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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 Businesses Can Better Care For Their Female Employees

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There’s no question that inequality has ruled the workplace for years. Even today, the gender pay gap is holding strong. In 2020, women in the U.S. earned just 84% of what their male counterparts made. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. 

While things may not be “fixed” at the moment, they are finally being exposed with increased public scrutiny of employers who don’t uplift female workers as high as they do their male employees. 

At this point, we need more than equal pay. Employers need to offer increased care and benefits to female employees who have been underrepresented in the past.

Equality in Traditionally Biased Industries

There has been an increased presence of female representation in typically male-dominated industries over the last few years, including the construction industry. In 2018, over 1 million women were working in the industry, and while those statistics are encouraging, it’s important to point out potential areas of inequality. 

Safety measures, training and education all need to be offered to women in male-dominated industries. This includes training women in all technological advances that could improve their careers while keeping them safe on the job. 

Unfortunately, some people believe male-dominated industries should stay that way and may go so far as to sabotage a woman’s success through: 

The trucking industry, another traditionally male-dominated field, is another area where these issues can become problematic. If you’re involved in the transportation field, you can protect your female workers and encourage more gender diversity by offering stable schedules, encouraging a strong work-life balance and having a strong policy against discrimination and harassment. 

Informing Female Employees of Their Rights

Women deserve equal pay and benefits, but they also deserve to know their rights when working for you. 

One of the obstacles many women have to overcome in the workplace is finding ways to make sure their child is cared for at home. For all employees, this is ultimately why a work-life balance is so important and has become a priority among different workplaces. For women, a fair work-life balance goes beyond simply spending more time at home. It’s also about making sure they can provide for their families financially. 

Along with providing adequate pay, business owners should also inform their employees who are parents of tax breaks that can benefit them. You may not be able to offer any of your own, but the federal government provides tax credits to mothers with children at home. 

For 2021, the numbers associated with those benefits have shifted slightly, and they’re likely to change again during the next fiscal year. As an employer, staying on top of those changes and bringing those breaks up to your female employees can put extra money in their pockets as they file their taxes. 

There are countless ways businesses can better care for their female employees, and equality and fairness should be at the very core. Women deserve to feel safe, cared for and represented no matter what industry they’re in. If you’re looking for ways to bolster the women in your workplace, keep these ideas in mind, and create in-house policies designed to ensure equality among your workers.

This blog is printed with permission.

About the author: Dan Matthews is a writer, content consultant, and conservationist. While Dan writes on a variety of topics, he loves to focus on the topics that look inward on mankind that help to make the surrounding world a better place to reside. When Dan isn’t working on new content, you can find him with a coffee cup in one hand and searching for new music in the other.


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Women, minorities disproportionately reliant on jobless aid, data shows

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“It is not a stretch to say this policy choice is also a racial justice policy choice,” the Economic Policy Institute’s Heidi Shierholz said.

Women and racial minorities are disproportionately reliant on unemployment insurance, economic data shows, leaving them most vulnerable if Congress decides not to renew the expanded benefits that are set to expire at the end of the month.

Both groups are not only more likely to be out of work and eligible to receive state-administered benefits, but are also to receive less because of historically low wages, research shows. That creates outsize dependence on the federally supplied additional $600 a week enacted via coronavirus aid legislation and slated to end at the end of this month.

Forty-seven percent of recipients of state unemployment benefits in July are projected to be nonwhite, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Thirteen percent of female workers will receive benefits the same month, compared with 11 percent of male workers. At the same time, women make up two-thirds of the lowest-paid workers in the U.S. And nonwhite workers are far more likely to be paid poverty-level wages than their white peers.

The extra aid accounts for an average two-thirds of recipients’ benefits, and letting it lapse could risk widening gender and racial wealth gaps and causing irreparable harm to the economy, economists say.

