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What Can Unions Do Now to Defend Abortion Rights?

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Sarah Hughes

The Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health on June 24 overturned the Roe v. Wade precedent, erasing the constitutional right to an abortion.

Already for years, large parts of the U.S. have severely restricted abortion—especially hurting those least likely to have resources to travel for care, including poor, Black, indigenous, undocumented, and disabled people.

The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate of any wealthy country, and Black women are three times more likely to die from childbirth-related causes than white women.

Many unions issued public statements condemning the Dobbs decision. A few turned out to protest. And we can expect many to emphasize voting for Democrats this fall.

What more can unions do?

There is a no clear pathway to winning national abortion and reproductive health access. It will surely be a long struggle, involving many organizations and strategies.

But there are specific interventions the labor movement can make, beyond turning out voters and joining rallies.

BARGAIN OVER BENEFITS

Here’s an immediate one: workers can demand to bargain over changes in benefits, which might now include abortion access.

A committee at the NewsGuild of New York has developed a bargaining framework for the questions this raises, including ensuring that your health insurance covers abortion, bargaining for travel funds to cover an abortion out of state if it is prohibited where you live, protecting your personal information, guaranteeing additional leave for travel, and securing non-discrimination language on the basis of gender and pregnancy.

The NewsGuild committee suggests that members look at current contract language where unions could demand to bargain over impacts, based on changes to their health coverage.

If your plan used to cover health care that is now prohibited in your state, that is a substantial change in your insurance, and your employer should have to work with the union to find alternatives. Perhaps employers could cover the difference in cost for an out-of-network, out-of-state provider, provide additional time off, and pay for the travel and associated costs.

DEFEND MEMBERS IN COURT

Unions can use their legal departments or hire lawyers to defend members who get sued or prosecuted for allegedly performing, getting, or helping someone get an abortion.

In the course of their jobs, this could involve health care workers, including mental health providers; people who deliver abortion medications, like postal workers or UPS drivers; and others. Unions should defend them just as they would defend members in other work-related disciplinary proceedings.

Last year Texas criminalized abortion after six weeks of pregnancy (about when fetal cardiac activity can be detected). The law allows private citizens to sue anyone they believe was involved in an abortion, including anyone who reimbursed travel or medical costs. Oklahoma has followed suit, and a similar law is pending in Idaho.

These laws will likely be argued in courts for months or years to determine exactly where and for what the states have jurisdiction to prosecute.

Some union contracts provide legal services to support members in housing, family, and civil courts. If a member were accused outside of work of obtaining or aiding and abetting an abortion, the member legal services could be expanded to cover this as well.

And unions should support workers in defying the laws. Abortion access was originally won through sustained, public civil disobedience.

“Most of the physicians I know and have been talking to are not interested in holding back,” says Paul Prater, chair of the Illinois Nurses Association political action committee. “They are going to provide the care people need and will deal with consequences after.”

DEFEND MEDICAL WORKERS

The risk is particularly dire for health care workers. While they can only be privately sued in the states mentioned above, in other states workers can be criminally prosecuted for providing abortion care.

In these states, if a pregnant person comes into a hospital for care and the appropriate treatment is to terminate the pregnancy, that is now a crime if there is still fetal cardiac activity or the person’s life is not immediately endangered.

Health care workers will be facing this dilemma routinely. For instance, about 2 percent of pregnancies are ectopic, where the fertilized egg has implanted somewhere outside the uterus, dooming the pregnancy and endangering the pregnant person; termination is the treatment.

In order to avoid potential legal problems, health care facilities are now avoiding or delaying these treatments, sometimes waiting on clearance from hospital lawyers. A 2022 study of two Texas hospitals found at least two dozen cases where a procedure was delayed longer than doctors wanted to, in one case until the patient required a hysterectomy.

In some states, if a health care provider suspects the pregnant person had an abortion, they are expected to report it to law enforcement. This reporting has already led to the prosecution of many people suspected of intentionally harming their fetuses, sometimes despite little evidence.

Women of color are more likely to be charged for suspected abortions. Union-led education on racial disparities could help workers not to stereotype their patients.

PROTECT MEDICAL JUDGMENT

All these laws will have a profound impact on health care workers. Not coincidentally, the states with such laws are also the states with the lowest union density—though there are exceptions, like union-dense Ohio, where abortion is illegal after six weeks, and Montana, with little union presence but no abortion restrictions.

The new risks could inspire more doctors and nurses to unionize.

What else should health care unions consider doing? They can demand to bargain, since the scope of work has changed for health care workers—they could face liability for using their medical judgment. Unions could bargain for employers to provide liability coverage against civil litigation, if possible, and to defend accused workers.

Unions should also bargain for clear policies about the treatment of pregnant people and who determines what is medically necessary when.

The laws are largely untested and have huge amounts of gray area, and health care professionals get little say in their employers’ interpretation. One Missouri hospital administration denied patients the contraceptive “morning-after pill” after the Dobbs decision, then reversed its decision within a day.

Union legal teams can do their own legal research, to educate members on what is clear and what is still contested. For instance, what would be the process for determining that a pregnant person’s life is at risk if a termination is not performed? Who would make that call, on what grounds, and how can they be protected in that decision?

Health care unions have fought hard to protect nurses’ and physicians’ judgment in patient care, and unions should bargain to push for the broadest possible reading of these policies.

EMBRACE ABORTION WORKERS

There has been a recent flood of unionizations in the “repro” movement, including at Planned Parenthood North Central States region (the Dakotas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota) and other states (SEIU); Preterm Clinic, the independent abortion provider in Ohio (SEIU); Feminist Majority Foundation (Nonprofit Professional Employees Union); and about two dozen others, according to Reprojobs.

Reprojobs, a website that began as a jobs posting site for repro workers, now features articles and networks to support repro workers unionizing, including a column called “Ask a Union Organizer.”

For abortion providers, many of their organizing issues echo those of other health care workers: low pay, critical staffing shortages, and frustration over management’s handling of Covid. They also face threats of violence from anti-abortion protestors.

Facing an uncertain future as parts of their jobs are criminalized state by state, workers are unionizing also partly to win some level of control in budgets and layoffs.

Workers at the at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research center, won their election to unionize with OPEIU Local 153 on July 14. Less than an hour after the results were announced, one organizing committee leader was fired without cause; the union continues to fight for reinstatement. Planned Parenthood affiliates in Austin and Miami have also come under fire for laying off active members of union organizing committees.

Thishi Gangoda, on the organizing committee at the Preterm Union in Cleveland, Ohio, says workers there unionized because “abortion is health care and abortion workers are health care workers. We deserve power to decide our workplace conditions.”

Abortion after six weeks of pregnancy is now illegal in Ohio. Preterm is still open for some reproductive care, early abortions, and counseling to other states, but many workers have left for lack of work, or burned out by the stress of the last several months.

Labor can recognize these workers as siblings in our movement, and organize more of them. We can back their fights for strong contracts that will allow them to continue working in politically charged, changing, and occasionally violent workplaces.

