about more than good press and tidy, Instagrammable quotes—it should step up to defend this agency and its 97-year history. The working women of America deserve better.

This blog was originally published by the Make it Work Campaign on June 21, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Maitreyi Anantharaman is a policy and research intern for the Make it Work Campaign, a communications intern for Workplace Fairness and an undergraduate public policy student at the University of Michigan.


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21 Female Senators to Help Decide Fate of Bill That Would Kill Harassment, Discrimination Suits

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Asking female applicants whether they were married and planned to have children in a job interview. Telling female employees how to dress (and show more skin). Overtly and concretely penalizing female employees for taking maternity leave. Promoting low-performing men over the highest-performing women. Asking women employees to have sex with their boss to advance their careers. Penalizing female employees for not taking part in alcohol-fueled corporate partying when they were pregnant or breastfeeding. Bragging about how many female subordinates a male executive had had sex with.

This sounds like the bad old days but, unfortunately, it isn’t. Just a few years ago, current and former female sales representatives at a medical cosmetics company, Medicis Pharmaceutical (now owned by Valeant Pharmaceuticals), banded together to bring a class action against their employer for regularly doing all of these things, and more, including unequal pay and retaliation for reporting discrimination and harassment. Each of the approximately one hundred women in the class who filed claims received an average of $44,000 in back pay and damages, and the attorney’s fees were not taken out of that compensation. That’s not small change.

But there’s more. In theory, an individual woman could have brought the case and gotten back pay and damages. What an individual woman could almost certainly not have done was force Medicis to change its practices – Medicis could have paid her money and washed its hands. Here, though, the class was able to use its leverage to get Medicis to agree to, among other things, create anti-discrimination policies and training; establish systems for investigating reports of discrimination and harassment; be transparent about how it set and measured sales goals; eliminate penalties for taking parental leave; and establish policies about alcohol at corporate events and intra-office romantic and sexual relationships. In other words, it took a class action to ensure that Medicis follows the law not just with regard to the women who sued, but with regard to all the women who come after.

In the minefield of workplace discrimination and harassment, there’s another advantage to class actions, too. One woman bringing these types of claims may (unfortunately and wrongly) be easily dismissed as too sensitive, as not qualified for the promotion she sought, or as subject to one-off comments from a single troublesome executive. She may also be retaliated against for speaking out – as many of the women in this suit were. But where woman after woman after woman tells the same story, she cannot be so easily dismissed.

And yet Congress is on the verge of wiping away the ability for women to band together and challenge such discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Last week, the House GOP narrowly approved the so-called “Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act.” The bill would drastically roll back the ability to bring class action lawsuits like the one against Medicis. Fourteen Republicans opposed the bill, along with every single Democrat in the House, but that wasn’t enough to defeat it. After being pushed through the House Judiciary Committee – without a hearing, and with a nighttime vote – the bill now makes its way to the Senate, where a record 21 female Senators will be among those deciding its ultimate fate. While the Senate has not yet scheduled any action on the issue, civil rights groups and their allies are mobilizing to ensure the House proposal never becomes law.

There are a lot of big, important and downright frightening ideas making the rounds on Capitol Hill these days, from taking away Americans’ health insurance to eliminating Meals on Wheels and turning the Environmental Protection Agency over to oil and gas lobbyists. But it’s imperative that voters insist their Senators give proper attention to this all-out assault on the courts. Unless they do so, a key tool in battling discrimination could quickly disappear. That threat is too real, too serious and has too many dire consequences for too many Americans for Senators to do anything other than give it the deliberative attention – and debate – that it deserves.

This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on March 19, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Paul Bland, Jr., Executive Director, has been a senior attorney at Public Justice since 1997. As Executive Director, Paul manages and leads a staff of nearly 30 attorneys and other staff, guiding the organization’s litigation docket and other advocacy. Follow him on Twitter: .

Leah Nicholls joined Public Justice’s D.C. office in September 2012 as the Kazan-Budd Attorney. She was previously senior staff attorney for civil rights and general public interest at the Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Public Representation. Leah had also been a teaching fellow and adjunct law professor at the Law Center.


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On International Women’s Day, not all women can go on strike

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On International Women’s Day, the organization that spearheaded the Women’s March over Inauguration Weekend is leading “A Day Without a Woman”—a call to action for women around the world to take the day off from paid and unpaid labor, to shop only at women-only or minority-owned businesses, and to wear red in solidarity. They’re hoping to send a strong message about women’s economic power and build a coalition in support of women’s rights to counter the Trump administration’s agenda.

But some women—particularly immigrants, low-wage workers, and working mothers—cannot participate in a national strike because they’re worried about losing their jobs or because they rely on their daily income.

