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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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The Right To Birth Control Just Won Its Most Significant Victory To Date In A Post-Hobby Lobby Case

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Ian Millhiser Judge Jerry Smith is a deeply conservative judge. He once voted to allow a man to be executed despite the fact that the man’s lawyer slept through much of his trial. He’s a reliable vote against abortion rights. And he once described feminists as a “gaggle of outcasts, misfits and rejects.”

So when Judge Smith writes an opinion protecting women’s access to birth control, even when their employer objects to contraception on religious grounds, that’s a very big deal.

East Texas Baptist University v. Burwell is a consolidated batch of cases, handed down on Monday, involving religious employers who object to some or all forms of birth control. These employers are entitled to an accommodation exempting them from federal rules requiring them to offer birth control coverage to their employees. Most of them may invoke this accommodation simply by filling out a form or otherwise informing the federal government of their objection and naming the company that administers their employer health plan. At this point, the government works separately with that company to ensure that the religious employer’s workers receive contraception coverage through a separate health plan.

Several lawsuits are working their way through the federal courts which raise the same legal argument at issue here. In essence, the employers claim that filling out the form that exempts them from having to provide birth control makes them complicit in their employee’s eventual decision to use contraception, and so the government cannot require them to fill out this form. So far, every single federal appeals court to consider this question has sided with the Obama administration and against religious employers who object to this accommodation.

Few judges on any court, however, are as conservative as Judge Jerry Smith, a Reagan appointee to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit whose law clerks frequently go on to clerk for the most conservative members of the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, Smith makes short work of the claim that the fill-out-a-form accommodation burdens religious liberty.

The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) provides that the federal government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” except in limited circumstances. Applying this language, Smith writes in a unanimous opinion for a three-judge panel that “[t]he plaintiffs must show that the challenged regulations substantially burden their religious exercise, but they have not done so.”

The crux of Smith’s analysis is that the plaintiffs in these cases object to birth control, but nothing in the law requires these plaintiffs to do anything whatsoever involving birth control. Rather, their only obligation, if they do not wish to cover birth control, is to fill out a form or send a brief letter to the federal government — and neither of those things are contraception.

“Although the plaintiffs have identified several acts that offend their religious beliefs, the acts they are required to perform do not include providing or facilitating access to contraceptives,” Smith explains. “Instead, the acts that violate their faith are those of third parties.” Specifically, the plaintiffs object to the federal government working with an insurance administrator to provide contraception to certain workers. But the law does not “entitle them to block third parties from engaging in conduct with which they disagree.”

Indeed, Smith writes, if the plaintiffs in these cases were to prevail, it could lead to absurd challenges to basic government functions. “Perhaps an applicant for Social Security disability benefits disapproves of working on Sundays and is unwilling to assist others in doing so,” Smith explains. “He could challenge a requirement that he use a form to apply because the Social Security Administration might process it on a Sunday. Or maybe a pacifist refuses to complete a form to indicate his beliefs because that information would enable the Selective Service to locate eligible draftees more quickly. The possibilities are endless, but we doubt Congress, in enacting RFRA, intended for them to be.”

Smith’s opinion, in other words, should offer a fair amount of comfort to women whose employers seek to cut off their access to birth control coverage. Though there are signs that at least some of the justices would like for the plaintiffs in cases like East Texas Baptist to prevail, the fact that a judge as conservative as Jerry Smith rejected their legal arguments suggests that a majority of the Supreme Court will not embrace these lawsuits.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on June 22, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Ian Millhiser. Ian Millhiser is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Editor of ThinkProgress Justice. He received a B.A. in Philosophy from Kenyon College and a J.D., magna cum laude, from Duke University. Ian clerked for Judge Eric L. Clay of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and has worked as an attorney with the National Senior Citizens Law Center’s Federal Rights Project, as Assistant Director for Communications with the American Constitution Society, and as a Teach For America teacher in the Mississippi Delta. His writings have appeared in a diversity of legal and mainstream publications, including the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, U.S. News and World Report, Slate, the Guardian, the American Prospect, the Yale Law and Policy Review and the Duke Law Journal. Ian’s first book is Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted.


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GOP Pitch to Women: Forget Equal Pay, Let’s Talk About Repealing Obamacare

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Laura ClawsonHeading into the 2014 elections, the Republican position on women’s votes and women’s issues is nothing so much as incoherent. They’re defensive about their poor record, so they want to rebut it, but they mostly seem to do so by dismissing every specific issue as a distraction from the real issues. When you get right down to it, the Republican position appears to be “we’re not worried about no stinkin’ women’s issues because OBAMACARE. And we really do care about women’s issues … like OBAMACARE. And besides, we’re not really running as women, but you may want to vote for some of us because we are women.”