ORGANIZE CATHOLIC HOSPITALS

Compounding the impact of the overturn of Roe, Catholic hospital chains are continuing to gobble up health care facilities around the country, posing a particular risk to access to reproductive care.

“Catholic hospitals in Illinois have never provided this care,” said Prater. “Companies like Ascension and Aurora Advocate have bought up several facilities and imposed their values on hospitals, sometimes the only ones available in a community.”

These institutions may refuse to provide even legal reproductive care, along with contraceptives and gender-affirming health care for trans people.

In 2020, four of the largest 10 hospital systems were owned by Catholic-affiliated corporations. These institutions already control 40 percent of hospital beds in some parts of the U.S., and they’ve been growing rapidly through mergers and acquisitions.

For Prater, the punchline is: unions must organize these health care workers, to defend themselves and their patients.

Meanwhile, where abortion access remains, workloads will snowball. Border states like Illinois will see a huge influx of abortions from surrounding states.

With staffing levels at a crisis point already, health care unions must fight for wages and conditions that can make these nursing and caregiving jobs sustainable and attractive, and union protections for workers to provide appropriate health care.

TALK ABOUT IT

One more thing that all unions can do is break their silence on reproductive rights. Unions may be cautious about taking a stance on a divisive issue, especially in open shop states and sectors.

But how divisive is it, really? We know the majority of the country supports the right for people to make decisions about their own bodies.

Members can engage in these conversations in good faith—particularly around issues of health, autonomy, and the ability to use your professional judgment at work.

This blog is printed with permission.

About the Author: Author’s name is Sarah Hughes. Sarah is a staff writer and organizer at Labor Notes.


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Women Are Taking Over the U.S. Labor Movement

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Chabeli Carrazana

As she considered striking at the grocery store where she had worked for a decade, the dozens of moments that had pushed Ashley Manning to that point flooded back. 

She vividly recalled the indignities she endured throughout the pandemic, starting with child care. When schools shut down, no one could watch her 12-year-old daughter. She wouldn’t allow her elderly grandmother, Ruby, to do it, fearing she would get sick. And her store, a Ralphs in San Pedro, California, where she is the manager of the floral department, refused to work with her schedule, she said. 

No one can cover you, she said they told her. Your contract is for six days a week, we need you six days a week.

Unable to work and care for her daughter, she burned through three months of unpaid leave at the end of 2020 as she waited for in-person school to resume. When she came back, the store was in disarray. Managers were not enforcing mask mandates or limits on the number of people in the store, she said. Customers were spitting at employees. There were no plexiglass barriers up.

By then, Manning’s grandmother had started caring for her daughter — they were out of options, schools were still closed and Manning had no leave left to take. So when one of them got COVID-19 in the summer of 2021 — they still aren’t sure who got it first — Manning’s entire family got sick. Manning was hospitalized for two days, her mother for two weeks, her grandmother for three weeks. Her daughter got sick, too. 

“The only thing that [work] could do while I was gone was keep calling me: ?‘What day are you coming back to work?’” said Manning, 32.  “It wasn’t, ‘Are you feeling good’ It wasn’t, ‘Do you feel better?’ It wasn’t, ‘We can make adjustments.’ It wasn’t any of those things.” 

On August 13, Manning’s grandmother died alone in the intensive care unit at a hospital in Los Angeles, two days before Manning’s birthday. No family or friends were able to see her before she passed. 

“Until this day, it could be my fault that she’s not here,” Manning said. “I look at it that way because I was the one who was working at the grocery store.” 

Manning still carried that wound with her when she considered striking against Kroger, Ralphs’ parent company. The stress of her grandmother’s death and everything that came before it led Manning to take short-term disability from work for five months. When she returned early this year, negotiations between the union that represents her and 47,000 workers at several other Kroger-owned grocery stores in Southern and Central California were beginning to deteriorate. Their contract was up and both parties were far apart in the negotiations, which included demands for raises to account for cost of living and inflation increases over the last three years.

Kroger’s first offer: a 60 cent hourly raise.

By late March, 95 percent of workers who voted agreed to authorize a strike, Manning among them. Most of those workers were women, many of them women of color or single mothers like Manning, who were entering into the fight with their employer fueled by two years of turmoil that hit them — and, critically, their families — the hardest. 

Over the course of the pandemic, the majority of essential workers were women. The majority of those who lost their jobs in the pandemic were women. The majority of those who faced unstable care situations for their children and their loved ones were women. 

And now the majority of those organizing their workplaces are women. 

Kroger workers are part of a surge in organizing led by women, women of color and low-wage workers impelled by this once-in-a-century pandemic. Many said they feel the pandemic has unmasked the hypocrisy of some employers — they were “essential” workers until their employers stopped offering protections on the job, good pay and commensurate benefits.

Among them, a deep recalibration is happening, dredging up questions about why they work, for whom, and how that work serves them and their families. For many it’s the chance to define the future of work. 

“Most women are carrying their families on their backs,” Manning said. “We feel disposable. Everybody is enraged.” 

Over the past decade, about 60 percent of newly organizing workers have been women. Women now are also the faces of some of the largest labor movements in years, including the baristas who have unionized over a dozen Starbucks since late 2021, the bakery workers who recently went on strike for four months to secure their first union contract, the call center workers — mostly women of color — who went on strike in Mississippi, and the 17,000 Etsy sellers who went on strike last month to combat transaction fee increases.

All of those movements, most of them happening in companies and even industries for the first time, are ending a disparity that has long existed between men and women in union organization. In 2021, the gender gap in union representation reached its narrowest point since the data started being tracked in the early 1980s by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 10.6 percent of men are members of a union, compared to 9.9 percent of women; in 1983, the first year data was available, it was 24.7 percent of men and 14.6 percent of women. (BLS does not collect data on nonbinary people.) 

For women, unions can be a pathway to equal pay. Studies have found that unionization tends to benefit women more than men, eliminating factors that fuel pay disparity such as secrecy around salaries and societal barriers that discourage women from negotiating pay and benefits.

While union membership has waned in recent decades and was slightly down in 2021 compared to 2020, moments of upheaval have in the past turned into opportunities for women to organize. Take the suffrage movement and the Triangle Shirtwaist fire that killed 146 largely young immigrant women in New York in 1911, the wave of women entering the workforce during and after World War II, and the women’s liberation movement in the late 1960s and ?‘70s that helped women join the workforce en masse. Each of those moments changed the course of women’s involvement in the workforce, helping to pass the 19th Amendmentincrease union membership and pass equal pay legislation.

The pandemic, which set off the first women’s recession, might be that next catalyst, said Jennifer Sherer, the senior state policy coordinator at the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank. 

“It feels like we are living through potentially another one of those moments, where the public and media are awake at a different level right now because of the activity in multiple sectors,” Sherer said. 