“Cutting off that $600 will exacerbate racial and ethnic inequality, it will exacerbate gender inequality,” said the Economic Policy Institute’s Heidi Shierholz, former DOL chief economist. She called the money “a lifeline for many women, many minorities — Black and Hispanic workers in particular.”

“It is not a stretch to say this policy choice is also a racial justice policy choice.”

The question of whether to extend the extra $600 a week, known as Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, is a key fault line in the negotiations over the next coronavirus response package, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he hopes to clear before Congress’ August recess.

Democrats say the expanded benefits are critical to support hard-hit demographics.

“The findings in last week’s CBO report show how certain, vulnerable populations particularly feel Covid-19-related economic hardships, making the need to extend the supplemental pandemic unemployment compensation more urgent,” House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said in a statement to POLITICO. “Women and people of color have been disproportionately affected by coronavirus layoffs, and if we don’t continue emergency support until it is safe to return to work and safe, affordable child care is available, there will be devastating, long-lasting consequences for families and for our economy.”

Republicans counter that the benefits discourage workers from returning to their jobs and may prevent the economy from making a timely recovery.

“The unemployment benefits are a barrier for people coming back to work,” the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, Kevin Brady of Texas, said on CNBC Monday.

McConnell has said he opposes including the $600 a week enhancement in the next coronavirus response package, calling it “a bonus not to go back to work.”

The unemployment rate for women and minorities has remained consistently higher over the course of the pandemic. In June, the rate for women was 11.2 percent, according to Labor Department data, compared to 10.2 percent for men. In the same month, the jobless rate for Black and Hispanic workers was 15.4 and 14.5 percent, respectively; the rate for white workers was 10.1 percent.

Part of this is because female and minority workers hold a majority of jobs in sectors that saw the greatest percent of job loss due to the pandemic. Despite some gains, the child care industry is still down 237,000 workers from June 2019, per DOL’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than 93 percent of child care workers are women, according to the agency, and 45.3 percent are Black, Asian or Latino.

Losing the additional benefits “can be devastating,” said Andre Perry, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Women, and Black and brown women in particular, needed that pay to make up for the inequality that is present in their everyday lives.”

“There was an epidemic before this pandemic, and it was inequality.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on July 9, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Eleanor Mueller is a legislative reporter for POLITICO Pro, covering policy passing through Congress. She also authors Day Ahead, POLITICO Pro’s daily newsletter rounding up Capitol Hill goings-on.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Coronavirus is a childcare crisis that could wipe out women’s progress toward equality

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The coronavirus pandemic has hit working parents hard, and when I say working parents, I mean mostly working mothers. Unemployment is high for everyone, but it’s worse for women than for men, and women are more likely to have left the labor market or to be thinking about quitting their jobs. Relatedly, the brunt of caring for children suddenly at home all day every day is falling on women.

The childcare industry, meanwhile, is suffering, putting more than 325,000 people—overwhelmingly women, and nearly half Black, Asian, or Latino—out of work since February. If childcare centers go out of business, as threatens to happen without government help, then those women’s jobs remain gone, and other women’s ability to work is threatened by the disproportionate amount of child care they end up shouldering. The case for a major government funding program could not be clearer, but somehow it hasn’t happened.

Democrats have introduced a $50 billion aid bill in both the House and the Senate, but a month later, childcare workers and centers along with parents who need child care are all still waiting on that. The CARES Act directed some money to Child Care and Development Block Grants and to Head Start, and the HEROES Act would send more to Child Care and Development Block Grants, but that would still leave out much of the industry. And while childcare providers are theoretically eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program, many haven’t been able to get those loans and the program doesn’t meet their needs in any case.

Even some congressional Republicans—mostly women—recognize the need for some kind of action. Sens. Joni Ernst and Kelly Loeffler (both of them facing challenging elections this fall) have proposed $25 billion for childcare providers. And Rep. Jackie Walorski recently explained the issue very clearly. 