For instance, Joni Ernst, a Senate candidate in Iowa, leads her bio with “Mother. Soldier. Conservative for U.S. Senate.” The word “mother” is all over her website. But she says she’s not running on gender:

“It would be historical, but it’s not part of my pitch,” she said of potentially becoming Iowa’s first female senator. “I don’t believe we should vote for somebody based on gender, we vote for the right person and I’m the right person to go to Washington, D.C.”“Of course I’m always very diplomatic in the way that I attack any issue and I think that’s appealing to women. Be straight-forward about [issues], but be compassionate, show them that this is something that really matters to Iowans, not just female but also males,” she said.

It would make history, but I’m not running as a woman, and I’m super diplomatic like a woman, but I’m not running as a woman, and I’m compassionate like a woman, but I’m not running as a woman, and did I mention I’m a mother, but I’m definitely not running as a woman.

So what about equal pay, an issue that women care about? Forget that, Republicans say, because Obamacare:

Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway said reminding both genders of the problems with the Affordable Care Act would trump Democratic attacks on the equal pay issue.“Republicans recognize that this is also the Democratic party’s latest attempt to cry ‘squirrel!’ so women in this country, who control two out of every three health care dollars that are spent and are disproportionately health care consumers and providers… divert their attention from the unspooling of Obamacare,” Conway said.

Ah, yes, the unspooling of more than six million private insurance enrollments, plus themillions covered by Medicaid expansion, plus young people who’ve been able to stay on their parents’ insurance. I think unspooling is what Republican arguments against the law have done. And how’s this as an argument for ignoring equal pay concerns? “Listen, ladies, we know you don’t want to be distracted by a little thing like equal pay. Let us explain how we’d like to take away your affordable health care.”

In the end, this may be one of the greatest (and admittedly one of the few) examples of Republican commitment to equal opportunity. For women, just as for men, their answer to everything is “repeal Obamacare.”

This article was originally printed on Daily Kos on March 31, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is the labor editor at the Daily Kos.


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For Women, Being in a Union Pays

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seiu-org-logoThis Women’s History Month is a perfect time to celebrate the capacity for upward mobility women have gained in the workforce–especially when it comes to labor unions.

Women have a great deal to gain from joining a union, with union victories working to pave the way for workers to bargain for affordable family healthcare, fair wages, improved working conditions, and a better life for their families.

Share this graphic on Facebook to tell the world why a woman’s place is in her union.

There are so many reasons women benefit so much from the union advantage:

Being in a union is good for a woman’s health.
When it comes to both fiscal and physical health, being in a union is the way to go. Unionization dramatically raises the probability of a woman having a pension (53.4 percent) and an employer-provided health insurance plan (36.8 percent).

Unions have been a powerful force for women’s equality.
Collective bargaining cuts down on employer favoritism, which helps women–and importantly, women of color–get a fair chance at work. Unionized women of color, for example, earn almost 35 percent more than nonunion women of color.

Unionization results in significantly higher wages for women of all education levels.
Being a member of a union raises women’s wages by 12.9 percent compared to their nonunion peers. That’s a pay increase of $222 a week–which adds up to $11,544 a year.

Unions protect workers’ rights regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender. 
In a country where it’s still legal for an employer to fire someone for being gay in 29 states, and for being transgender in 34, having a union can make all the difference.

Unions help close the wage gap.
Despite the fact the gender wage gap overall hasn’t made any progress in the last five years, it’s been shrinking among workers who belong to a union, declining 2.6 percent between 2013 and 2012. The gender gap between what unionized male workers make and what unionized female workers make is just 9.4 percent, compared to 18.7 percent among nonunion workers.

Considering the great boost to equality, pay and benefits that unions bring, it’s important that anyone who cares about the well-being of women workers also care about unions.

So spread the word. While we can’t change the world in a day, speaking out about this important issue is a good start.

Celebrate being union strong this Women’s History Month. Share this graphic with your family and friends on Facebook:

20140314-Final-WomensHisotryFBgraphic.png

And never forget why a woman’s place is in her union.

This article was originally printed on SEIU on March 30, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

This Women’s History Month is a perfect time to celebrate the capacity for upward mobility women have gained in the workforce–especially when it comes to labor unions.

Women have a great deal to gain from joining a union, with union victories working to pave the way for workers to bargain for affordable family healthcare, fair wages, improved working conditions, and a better life for their families.

Share this graphic on Facebook to tell the world why a woman’s place is in her union.