The shift happening now comes along with a critical change in leadership at the nation’s major unions. After the death of former AFL-CIO president and prominent national union leader Richard Trumka in 2021, longtime labor leader Liz Shuler took over as president?—?marking the first time a woman took the helm of the largest and most powerful federation of labor unions in the country. 

“As work is changing, as the workforce is changing, we are going to be changing with it,” Shuler told The 19th. ?“Coming out of COVID-19, work is looking differently. That’s why the labor movement is so sorely needed: to show workers that they have a voice and a place in that change.”

The pandemic was a conduit, she said: It allowed women workers to bring up issues that had long plagued them — caregiving, family, health — that had long been treated as niche topics. 

“This has been building for a long time, and the pandemic really brought to the surface all of the issues that women have been fighting for and advocating for for a long time,” Shuler said. 

Mary Kay Henry, who in 2010 became the first woman to head the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) — the second-largest industry union after the Education Association of the United States — said this moment feels like a turning point. It gets at the very core of the role women play in communities, families and the workplace. 

“Women leaders in the worksite and of organizations like mine are leading a fundamental reorganization of power that isn’t just about our workplace, but is about our communities. And for us, it’s reflected in the demand to be respected, protected and paid,” said Henry, who still runs SEIU.

Taken in the broader context of the rise of the #MeToo movement, the dismantling of care and the ping ponging value of the essential workforce, the reasons for organizing are more gendered now, said Sarita Gupta, co-author of “The Future We Need: Organizing for Democracy in the Twenty-First Century.” 

“In years past, issues like sexual harassment — that’s not in the bargaining agreement,” Gupta said. “How we think about these movements is not to the side of what a worker movement is, but actually integrated into the worker movement.”

Kathy Finn, the secretary-treasurer of the union representing the Kroger workers in California, has been organizing workers long enough to remember when they held what was then the longest grocery store strike in history, a four-and-a-half-month long ordeal from 2003 to 2004. Then, a grocery store job used to be a career that could support a family, Finn said. Over the past several decades, those jobs have increasingly become part-time positions with lower pay and limited benefits, a result of cost-cutting measures driven by competition, automation and decreased union participation.

Now, many moms — particularly single moms — at grocery stores feel like their employers are actively working against their needs as parents. The majority of the union’s bargaining committee is women for the first time. 

“It definitely feels very different right now,” Finn said. 

This is partly because low-income workers, mostly women, have more power to speak up about the support they need from employers. When Manning was away from work after her grandmother’s death, the tenor of the phone calls she received from her bosses had changed from when she was sick last year, she said. They couldn’t find anyone qualified to fill her spot. 

When are you coming back, she said they’d ask. We know your grandmother took care of your daughter, we can work with your schedule. We can make adjustments, they said. 

Manning returned to Ralphs because she didn’t have the option not to, but something snapped into focus for her. Her value, she said, felt conditional. 

As she voted to strike, Manning thought of her grandmother, who never once made her question her self-worth. When Manning tried to start her own floral business, it was her grandmother who encouraged her to pursue it, who got a shed built in her backyard to house Manning’s dream. 

“I feel like she’s on board with me, this is where you need to be,” Manning said. 

A couple weeks after the vote, Manning, who is on the bargaining committee, was able to help secure a historic agreement that increases hours for part-time employers, improves pension benefits and creates health and safety councils at each store — most of the demands they had been seeking. 

The wage increase won’t be cents. It’ll be $4.25 an hour. 

This reckoning was forged on the shop floor, through conversations between women in workplaces that once didn’t welcome them at all. 

In the 1990s, when women’s labor force participation was peaking in the United States — it has stalled since — women were joining industries long dominated by men. Unionization for a lot of women meant organizing to secure basic rights. Sanchioni Butler, who at the time worked at a Ford plant in Carrollton, Texas, recalled the moment when the few women at the auto plant joined together to help improve the conditions of the women’s bathroom so they would have somewhere to sit during breaks or during their menstrual cycles. 

“We got improvements by sticking together,” Butler said in “The Future We Need: Organizing for Democracy in the Twenty-First Century.” “…When we fought for a shower and couch in the women’s bathroom, that was our women’s movement.”

It seemed then like the only way to improve conditions in a vacuum of federal policy. The Paycheck Fairness Act, for example, which aims to close loopholes in pay discrimination laws, was first proposed around the time Butler was fighting for a couch in the women’s bathroom. It still has not passed.

“If we’re trying to strengthen and improve women’s position in the workforce, the idea of allowing and creating platforms for women to be able to negotiate their conditions, both through a union as well as through community-based, worker-led standards boards, for some of these essential sectors — that’s a start,” said Erica Smiley, co-author of “The Future We Need.” 

That nascent start has blossomed into more. In 2011, The New York Times ran “Redefining the Union Boss,” a piece about the women, including SEIU’s Henry, who were heading up major unions and rekindling a hope that their leadership could drive a comeback in unionization after years of reduced membership. 

In the decade since, the number of women represented by a union started rising again, peaking in 2015. And the numbers don’t break out evenly across race. Union membership has been rising steadily for Latinas, the group with the largest gender pay gap in the country, while it’s leveled out or decreased for other groups. Since 2010, the number of Latinas represented by unions has risen by 31 percent. But by 2021, rates across the board were back near where they were in 2011. 

Still, those numbers mask the amount of organization in 2021, which may not be reflected in statistics for several years. It often takes years to negotiate a union contract and get counted under those figures, and the upswell in organizing now is happening in workplaces that are at the very beginning of that process, workplaces that likely spent a part of 2021 disaggregated and diffuse. 

“People are having to overcome a set of obstacles in their daily lives like never before. They’ve lost loved ones and haven’t been able to properly bury them or grieve them because of the COVID pandemic,” Henry said. “They are dealing with staffing shortages and lack of health and safety, but are persevering and organizing on a scale that I’ve never seen before.” 

Those obstacles have led people to demand responses from companies that actually reach down to the lowest wage workers, not just talk about them, said Gupta, who is also the vice president of U.S. programs at the Ford Foundation. 

“These strikes matter because they are just saying, ‘You can’t just talk about [diversity, equity and inclusion] in your corporate boardroom. What are the other ways you are going to support my ability to stay in the labor force?’” Gupta said. 

Some employers are hearing that message, said Maria Colacurcio, the CEO of Syndio Systems, a platform that works with more than 200 companies, including 10 percent of the Fortune 200, to identify racial and gender pay gaps and improve pay bands and benefits for employees. 

Those conversations have changed, she said. Three years ago “they were like, ‘I’m just here to reduce my risk of a pay equity class action.’ Now 99 percent of our customers are looking at some racial comparison. And I really do think it’s because of the pressure that’s come out of this movement from employees around: This isn’t a gender problem. This is workplace equity, without regard to gender, race, ethnicity, disability, age.” 

High-profile union drives, like the one led by Starbucks workers, are forcing employers to think more proactively about what they can offer workers beyond higher pay. 