If childcare centers shut down, “parents in all industries will be unable to go back to work, significantly slowing our own economic recovery,” she said. That means “Childcare is exactly the type of smart investment we should be prioritizing as we safely reopen and rebuild America’s economy.”

While Congress drags its feet, largely but not entirely thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, women are bearing an immense burden. For women in two-income families, it’s one kind of burden—that of trying to do paid work while taking on the lion’s share of child care as well. There are some toweringly shitty men out there, but this is a structural issue, not just a question of individual relationships. As much of an emergency as this is for women in two-income families, though, “in families headed by single mothers, there’s often simply no one else to take on the responsibility,” Prism’s Ashton Lattimore wrote last month. “That makes childcare availability all the more critical, especially for mothers of color like Cecilia, who is Mexican American, as women of color are more likely to be their household’s primary earner or a co-breadwinner.”

Virtually everyone is struggling in the pandemic, but child care shows us how unevenly the challenges fall. Women are hit harder than men. Black women and other women of color are hit harder than white women. And if it doesn’t get fixed, the consequences will be dire. “We need to stabilize the childcare system or we won’t have a robust economic recovery,” said Rep. Suzanne Bonamici. “Not getting this stuff in place will mean women will be the ones who are more likely to have to stay home,” said the Economic Policy Institute’s Heidi Shierholz—and if women who have previously worked are pushed to stay home while hundreds of thousands of jobs disappear from an industry dominated by women and with many many Black, Asian, and Latina workers, decades of efforts toward equality get wiped out.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on June 25, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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


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A lack of child care is keeping women on unemployment rolls

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Women’s participation in the workforce — which is closely tied to access to child care — has dropped at a faster clip than men’s since the early spring.

A lack of safe and affordable child care amid the coronavirus pandemic is keeping many working parents from returning to the office as more companies call employees back to their jobs — threatening to extend the economic crisis and erode decades of gains for women in the workplace.

The U.S. is experiencing its highest levels of unemployment since the Great Depression, even as businesses begin to reopen. More than 20 million American workers are receiving jobless benefits. Another 1.48 million applied for jobless aid last week, the Department of Labor said Thursday.

The burden is disproportionately falling on women, who are more likely to have been laid off, to have left the labor market or to be considering quitting their jobs so they can manage family responsibilities, Labor Department data, academic research and surveys show.

And the problem is on track to only get worse: Continued shutdowns and the need to implement costly safety and social distancing measures are threatening to run so many child care providers out of business that the country could permanently lose an estimated half of its capacity. Between February and April of this year, more than 1 in 3 jobs in child day care services had been erasedbefore the industry began to recover slightly in May, according to Labor Department data.

Left unaddressed, the issue will affect tens of millions of Americans. More than 325,000 child care workers have already lost their jobs since February. And more than 33 million American families have children under the age of 18. In nearly two-thirds of married-couple families with kids, both parents were working as of last year.

President Donald Trump compounded the crisis when he issued an executive order on Monday restricting certain types of foreign worker visas, including J visas used by au pairs, teachers and camp counselors.

Now, economists and industry experts are calling on Congress to funnel billions of dollars into child care, arguing that doing so would have the double-barreled benefit of providing jobs for workers in the industry while allowing working parents to return to the office. That in turn, they say, would leave everyone with more income to spend in their communities — thus accelerating the recovery.

“If you don’t fund this one, many other industries are going to pay a hidden price,” said Art Rolnick, the former director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and an expert on child development and social policy.

“You won’t find a better stimulant than this industry,” he added. “That money will get spent, and it will get multiplied in the neighborhood.”

In March, as the pandemic was just getting under way, the unemployment rate for both adult men and women was 4 percent. Two months later, that rate jumped up by 7.6 percentage points for men, but nearly 10 percentage points for women.

Women’s participation in the workforce — which is closely tied to access to child care — has also dropped at a faster clip than men’s since the early spring. While 61 percent of men over the age of 20 were employed in May, less than half of women were, the data show.

