Women in the workplace have made major strides. Women currently make up 48% of the workforce and are the sole or primary breadwinner for 40% of families in the United States. Yet most family responsibilities still rest on women’s shoulders and, too often, women put in a full day’s work only to come home and clock in for a second shift.
As Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO, I am constantly in awe of the powerful work the 6.8 million women of the labor movement do to advance issues that matter. Consider this: In the past decade, there has been tremendous momentum at the state and local level, with millions of working people winning the freedom to take time off to care for family, and labor unions have been at the center of these wins. Which might explain why states with higher union density are more likely to have paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave laws. And, when unions are strong, women are strong. Unions make a difference for women in dollars and cents—$222, to be exact. That’s how much more the typical woman in a union job makes in a week compared with a woman in a non-union job.
Beyond supporting working women, the labor movement has always advocated for policies that promote a full-employment economy at wages high enough to allow working people to support their families. We work to combat policies that erode the rights of working people, and make sure they’re rewarded for the wealth they help create. To achieve this, we support a broad range of policies, including restoring the minimum wage to a living wage, restoring overtime protections, prevailing wage standards, and putting an end to wage theft and the rampant misclassification of employees as independent contractors. The AFL-CIO adopted this working people’s Bill of Rights at our recent convention to demand that all working people have the right to:
- A Good Job with Fair Wages: Everyone who wants to work has the right to a good job where we earn wages that allow us to support ourselves and our families.
- Quality Health Care: Regardless of income, job or a pre-existing condition.
- A Safe Job: Free from harassment and violence.
- Paid Time Off and Flexible, Predictable Scheduling: To spend time with family or care for ourselves or a loved one.
- Freedom from Discrimination: In hiring, firing, and promotions.
- Retire with Dignity: And financial security.
- Education: Public K-12, higher education and career training that advances our knowledge and skills without leaving us in debt.
- Freedom to Join Together: With our co-workers for better wages and working conditions, whether we are in a union or not.
- A Voice in Democracy: To freely exercise our democratic voice through voting and civic participation.
Building on recent victories, state legislators have demonstrated that they are #FightingForFamilies in 2018 by introducing legislation to advance some of these policies in states across the country, and union members have been advocating alongside them. Sixteen states have bills pending for paid family and medical leave in 2018. Thirteen states are considering bills for equal pay, and 13 states are considering paid sick days. Sixteen states are considering measures to prevent employment discrimination against LGBT workers. Ten states have bills to ensure pregnant workers’ rights. And that’s just the beginning.
Young workers, immigrants, women, LGBT people and communities of color are coming together to advance changes that will improve our lives. When we join in union, we are a formidable force, a political force. Together, we can make equal pay, paid leave, and fair scheduling the law of the land. Together, we can lead a movement to change the world and build an economy that works for us all. Together, we can reject quiet acceptance and build an America where all working women can sustain their families and realize their dreams.
Women fight and win battles every day. By standing and negotiating together, we will continue to make the world a better place for all of us. Unions are rejecting the status quo and are working to build an America where all working people can sustain their families and realize their dreams.
This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on February 9, 2018. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Liz Shuler became the first woman ever elected Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO when she was voted into office by acclamation at the Federation’s 26th convention on September 16, 2009.