“It’s not a flash in the pan — there are also things getting embedded that are going to force it to be long-term,” Colacurcio said. “It’s really difficult to undo once you’ve opened the windows.” 

And yet, being a woman leader in a movement that has rarely allowed women to lead, has dredged up for many why this has taken so long. 

Kim Cordova, the first woman president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 in Colorado, saw it first hand this year when she faced negotiators on behalf of Kroger, the parent company of 8,000 grocery store employees in Boulder, Parker and the Denver area her union represents. It was her fight in Colorado that set the stage for what the California workers were recently able to do.

But those negotiations were dripping with gendered vitriol. 

She was that woman to them.

“It’s tough being a union president but it’s tougher being a female president,” Cordova said. “You have to speak louder than everybody in the room, you have to earn your respect that way — you have to fight for it. I’m a double whammy: I’m Latina and I’m a female.”

The corporate negotiators went over her head, she said, reaching out to male lawyers instead of her during the negotiations. 

“I am the chief spokesperson, I am the negotiator. I had to send a letter saying, ‘You need to send your questions to me,’” Cordova said. 

The fight led to a 10-day strike in the January cold, after which workers secured hourly raises as high as $5.99, unheard of, she said. “We’ve seen raises to the right of the decimal point, cents not dollars.” The new agreement also addressed the two-tier pay structure that led the men who dominated meat departments to earn more than the women in the lower-paid grocery jobs.

Cordova said the movement of the past three years has been “a career-defining moment” for her after 37 years with a union. 

It feels fierce enough to last. 

“This is our year, this is our time,” Cordova said. “I don’t think they are going anywhere backward.” 

The Kroger strike in Colorado inspired the workers in California. Many of the problems are the same: stagnant wages, lax health and safety precautions, and people who feel like they have been pushed to the edge of what they can endure. 

In Beverly Hills, Pavilions grocery store cashier Christie Sasaki remembers how hard the strikes in 2003 and 2004 were, but it felt last month like there was no option left. She is often doing the job of two or more people. Her wages have maxed out at $22.50 an hour after 32 years at Pavilions. She has nothing saved for retirement and three quarters of her paycheck goes to her rent, a 2 bedroom apartment she shares with her teenage daughter and a roommate she took on to help offset the cost. 

“I would like one day to have the American dream — to be able to retire,” said Sasaki, 54. “After almost 33 years, I don’t think I can. It brings a tear to my eye because I would like to be able to go on vacation, I would like to go out to eat.” 

Her only opportunity, she said, is to get the best contract she can for herself and her colleagues. She spoke directly to Kroger’s representatives about those struggles in meetings earlier this year, surrounded for the first time by the women who have worked with her shoulder-to-shoulder.

“During the bargaining committee, my entire table,” she said, “is female.” 

This story was originally published by The 19th on July 5th, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Chabeli Carrazana is an Economy Reporter at The 19th.


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How to Make the Building Trades Work for Women

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The building trades unions are some of the most powerful in the labor movement. Because their members are well-paid, their dues are often higher than in other unions, giving them more resources to influence change. They also hold a certain cultural cachet, exemplifying what many people (wrongly) think the working class looks like: white men in hard hats. But this cachet is also part of the problem: These unions have been under fire for how white and male-dominated they are. Only 6% of the construction workforce is Black and, as of 2018, only 3% of workers in the construction industry were women.

While building trades unions are working to address these issues, tradeswomen say that making construction unions more accessible—and comfortable—for women is going to be a long process. They say it will require material improvements, like widespread maternity leave protections, as well as cultural shifts, like working to end sexual harassment. 

Ash Fritzsche is in year four of an apprenticeship program with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 98 in Philadelphia. She was working at a restaurant when some of her regular customers encouraged her to begin an apprenticeship in the building trades so she could have more job security and higher pay than in the food industry. Apprenticeships are not easy programs to get into: Fritzsche told In These Times that in her year, more than 1,000 people applied, but only fewer than 100 were accepted into this five-year program. Workers who complete apprenticeship programs are taught their craft while they work, earning a living while they complete the educational requirements and gain experience as electricians. To be accepted, workers must take an aptitude test and have an interview, which Fritzsche described as “killer, with seven guys at a roundtable asking you questions, it was so intimidating.” She struggled with knowing how to dress as a woman trying to break into the construction industry, having perused Reddit articles geared only towards men.

Fritzsche says her local accepted 10 women her year, contrasting with around three in years prior. She believes that allowing in more women helped with retention: “It allowed us to develop community. In previous years, at least one woman wouldn’t make it, but so far all 10 of us are still in and thriving and totally ambitious.” 

At Local 98, apprentices start out making 30% of what journeymen make, which for her was $18 per hour. Raises are applied every 1,000 to 2,000 hours, and health insurance kicks in after a couple of months. Fritzsche is in the final year of her five-year apprenticeship and now makes $38 per hour, the most money she’s ever made. She told In These Times that she’ll get another raise in October, “and I know it. It’s not like if I show up early for work and I do this or that, I might get it. It’s an automatic, earned raise, which is the way it should be.” For women workers who may face gender discrimination (including lower pay, fewer benefits and fewer opportunities to advance) at work, unions can and do even the playing field. 

Local 98 is working to recruit more women, and recently hosted a “Women in Construction” camp to teach more than 30 high-school aged young women about what union electrical work is like. But there is still work to be done. Because the building trades are so male-dominated, their unions are tailored to their members, who are primarily men. While benefits for unionized building trades workers are generous and desirable, most lack any kind of paid family leave—in our society, parental caretaking still falls primarily on women. This means that women may not see the building trades as a suitable career for them if they want to have a family. 

But the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) is working hard to change this: In May, the union introduced a maternity leave program. According to Jessica Podhola, the director of communications and government affairs at District Council 3 at IUPAT in the Kansas City area, members have to belong to their local district council’s health and welfare fund, and to have worked 100 hours immediately before the benefit is applied to be eligible for it. The program includes wage replacement of 67% or $800 per week, and if members cannot work during pregnancy, they can receive up to six months of paid leave. For postpartum leave, workers receive either paid time off for six or eight weeks (if they had a C-section).

Podhola told In These Times that this maternity leave program is “a beginning, but it’s a strong beginning.” Others, meanwhile, are picking up the baton. According to Fritzsche, Local 98 is also working on this issue: She told In These Times that the local recently extended the cap on disability from $300 to $500 dollars a week, and it made an automatic disability clause for women in their 9th month of pregnancy and for the first six weeks postpartum (or eight weeks if they had a C-section). IBEW Local 48 in Oregon, meanwhile, introduced a new maternity leave program in January 2020, which offered workers 13 weeks of paid leave prior to birth and 13 weeks of paid leave after birth, which doubled the union’s previous benefit.

Podhola serves on IUPAT’s national women’s committee, which was built to develop policies to propel the union forward in protecting its women members. The committee has subcommittees on maternity leave, diversity and inclusion, recruitment, and marketing and retention. But along with the structural barriers for women in the trades, there’s also a cultural component that is difficult to fight: sexual harassment and other instances of sexism at work. Kelly Ireland, a plumber in Local 690 in Philadelphia, says “you walk through job sites and see graffiti about women. They say it’s a joke, but how many decades have we asked you to stop joking?” 