“We still live in a world where women shoulder more of the responsibilities for care work,” said Heidi Shierholz, a former chief economist at the Labor Department. “Not getting this stuff in place will mean women will be the ones who are more likely to have to stay home.”

Within the child care industry, too, a staggering 93 percent of jobs are held by women, according to Labor Department data, and 45.3 percent are Black, Asian or Latino. Making sure the sector stays afloat — or even strengthens — could have an outsized impact on the economic well-being of those demographics.

“It’ll be crucial that that investment is made so that these are actually decent jobs for the people who are holding them,” said Shierholz, now policy director at the Economic Policy Institute.

More than 100 economists wrote an open letter to Congress this week highlighting the need for at least $50 billion in aid for the child care industry, calling it “an essential precondition for a successful economic recovery.” Congressional Democrats have been pushing the same idea since late May, when Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced the Child Care Is Essential Act.

“This is a crisis,” DeLauro said. “This is not unlike a manufacturing crisis, an airline crisis, all of the other things that are out there.”

“If you cannot make families feel that their kids are going to be safe and secure, in a safe environment, in a learning environment, we’re not going to get our economy back on track,” she said.

DeLauro’s bill would appropriate $50 billion for grants that help child care providers affected by the coronavirus pandemic cover their expenses. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is the lead sponsor of the Senate version.

It’s a level of investment that would be significantly higher than what Congress has previously considered: The CARES Act appropriated $3.5 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants, as well as $750 million for the Head Start program. The HEROES Act, the House-passed Democratic proposal for the next round of aid, would appropriate $7 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants.

“We know that’s not enough,” Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said. “We need to stabilize the child care system or we won’t have a robust economic recovery.”

“It is a piece — of course, we need to continue with testing and physical distancing and all those other things — but for people going back to work, these are really long-term ramifications if we don’t address this.”

The issue has gained more prominence in recent weeks as every state begins to reopen its doors and Congress continues to debate how best to get employees back to work quickly and safely. Forty-one state and local chambers of commerce called on lawmakers earlier this month to include targeted assistance to child care centers as part of its next coronavirus response package.

Five Democrats, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have written to the Treasury Department and Small Business Administration to ask for clear guidance ensuring that child care providers have access to loans under the Paycheck Protection Program, the government-backed emergency program for small businesses. They cited one analysis showing that family child care homes were seeing an approval rate of roughly 25 percent.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also pledged that the issue “will get very big attention” and that when it comes to the economic recovery and women’s participation in the workforce, child care is “key to it all.”

But the effort will need bipartisan support to be successful, and it remains unclear whether Republicans are willing to sign on.

Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia offered a resolution last month proposing that the next coronavirus relief package include $25 billion for child care providers. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who chairs the committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said this week that he would support sending tens of billions of dollars to aid schools and colleges, acknowledging that doing so would help parents and the economy. But he did not comment on child care specifically, and his office did not respond to a request for comment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans have said they want to continue monitoring economic conditions and CARES Act spending before they make decisions on what further stimulus aid might be needed.

In the House, Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, said on a recent press call with reporters that child care is “an important part of returning to work” and that he would be willing to discuss with Democrats how to maximize the number of child care facilities that can remain open.

At a Ways and Means subcommittee hearing Tuesday focused on the issue, Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) went a step further, saying that the forced shutdown of a large portion of child care providers across the country would mean “parents in all industries will be unable to go back to work, significantly slowing our own economic recovery.”

“Child care is exactly the type of smart investment we should be prioritizing as we safely reopen and rebuild America’s economy,” Walorski said.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on June 25, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Megan Cassella is a trade reporter for POLITICO Pro. Before joining the trade team in June 2016, Megan worked for Reuters based out of Washington, covering the economy, domestic politics and the 2016 presidential campaign. It was in that role that she first began covering trade, including Donald Trump’s rise as the populist candidate vowing to renegotiate NAFTA and Hillary Clinton’s careful sidestep of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

About the Author: Eleanor Mueller is a legislative reporter for POLITICO Pro, covering policy passing through Congress. She also authors Day Ahead, POLITICO Pro’s daily newsletter rounding up Capitol Hill goings-on.