Maricela, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who didn’t want to be identified by her full name because of fear of reprisal from federal immigration agents, is one of many women who is unable to take the day off work on Wednesday, even though she is supportive of the strike’s goals.

“I would like to support this strike, but I can’t do that,” Maricela said.

Maricela has worked as a housekeeper in Austin, Texas for the past 17 years. Losing a day’s worth of income would strain her family’s finances. One day’s wages translate to having money for groceries, gas, financial support for her children, and remittances saved up to send to her parents in Mexico, she told ThinkProgress in a phone interview.

Taking Wednesday off could also put her at risk of being fired. She said her employers rarely sympathize with the significance of these nationwide labor events. And if she is fired, her lack of immigration status would make it difficult for her to find other clients.

Maricela wishes she could participate because she is otherwise a staunch advocate for civil and immigrant rights.

“That feels uncomfortable for me because I’m always involved in civil rights and I would like to continue to support and fight,” Maricela said. “It’s important for me and other women.”

But she said she will support the day in other ways. As suggested by national organizers, Maricela will not buy anything on Wednesday.

This kind of abstention could have strong economic impact on the U.S. economy since immigrants like Maricela make up a growing share of the consumer buying power. As the nonpartisan policy center Immigration Policy Council pointed out in 2015, Latinos and Asians “wield $2 trillion in consumer purchasing power, and the businesses they owned had sales of $857 billion and employed 4.7 million workers at last count.”

And after Wednesday passes, Maricela will remain an advocate for progressive immigration policies in her community. After the recent enforcement raids throughout the country, she has been “very involved” in holding weekly “Know your rights” workshops to help people understand what to do if agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency show up at their door and ask to see their papers.

President Donald Trump’s comments about Latinos have made her feel targeted and “like a criminal,” a feeling that has only heightened her fear of deportation since he was elected. She said the stereotypes and slurs against the immigrant community are unfounded.

Aside from advocating for her rights as a woman, she wants people to see her as simply human.

“Trump says we are bad people, but I don’t think we are bad people,” Maricela said. “We are working really, really hard. Nobody gave us nothing, only our work. I do not feel safe.”

This blog was originally posted on ThinkProgress on March 8, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Esther Yu-Hsi Lee is the Immigration Reporter for ThinkProgress. She received her B.A. in Psychology and Middle East and Islamic Studies and a M.A. in Psychology from New York University. A Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) beneficiary, Esther is passionate about immigration issues from all sides of the debate. She is also a White House Champion of Change recipient. Esther is originally from Los Angeles, CA.


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Want To Shrink The Wage Gap? Unions Are One Powerful Solution

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Laura ClawsonThere’s a stereotype of union members as, well, men. You know: The sweat-stained, blue-collar guy toiling at the construction site, or sweating in a factory. To be sure, it’s a stereotype that’s grounded in reality. Historically, unions have been a powerful conduit that enabled blue-collar men to enter and then build the American middle class. Labor unions succeeded in limiting their working hours, improving the safety of their workplaces, and raising their pay. But that’s only a small piece of the overall union movement.Take women, for example. In 2014, women made up 45.5 percent of all union members, up from 33.6 percent in 1984, according to a new report on women in unions from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

And being a union member can make a big difference for women, raising wages and shrinking the gender wage gap. Keep reading below to see just how stark these differences can be.

  • Among full-time workers ages 16 and older, women represented by labor unions earn an average of $212, or 30.9 percent, more per week than women in nonunion jobs (Figure 1). Men of the same age range who are represented by unions earn, on average, $173, or 20.6 percent, more per week than those without union representation (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2015c). Earnings data in this section are not controlled for age, education, or industry; when controlled for these factors, the union advantage is smaller but still significant, especially for women and minorities (Jones, Schmitt, and Woo 2014).
  • Union women experience a smaller gender wage gap. Women who are represented by labor unions earn 88.7 cents on the dollar compared with their male counterparts, a considerably higher earnings ratio than the earnings ratio between all women and men in the United States (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2015c).
  • Women of all major racial and ethnic groups experience a union wage advantage. The difference in earnings between those with and without union representation is largest for Hispanic workers. Hispanic women represented by labor unions have median weekly earnings that are 42.1 percent higher than those without union representation. Hispanic men with union representation have earnings that are 40.6 percent higher than their nonunion counterparts.

Women represented by a union are also more likely to get health insurance and a pension. The overall effect is that unions are helping to lift women into financial security and move workplaces toward equality, just as they helped create the middle class during the 20th century. It’s one more thing to think about as we continue to watch Republicans attack unions and everything they stand for.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on September 7th, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006  and Labor editor since 2011.


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