Unions are working on this, too. Ireland told In These Times that she knew of a man kicked off a job site for catcalling; the foreman fired him on the spot. And in addition to its new maternity leave policy, the IUPAT women’s committee is working on rolling out a sexual harassment training through their apprenticeship program. 

Podhola told In These Times that “changing the culture in construction is a long-term project. We are not going to be able to get it done overnight, but we can begin to create safer work spaces and frameworks for our sisters to address issues as they come up, and to begin laying the foundation for members regardless of gender about what is acceptable and what is not on a modern construction site.” 

Fritzsche’s experience has been similar during her apprenticeship. “You just watch some women burn out with the baloney they have to deal with. At the same time, the guys are incredible friends and mentors. I have so many male mentors. If you can work past issues around gender, you will have access to a wonderful world of friends, teachers, and mentors.”

According to Podhola, “Some of these guys have been doing this for 30 years and they’ve only worked with a woman a handful of times. It’s going to be a generational shift.” To make this shift happen, more women need to enter the trades. But it can be a vicious cycle: Women don’t see enough tradeswomen, so don’t see themselves as potential tradeswomen. 

Ireland, who grew up with a union plumber for a father, never even considered a future in the trades until she had her own family—mostly because she never saw women like her doing the work. “If I was young and saw women in the trades, I would have gone into ironwork, climb skyscrapers.” 

All of the tradeswomen who spoke to In These Times mentioned access as the largest barrier to bringing more women into the building trades: Women need to hear about these great jobs, understand that they’re just as welcome as men, and be given the confidence and tools both to apply and to stick it out when it gets difficult. Podhola says that “it’s on the onus of labor to market, recruit, and retain as many women as possible.” 

Workers say other solutions outside of marketing and recruitment could include more local women’s committees that prioritize and work directly on issues that affect women workers, putting more women on interview committees so women who apply for apprenticeships see themselves in their union and, of course, quotas and affirmative action for apprenticeships.

But ultimately, tradeswomen want other women to know that they belong in the trades. Fritzsche told In These Times that “women make great tradespeople. We are really good at this work and we deserve this work. A woman invented the circular saw. A woman invented the modern band saw. During World War II, we filled factories, we took over all the trades. We are tradespeople just as much as men are.”

About the Author: Mindy Isser works in the labor movement and lives in Philadelphia.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on August 30, 2021. Reprinted with permission.


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Women in the Workplace: Advancing Your Career Post-Pandemic

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Economic conditions during the pandemic took an especially difficult toll on women, with nearly 2.2 million females leaving the workforce between February and October 2020, according to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center.

Of course, this difficult environment doesn’t mean women should shy away from asserting their rights in the workplace or pursuing better opportunities. In fact, it means just the opposite. It’s more vital than ever that women speak up against discriminatory practices and for equal pay and equal opportunities for advancement.

As the pandemic eases, many employees are likely to return to an office environment in the coming months, although there’s some disconnect between leaders (who tend to prefer more office time) and workers (who have become accustomed to working from home).

With all this in mind, the question arises of how best to advance your career as a woman post-pandemic. Here are some ideas to consider.

Support union efforts.

Women have long lagged behind men in terms of union membership, which is a key mechanism for promoting wage equality

Indeed, research indicates that unions help narrow the wage gap between men and women in the workplace. In 2016, for instance, women working in unions received 94 cents on the dollar compared with unionized men. Alternatively, non-union women were paid just 78 cents on the dollar, compared with their non-union male counterparts.

And yet, as of 2020, men continued to have a higher union membership rate (11%) than women (10.5%), with the overall rate at 10.8% — barely half of what it was in 1983 — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The conclusion: Joining unions where they exist and advocating for unions where they don’t can help women narrow the wage gap and advance their careers.

Actively fight stereotypes. 

Women in the workplace are often characterized unfairly and, as a result, burdened with unrealistic expectations that go beyond those placed on their male counterparts — all while receiving less pay. 

Stereotypes are rampant and need to be continually challenged, both with evidence and active pushback against sexism. For example, the pervasive myth that men are better than math was debunked by a study in which women who focused on identifying themselves as being enrolled at an exclusive private college did as well as men on math tests. Other key research put to rest a different fable: that men are better at negotiating than women.

Not surprisingly, it is societal prejudices – not a lack of ability – that tends to hold women back. These stereotypes persist, and need to be confronted at every turn. 

Be willing to change jobs.

According to the research, changing jobs frequently can benefit you financially and allow you to advance your career more quickly. 

Staying in the same job might get you an annual cost-of-living raise, say 3%. But moving to a different position can give you a lot bigger boost: an average increase of 10% to 20%. In fact, if you stay at the same company for an average of more than two years, you’ll earn at least 50% less over your lifetime than you would have if you’d changed jobs.

Getting that new job or embarking on a new career path might require you to step out of your comfort zone and learn new skills, but it will be worth it.

Enhance your skill set.

Speaking of enhancing your skill set, continuing education is always helpful, and it doesn’t have to mean going back to school for an advanced degree. Many short-term seminars and virtual opportunities are available, too.

With tech skills especially in demand, look for marketable proficiencies in areas that translate well to multiple positions, such as familiarity with an array of commonly used software (such as Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint, etc.). Familiarity with grant writing and internet marketing, particularly search engine optimization (SEO) can help you advance, as well.

Look for training opportunities, both in person and virtually, and once you’ve mastered a skill, update your physical and online resumes to reflect your expertise.

Find your tribe, and network.

Thanks to the internet, professionals looking to advance their careers can network across far greater geographic distances than ever before. Take advantage of sites like Alignable and LinkedIn, as well as your personal network on social media, to forge alliances with others on your career path. This will allow you to share tips and ideas that have brought you success and learn the same from others. 

Furthermore, you should stay in touch with former supervisors and co-workers who can advocate for you in your quest for a new position, if and when the time comes. If your list of trusted colleagues includes a potential mentor, be sure to pursue that relationship. According to three decades of research, mentorship leads to higher pay, faster advancement, and greater career satisfaction for mentees. 

Burnish your reputation.

Prospective employers look at a range of factors in considering new hires, including your employment history (this is an instance where changing jobs too frequently can hurt you) and even your credit rating.

You can combat any negatives in your employment record by seeking out positive recommendations from past employers and colleagues. This proactive step helps ensure that nothing in your past can undermine your goals. You should also carefully curate your social media accounts, as many employers will check public posts and photos before they offer you a position. 

Although they can’t get access to your credit score, employers may view your credit history in an attempt to learn how responsible you are, especially if you’re being considered for a financial position. If you’re thinking of applying for a new role, it’s worthwhile to check your report yourself and to take the steps to build or rebuild your credit. Then employers won’t be able to use that as an excuse to pass you by. 