There are so many reasons women benefit so much from the union advantage:

Being in a union is good for a woman’s health.
When it comes to both fiscal and physical health, being in a union is the way to go. Unionization dramatically raises the probability of a woman having a pension (53.4 percent) and an employer-provided health insurance plan (36.8 percent).

Unions have been a powerful force for women’s equality.
Collective bargaining cuts down on employer favoritism, which helps women–and importantly, women of color–get a fair chance at work. Unionized women of color, for example, earn almost 35 percent more than nonunion women of color.

Unionization results in significantly higher wages for women of all education levels.
Being a member of a union raises women’s wages by 12.9 percent compared to their nonunion peers. That’s a pay increase of $222 a week–which adds up to $11,544 a year.

Unions protect workers’ rights regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender. 
In a country where it’s still legal for an employer to fire someone for being gay in 29 states, and for being transgender in 34, having a union can make all the difference.

Unions help close the wage gap.
Despite the fact the gender wage gap overall hasn’t made any progress in the last five years, it’s been shrinking among workers who belong to a union, declining 2.6 percent between 2013 and 2012. The gender gap between what unionized male workers make and what unionized female workers make is just 9.4 percent, compared to 18.7 percent among nonunion workers.

Considering the great boost to equality, pay and benefits that unions bring, it’s important that anyone who cares about the well-being of women workers also care about unions.

So spread the word. While we can’t change the world in a day, speaking out about this important issue is a good start.

Celebrate being union strong this Women’s History Month. Share this graphic with your family and friends on Facebook:

20140314-Final-WomensHisotryFBgraphic.png

And never forget why a woman’s place is in her union.

This article was originally printed on SEIU on March 30, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

Author: SEIU President Mary Kay Henry


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Working Women Need a Fair Shot

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seiu-org-logoWhen I think of working women, I think of SEIU 32BJ District 615 member Yocelin Ratchell.

Yocelin works part-time as a baggage agent with Logan Airport in Boston. Her dream? To have benefits that include sick paid leave so that when her children are sick, she can take care of them and not have to worry about losing a day’s pay or even losing her job.

Yocelin is a strong, inspiring woman. Yet her struggle to support her family and get ahead is not unique. Across the country, millions of working people are trying to keep their heads above water and women are overrepresented in low-wage jobs.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to share Yocelin’s story during an event to announce the launch of a major new initiative, “A Fair Shot: A Plan for Women and Families to Get Ahead.”SEIU is joining with the Center for American Progress, American Women and Planned Parenthood Action Fund to call for bold policies that will improve women’s economic, health and leadership outcomes.

I was proud to be part of the event as an ambassador for the millions of hardworking women who just want to be able to work, earn a living wage and take care of their families. But, unfortunately, for too many women, that’s easier said than done. Just look at the statistics:

  • Women represent nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers; a woman working full time, year round at the federal minimum wage will still need to come up with an extra $4,000 a year to make it to the poverty line.
  • Eight of the 12 fastest growing occupations over the next 10years are low-wage. Seven of these jobs, including home care provider and child care providers are in industries in which women are disproportionately represented.
  • Women make up nearly two-thirds of workers in tipped occupations and the federal minimum cash wage for tipped workers is $2.13 per hour.

Working women are the sole or co-breadwinner in two out of three families in America.

The question we should be asking is what can we do to ensure that women get a fair shot so that they are not only getting by, but also getting ahead? How do we ensure that Yocelin and millions of other working women like her don’t have to choose between caring for her children and losing her job?

We can start by advocating and implementing policy initiatives like paid sick leave and raising the minimum wage. The good news is that we are already moving forward.

In my home state of Massachusetts for example, we have taken steps put minimum wage increase and paid sick leave up for a vote via a ballot initiative. These initiatives benefit all workers and are also especially important to the economic viability of women. If the federal minimum wage is increased, 5.5 million working mothers with children under 18 will have more money to support their families.

We also have some victories under our belt.

This week, after decades of lobbying, marches, and protests, the Obama Administration announced that minimum wage and overtime protections will be extended to two million homecare workers, 90 percent of whom are women. Before the announcement, homecare workers in the majority of states did not receive the same basic protections provided to most U.S. workers.

Policy initiatives like the one announced by the President aren’t only the right thing to do, but also makes economic sense because our country can no longer afford to leave American women behind. And it is proof that when policymakers, business leaders and working people come together, we can make a difference in the lives of working people.

A fair shot for women is a fair shot for all working people, communities and families.

Read more about the initiative launch in The Washington Post, ThinkProgress and The Huffington Post. SEIU’s statement can be found here.

This article was originally printed on SEIU on September 19, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rocio Saenz is the District Leader of SEIU 32BJ New England District 615.


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