(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)
For far too many women, work isn’t working. That’s why passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is so critical.
Women still earn only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men – and for African American women and Latinas the gap is even wider. Far too many working women labor in jobs that do not provide a family-supporting income. Far too many women, particularly low-wage women, lack paid sick days to care for themselves during occasional illness. And far too many lack even a single paid sick day to care for a sick child.
As we mark Labor Day 2009 – a day to pay tribute to the historic achievements and contributions of workers — it’s time to call attention to this fact: Union membership is one sure way to address gender-based workplace disparities and unionization can provide important economic security for low-wage women and their families.
According to “Unions and Upward Mobility for Women Workers,” a December 2008 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in the 15 lowest-paying occupations, union members not only earned more than their non-union counterparts, they were also 26 percentage points more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and 23 percentage points more likely to have a pension plan.
“For women, joining a union makes as much sense as going to college,” said John Schmitt, author of the upward mobility study. “All else equal, joining a union raises a woman’s wage as much as a full-year of college, and being a member of a union raises the chances a woman has health insurance by more than earning a four-year college degree.”
As the entire country debates health reform, it’s important to note that health insurance is just one of the positive workplace standards unions can provide for working women. Union representation is also one of the strongest predictors of family-flexible workplace policies.
More than 60 million American workers lack a single paid sick day to care for themselves when ill, and nearly 100 million workers lack paid sick time to care for an ill child. Especially in this economy, no one should lose a job just because they or a loved one gets sick. Companies with 30 percent or more unionized workers have been documented to be more likely than non-union companies to provide paid time off to care for sick children (65 percent compared to 46 percent).
So, how can women work for workplace change?
Speak out in support of the Employee Free Choice Act. EFCA would put the choice of how to form a union back into the hands of workers. A free choice means that workers would have the option of unionization if a majority of them sign up. EFCA will protect women and men who join together to negotiate with their employers for health care, fair wages, retirement security and paid sick days.
It’s critical that we pass this federal legislation. Tell your family, friends, colleagues and neighbors about EFCA. And, most important, let your members of Congress know that you support it and expect their support as well.
On this Labor Day, it’s time to ensure that the workplace work for us all.
About the Author: Linda Meric is Executive Director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, an inclusive multi-racial membership organization founded in 1973 to strengthen the ability of low-income women to win economic justice through grassroots organizing and policy advocacy.
Under Linda’s leadership, 9to5 has won important victories on minimum wage, good jobs, work-family, anti-discrimination, pay equity, welfare, child care and other issues affecting low-income women. Linda has spent more than 30 years as a labor and community organizer. She also serves as an adjunct professor specializing in sexual harassment and other workplace issues.
Linda is a member of the Governor’s Colorado Pay Equity Commission, serves in the leadership of several state and national policy coalitions, and has received several awards for her work with and on behalf of low-income women, including the “Be Bold” Award presented by the Women’s Foundation of Colorado. She was recently appointed to the National Board of Directors of the American Forum, a progressive media organization.