These are just some of the ways you can advocate for yourself and advance your career in the post-pandemic world. Other opportunities are available, too. Be on the lookout for ways to move forward in boldness and confidence, so nothing can hold you back.

This blog is printed with permission.

About the author: Molly Barnes is a full-time digital nomad. She works remotely, travels constantly, and explores different cities across the U.S. She started her site, www.digitalnomadlife.org as a resource for travelers, nomads, and remote workers. Molly writes resources that help office and remote workers alike reach their personal and professional goals of becoming more successful. Follow along with her and her boyfriend Jacob on their blog as they pursue a nomadic lifestyle while freelancing and traveling across the country. 


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What is the Broken Rung?

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The corporate ladder is a popularized metaphor in the workforce. The ability to progress up the chain of command at a company to secure a prosperous future through hard work. However, what’s lesser-known, but more important, is that this staple corporate ladder has a broken rung.

The very first step up from entry-level fragments parity in the workplace. According to McKinsey’s report on Women in the Workplace, it found that women held only 38% of entry-level managerial positions while men held 62% in 2019.

The disparities in job mobility are not just a pattern within McKinsey’s report, but for each of the six years McKinsey has released the report, it’s a trend that has remained. Women are less likely to get promoted from entry-level positions. This is the broken rung that is stifling so many young women’s careers.

So, how can we hurdle over this broken rung? The answer doesn’t lie in corporate resolution. Companies move at a turtle-pace when implementing social change, instead, it’s up to us as women to empower ourselves to overcome this gender barrier and advance beyond this bias.

There are a few ways we can do this, the first of which is finding a mentor. Having a mentor increased your odds of getting a promotion by five times. It’s essential to have an advocate when it comes time to make a decision about promotions and likely that person will be your mentor. So, get your networking cap on and start sending those well-polished introductions!

Along with finding a mentor, making continuous learning a hallmark of your professional life will make you stand out against other candidates. With a rising number of women attending business school, you can get a degree online or simply read an industry book. Find whatever method works best for you to learn something new, but make it a priority as continuous learning will set you apart.

Along with connecting and learning, make yourself visible at your company. It’s easy to mouse in the corner during your first few months at a company, but you actually want to do the opposite. Reach out to senior-level employees, host happy hours, send an interesting article to the CEO, publish LinkedIn content on your company, or find another creative way to connect with everyone in your company. This not only will make you more comfortable by knowing the people you work with but when people know you and the work you do, they’ll be able to attest you’re the best person for a promotion when the time comes.

Lastly, but most importantly, always advocate for yourself. This means that if you see bias in the workplace call it out. If you get passed up for a promotion you know you deserve, take it up with your manager. As women, especially young women in the workplace, it’s easy to accept the fate decision-makers hand to us. However, when that fate is tainted with bias we cannot just accept it, we need to question the reasoning and unearth any wrongful bias.

While it’s ideal to think that the corporate ladder is an equal climb for every member who attempts it, that’s not the case. For women, it’s especially hard to get over that first, broken rung because of gender bias. However, with an empowered attitude, a firmness in self-worth, and supportive network women can overcome this broken rung.

About the Author: Lily Crager is a content market specialist writing for GreatBusinessSchools a site that gives business students a portal that tells them everything they need to know before they commit to a business education.


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Slate column asks readers to see the ‘upside’ of sexual harassment in the office

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Two months ago, a wave of allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein opened the door to a reckoning. In recent weeks, victims have spoken candidly about their abuse at the hands of powerful men, including Charlie Rose, Mark Halperin, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), and Roy Moore, just to name a few.

When one woman used the hashtag #MeToo to share her own experience, there were more than 12 million Facebook posts and comments with the same tag within just 24 hours.

For the first time, some (though certainly not all) abusers are facing consequences, being fired from jobs, having their shows pulled off the air, being removed from films. Women, newly assured they are not alone, are telling their stories more often and more publicly than ever before.

On Tuesday, Slate published another example of a powerful person abusing that power and thus endangering women in the workplace.

“When I was 23 years old, my boss would look down the gap at the waistband of my jeans when he walked past my desk,” Slate’s executive editor Allison Benedikt wrote. “I was an entry-level fact-checker at my first magazine job, and he was an older and more powerful editor. My career, at the time, was in his hands.”

The essay, at its start, reads like a lot of the personal stories women have bravely shared in recent weeks. Benedikt, one suspects, is adding her voice to that chorus. Instead, she goes on to describe how her boss asked her out for a drink one night at a “dark bar,” which led to more dates, a kiss, and, eventually, a marriage and three children.

Benedikt, understandably, writes that she has been thinking back about the origins of her marriage in recent weeks. But she goes on to use her personal experience to diminish the experiences of women bravely coming forward and pushing us, as a culture, to address the tight grip of rape culture on all facets of our lives, including and especially the workplace.

Benedikt writes that she has heard how horrific allegations of sexual assault and harassment have piled up alongside what she calls “murkier stories of older men ‘forcibly kissing’ younger women who didn’t want to be kissed, men planting ‘unexpected’ kisses on female colleagues, [and] men being ‘creepy AF’ in Twitter DMs.”

That Benedikt is so quick to write off the experiences of other women, to think that only horrific assaults are the problem, is dangerous. By writing it, Benedikt — and Slate, by choosing to publish it — is endangering the women in her workplace.

As the executive editor of a large publication, she’s signaling, from a powerful position in a large newsroom, that she’s comfortable writing off reports of unwanted advances as “murky.”

And her only justification for doing so is her own experience. Benedikt wonders in the essay, had she not been interested in her husband’s advances, would that have been harassment? Was it harassment even though she was, because he was her boss?

She answers those questions, writing, “Today, many people seem to think the answer is yes.” Because it is.

It was all okay, in her eyes, because she was attracted to her then-boss and future husband. But “attraction” is not the currency of harassment. Power is.

Last week, NBC fired Today Show host Matt Lauer following sexual harassment complaints from women at the network. Former talk show host, Celebrity Apprentice contestant, and current Fox News contributor Geraldo Rivera defended Lauer on Twitter, tweeting, “News is a flirty business.”

The tweet — rightfully — set off a firestorm of criticism and Rivera eventually apologized. But on Tuesday, when Benedikt made the same argument, dressed up by a “liberal” outlet, she was showered with praise. Her essay was ripe with the same incredulous tone as an Associated Press story from Monday headlined, “In wake of Weinstein, men wonder if hugging women still OK.” How, the men and Benedikt ask, can we find love now? How can we find sex now? Will we be reprimanded, even fired, for workplace interactions that used to seem okay?

Benedikt is asking the wrong questions. She ought to ask: What about women who don’t reject advances from their boss out of fear of retribution — a desire to please their boss to keep their job?