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Women’s History Month Profiles: Alice Paul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Pride Month Profiles: Jeanne Laberge and Ruth Jacobsen

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For Pride Month, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various LGBTQ Americans who have worked and continue to work at the intersection of civil and labor rights. Our next profile is Jeanne Laberge and Ruth Jacobsen.

In the early 1970s, Steve D’Inzillo was the business agent for New York City’s Motion Picture Projectionists Local 306, an affiliate of the Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). He had built a reputation as a maverick and had a particular passion for expanding civil rights. He wanted  women to gain equal footing in the local, but the prospect was daunting.

For women to win respect and acceptance in the union, they would need both the skills to do the job well and the toughness to deal with the small-minded men that opposed women’s inclusion. D’Inzillo found the right women to challenge the system with Jeanne Laberge and Ruth Jacobsen, a lesbian couple who were willing to fight for their rights. Laberge had a union background and loved the idea of taking on the status quo. Jacobsen had been a “hidden child” during the Nazi occupation of Holland.

In 1972, D’Inzillo sponsored Jacobsen’s apprenticeship and she got her license a year later, making her New York City’s first female “booth man.” Laberge also applied and was admitted to the trade in 1974. D’Inzillo watched the women on the job and in the union hall and was impressed at how well they supported each other. Jacobsen and Laberge soon proposed that Local 306 sponsor a pre-apprenticeship program for women. D’Inzillo eagerly agreed. Many of those who signed up for the program were the sisters, wives and daughters of booth men, and they were paid less to work in lower-skilled jobs.

Laberge spoke about the success of the program:

We got several licenses out of that first class. It was the first crack of having not just fathers and sons in the trade. We were into the feminist thing. We had the union change how they addressed the letters, to get rid of ‘Dear Sir and Brother.’ The men could be pretty derisive at meetings, so our women’s group dealt with their disruptions.

Laberge and Jacobsen were the proximate cause for Local 306 adding sexual orientation to its anti-discrimination policies in the late 1970s. After working with the women for years, the local’s membership had no interest in excluding them. The local also began to regularly make contributions to lesbian and gay charities, and supported three gay members who were sick from AIDS.

This early success led D’Inzillo to ask Jacobsen to join the local’s executive board, but she wasn’t interested in board politics. Laberge, on the other hand, was enthusiastic about it and joined the board herself. Soon after she started a local newsletter, writing most of the articles. She became D’Inzillo’s right-hand woman as he rose up the ranks of IATSE. He twice ran for the national presidency and was elected to be an IATSE vice president, with Laberge by his side the whole time. During his time as a leader in IATSE, Laberge said D’Inzillo was the only person at national conventions who pushed proposals that dealt with larger social and political issues, and she was a key part of those efforts.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on June 18, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

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


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Equal Pay for All

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Today is Latina Equal Pay Day, the day in the year when Latina pay catches up to that of white, non-Hispanic men. That means Latinas work nearly 23 months to make what white, non-Hispanic men earn in one year.

More than 50 years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act, women still get paid less for the same work. But women of color—Latinas especially—experience the widest wage gap for the same jobs.

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

When women are represented by unions and negotiate together, they have the power to create a better life.

Check out some facts below about Latina Equal Pay Day, and learn more from AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler here.

  • Latinas get paid only 53 cents to every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man makes—the largest gap in the nation.
  • Latinas must work 23 months to earn what a white man does in 12 months.
  • The average weekly earnings for Latinas is $621, compared to the $815 that white, non-Hispanic women bring home every week.
  • Latinas in unions earn 48% more.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on November 1, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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