Many people, in the midst of the reckoning, have looked back at previous interactions in a new light, perhaps reconsidering whether both parties consented or whether it crossed a line. But Benedikt’s essay reads as a justification for the origins of her marriage and a public declaration that, despite holding a prominent role in a prominent newsroom, she is sympathetic to powerful men crossing lines with young women whom they supervise.

It’s a public declaration of how Benedikt may handle a report of sexual harassment in the workplace. She may say, as she wrote in her column, “[W]e all make each other uncomfortable sometimes, particularly when sex and attraction are involved.”

The reckoning is bringing with it new standards: Don’t look down the gap at the waistband of your employee’s jeans when you walk past. Don’t abuse positions of power. Treat women like they’re people.

The new rules are not complicated, but for so many people, even “liberals” and women, those standards—unbelievably—seem too high. Choosing to declare as much from a position of power isn’t adding anything to the conversation. It’s dangerous.

This piece was originally published at ThinkProgress on December 6, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Addy Baird is a reporter for ThinkProgress on the news cycle team. Previously, she covered local politics and health policy at POLITICO New York and worked for The Charlie Rose Show digital team.


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Still Fighting for Equal Pay

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Today is Equal Pay Day. We are 100 days into 2017, and today some women have finally reached the point where their earnings match their male counterparts’ 2016 earnings. We can’t forget that black and Latina women have to work even more until they reach pay parity.

While it’s shameful that women are still fighting to achieve equal pay, there are steps we can take to close the gap. The best way to close the pay gap is to form a union and bargain for a better life that includes equal pay. Through union contracts, women in their unions have closed the gap and received higher wages. In fact, union women earn $231 more a week than women who don’t have a union voice.

Wage disparities have long- and short-term negative effects. It contributes to the cycle of poverty and adds another barrier to being able to take care of our families, pay off debt, pay for child care and so much more.

Together, we can make equal pay for all women a reality.

This blog was originally posted on aflcio.org on April 4, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Liz Shuler was elected AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer in September 2009, the youngest person ever to become an officer of the AFL-CIO. Shuler previously was the highest-ranking woman in the Electrical Workers (IBEW) union, serving as the top assistant to the IBEW president since 2004. In 1993, she joined IBEW Local 125 in Portland, Ore., where she worked as an organizer and state legislative and political director. In 1998, she was part of the IBEW’s international staff in Washington, D.C., as a legislative and political representative.

 


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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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Interviews for Resistance: The March 8 Strike Is About Building Feminism for the 99%

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Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. Since election night 2016, the streets of the United States have rung with resistance. People all over the country have woken up with the conviction that they must do something to fight inequality in all its forms. But many are wondering what it is they can do. In this series, we’ll be talking with experienced organizers, troublemakers and thinkers who have been doing the hard work of fighting for a long time. They’ll be sharing their insights on what works, what doesn’t, what has changed and what is still the same.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: I am Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. I am the author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation and an assistant professor of African American studies at Princeton University.

Sarah Jaffe: You were one of the original people who called for a women’s strike on March 8th. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Keeanga-Yamahtta: The idea for the women’s strike actually didn’t originate in the United States, but it is a call in solidarity with women organizations from 30 different countries who put out a call for a strike on International Women’s Day, March 8th. This is our effort at trying to explain why it was important that American feminists sign on to this call and really try to be a part of this movement that is trying to, in this country, part of our intention is to bring politics back to International Women’s Day by turning it into a political event, by highlighting the ways that women continue to suffer from misogyny and sexism in the United States and to give concrete descriptions of that.

But also, the strike is about highlighting the ways that “women’s work” or “women’s labor” is at times unseen. It can be undervalued, underpaid. The strike is about drawing attention to that by, in effect, extracting those many different manifestations of women’s labor on March 8th to highlight the extent to which women’s labor continues to play a central role in the political and, I would say, social economy of the United States.

Sarah: The call to strike that you co-authored talks about building a feminism for the 99%. Can you talk a little bit about what that means?

Keeanga-Yamahtta: I think part of what we were reacting to—there are a couple of things. Part of the reaction is against the prevailing notion of “lean-in feminism,” which has been a popular idea, most notably in support of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president. The idea that the last frontier for women to challenge are these glass ceilings that block the ascension of women in electoral politics or in corporate America. I think for us, that actually is not the last frontier for ordinary and working-class women. The traditional shackles on poor and working-class women are still in effect and actually have to be responded to and attended to. The feminism for the 99% is about rejecting that idea that women are only or primarily concerned with their role in the elite male world, but that there are still very basic issues, such as access to reproductive healthcare, access to abortion, wage differentials. Black women make $0.63 for each dollar that white men make, for example, which, of course, is lower than the usual barometer that people use, the $0.78 to the dollar that white women make. Black women make substantially less than that.

There is still the issue of childcare. There is no access to public or state funded childcare. The attacks on public education. The attacks on the public infrastructure. All of these have disproportionate impact on the lives of women. On a very basic level, we need a feminist politics that responds to these issues as the most urgent. I think we saw that the outpouring around the January 21st protest showed that there is actually quite vast support for a resurgent feminist movement. Part of our objective is to argue for a certain kind of radical politics within that and not for a political agenda that is quite limited and has these kind of narrow goals about the social mobility of women within corporate America as a sole objective.

Sarah: Some of the women’s strikes that we have seen just in the past year have come around explicit attacks in different countries. Can you talk a little bit more about the connection with these other international women’s movements and the connection back to the history of International Women’s Day?

Keeanga-Yamahtta: I think probably the most well-known example involves the women’s strike in Poland in response to the attempt of the state there to impose a ban on abortion. I think that it shows the power of political protest, political demonstration, as opposed to the usual default of embroiling oneself in the formal political process. That was a powerful example. I think the women’s mobilizations, women-led mobilizations for abortion rights in Ireland have helped to create the conditions where there is an actual struggle for, not just abortion rights but to access to birth control. There are other examples of organizing in Argentina and South Korea and Italy where it is really about women trying to harness their social power outside of the electoral realm, through street demonstrations and organizing to fight for what I would consider to be basic rights.

It does really harken back to the origins of International Women’s Day, which, of course, have become lost over time. It has become this odd Hallmark holiday that has no connection to its radical roots. International Women’s Day came out of a demonstration of working class and poor women in Petrograd in Russia in 1917 in opposition to the first World War, to end the first World War and to fight for the redirection of resources out of war back into the lives of regular people. The slogan was, “Demonstration for Peace and Bread.”

Sarah: Talk about the organizing that is going on to make the strike happen and the connection with the Women’s March organizers.

Keeanga-Yamahtta: The organizing has been fast and furious because we have a limited amount of time before March 8th. There is some local organizing happening. I know there have been on-the-ground meetings in Philly and New York and Chicago and Berkeley, Pittsburgh, and other places that have called organizing meetings, but on a national level I think it was an important development that the organizers of the Women’s March—there is one person who was part of that organizing team who has been an active participant in the women’s strike organizing. There was an agreement that we would work together.

The women’s strike national coordinating committee has been working with the Women’s March, the January 21st organizers, in terms of trying to put out some joint statements in trying to bring attention to the women’s strike, but also, they are planning what they refer to as “A Day Without A Woman” also for March 8th, which has a different set of politics and a different platform than the women’s strike, but there is a sense that it is better to work together and try to combine our forces than to call a bunch of separate days of action. That is how we have proceeded.

Sarah: Many of the people, including yourself, that are involved with the call for a women’s strike are socialists. Can you talk about the role of socialism and socialist feminism in this country after the 2016 elections?

Keeanga-Yamahtta: At a very basic level, there is an understanding that the problems experienced by women in our societies today are rooted in an economic system that privileges the 1% over the 99% and that sometimes we think of women’s issues unto themselves, but really these are issues that arise out of an inherently unequal economic arrangement in this country. The fact that women make less, that women don’t have access to childcare provisions, that women don’t have access to reproductive healthcare. They are not just economic questions, but they are related to an economic arrangement that relies on the free labor of women to, in fact, reproduce itself as a political system.

In some ways, as this economic inequality, people have really been talking about with greater specificity and focus since the eruption of the Occupy movement in 2011, that within that context, those unequal economic relationships have disproportionate effect in the lives of women. I think that in this past election where you literally have a billionaire who has made his money through exploiting loopholes in the system and who has sort of ascended to the political top through his abusing women and his visceral sexism and hatred of women—it is not surprising given the centrality of sexism in Donald Trump’s campaign that the very first protests have been organized by women, mostly attended by women, that have become a focal point of the resistance movement.

Sarah: You wrote a wonderful book about the Black Lives Matter movement, putting that in historical context. I wonder what your thoughts are in how that movement is changing and shifting under Trump.

Keeanga-Yamahtta: I think that Trump put Black Lives Matter as a movement and the activist organizations affiliated with it in the crosshairs early on. I think his entire posture around law and order was created in opposition to Black Lives Matter and what he called a climate that was anti-police. That has had a particular impact. For the President of the United States and his supporters to refer to political activists and the political movement as terrorists, which they have done around Black Lives Matter, means a particular thing in the security state atmosphere of the United States.

I think it has put activists on the defensive and in some ways has created a situation where people have almost become internalized, meaning that they are looking inside of their organizations to figure out how to, perhaps, tighten things up and how to politically respond to Trump. It is understandable, but I think we are at a moment where now is the time to look outward and connect with other groups of people who are experiencing some of the same attacks.

There has been a lot of discussion about solidarity and what that looks like. In this climate, it has to look like the collaboration and coordination between groups of people who have all of the interest in the world in working together. So, police abuse and violence is not just an issue affecting African American communities, but that we have seen very early on that Trump is trying to expand the powers of the police, expand the responsibilities of the police, and in doing so, putting other groups of people in the crosshairs.

Obviously, the attacks on the undocumented and the attempts of the Trump administration to deputize police officers in the efforts to roundup undocumented immigrants, the attacks on Muslims and Arabs, also calls on greater powers of the state and its armed agents to do that. These create an almost natural alliance of people to stand up against policing and police abuse.

I think what all of this means is that we need a much bigger movement to confront the police. We need a movement that tries to connect the issues and by doing so, is actually connecting activists and putting people together to build the largest possible resistance. That also has to be connected to the other attacks that are coming from the Trump administration. That it is not just about policing, but it is also about how this lays the foundation for an attack on organizing, resistance organizing, opposition organizing, in the first place, by empowering the police to be able to have expansive and intrusive powers. It creates a problem for all of us.

I think there has to be a great effort among folks from Black Lives Matter and other organizations that have been at the center of fighting these things to make these connections with other groups for the sake of expanding the movement, while also preserving the space and understanding that these policies continue to have a disproportionate impact in black communities, but understanding that we need a much bigger movement to win.

Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. 

This article was originally printed on Inthesetimes.com on February 28, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Sarah Jaffe is a staff writer at In These Times and the co-host of Dissent magazine’s Belabored podcast. Her writings on labor, social movements, gender, media, and student debt have been published in The Atlantic, The Nation, The American Prospect, AlterNet, and many other publications, and she is a regular commentator for radio and television.


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Workers Say Trump’s Labor Secretary Nominee Is a Habitual Violator of Labor Law

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Andrew Puzder, Donald Trump’s nominee for labor secretary, is uniquely unqualified for that job. As secretary, he’d be charged with enforcing health and safety, overtime and other labor laws. But as CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., he’s made his considerable fortune from violating these very same laws, according to a report by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United released this week.

ROC, which advocates for restaurant workers nationwide, surveyed 564 CKE workers, 76 percent of them women. In discussing the results of the survey, it’s important to note that while ROC surveyed a large number of workers, the respondents are people who chose to fill out a survey distributed by a workers’ rights organization, which they learned about through their social media networks. Still, ROC reported “unprecedented” interest in the survey among workers at CKE and their eagerness to be part of the study, and the experiences they reported, are striking reminders that by tapping Puzder, Trump has made clear that his administration will be a dystopian nightmare for U.S. workers.

A recent national survey among non-managerial women working in fast food found that 40 percent of such women have experienced sexual harassment on the job. Under Puzder, the problem could worsen: A whopping 66 percent of female CKE workers ROC surveyed had faced sexual harassment. Harassment came from supervisors, co-workers or—most often—customers, and took the form of sexual comments, groping, unwanted sexual texts and pressure for dates.

CKE is known for its sexist advertising, which depicts women in skimpy bikinis devouring cheeseburgers. And, certainly, imagery contributes to the culture, but when harassment is as pervasive as it appears to be at CKE, there are usually more structural problems at play. Companies in which women are harassed are generally places in which women—indeed, workers in general—are not valued or respected, and in which workers lack any institutional means to stand up for their rights.

In such companies, women are often not paid and promoted fairly. And, as one might expect, nearly one in five of the CKE workers ROC surveyed said he or she had faced discrimination at work, most commonly on the basis of gender, age or race.

Of the CKE employees who participated in the ROC survey, nearly one-third said they did not get meal breaks that are mandated by law; around one-fourth had been illegally forced to work off the clock or had timecards altered; almost one-third had been illegally deprived of overtime pay.

The ROC survey also found widespread health and safety violations. Nearly one-third of those surveyed said they had become sick or injured on the job. Workers described an environment of slippery floors, frequent grease burns and many said they had to do dangerous tasks—like cleaning a hood over a hot char broiler, for instance—without proper protective equipment.

Appointing Puzder as labor secretary is like inviting Tony Soprano to serve as attorney general. Let’s hope this enemy of working people will face humiliation and defeat when his confirmation goes before the Senate. His hearing, originally set for next Tuesday, may now be postponed until February. That delay would give labor—meaning anyone who works for a living—more time to mobilize against him. Let’s get started.

This post originally appeared on inthesetimes.com on January 13, 2017.  Reprinted with permission.

Liza Featherstone is a journalist and author of Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Workers’ Rights at Wal-Mart and False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton. 


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