Tuesday, July 12, 2011

9to5 Rejects Budget Cuts Disproportionately Affecting Women

July 12, 2011

The Honorable John Boehner
The Honorable Harry Reid
The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
The Honorable Mitch McConnell


The U.S. Congress Capitol Building
Washington, DC

Dear Mr. Speaker, Majority Leader Reid, Minority Leader Pelosi, and Minority Leader McConnell:

We, the undersigned members of the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO), write to express our grave concern about the impact of deep budget cuts on women. We are alarmed both at the extent of proposed funding reductions in social safety net programs and at the extreme measures being discussed to drastically reduce federal spending for the long term. If adopted, such measures could reverse our economic recovery, increase already high levels of unemployment, and severely restrict the federal government's ability to help those who are vulnerable.

From what we understand about the proposed budget cuts, those most vulnerable –women, low-income earners, children, and seniors—will suffer the brunt of the spending cutbacks. Millions of women depend on government programs to keep them from falling into poverty; millions more rely on government employment and are in jobs dependent on government spending.

While men have recovered 24 percent of the jobs they lost during the recession, women have recovered only 14 percent of the jobs they lost. The federal government’s failure to create a robust jobs program means that many more women will lose their jobs as state and local governments reduce their workforces. Now more than ever, older women need the support of programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Many women cannot find employment at older ages, do not have pensions, and have been unable to save sufficiently because of time spent in caregiving, wage discrimination, and other factors.

The average monthly Social Security check for women is about $1,000, and a substantial proportion of retired women –particularly the very elderly and widowed – do not have any other source of income and exhaust their savings in later years. These factors make proposed changes such as raising the full retirement age for Social Security extremely harmful to older women, who rely on the program for a greater share of their income than older men. Women of color, who experience an even larger wage gap, are especially at a disadvantage when the retirement age is raised. Combined with rising premiums for Medicare Part B, an increase in the full retirement age would result in benefits replacing a smaller portion of recipients’ past earnings, forcing them to forcing them to reduce their standard of living substantially, since many simply do not have other income.

Some political leaders have recently proposed using the chained Consumer Price Index (CPI) in determining Social Security and other benefits, mistakenly calling it a more accurate measure of inflation to calculate the cost-of-living adjustment in benefits. In fact, living costs have been rising faster for seniors because they spend more on medical care, and health care costs have increased more rapidly in recent decades than the costs of other goods and services. Switching to the chained CPI would add to the financial burden many retirees face by reducing monthly Social Security benefits, an especially problematic change for older Americans because other sources of income decline with age.

Women would also suffer from proposed budget cuts to Medicaid and other crucial social services. Medicaid covers 70 percent of those in nursing homes, including the disabled and elderly; most residents of nursing homes are women. Moreover, if cuts to Medicaid and Medicare occur, women will bear the brunt of caregiving, taking even more time off from work to care for children and elders—which will reduce their future Social Security benefits. Women also would be significantly affected by cuts to vital programs and services such as family planning, work training, child care, schools, and education.

We urge policymakers working on the budget negotiations to place women’s circumstances and concerns at the center of their analysis and response. This means developing a robust jobs program to address the difficulties women face, especially now as a result of the lagging recovery. It means acknowledging the real causes of the federal budget deficit—two unpaid-for wars, an unpaid-for prescription drug program, continued tax breaks for the richest Americans and a debilitating recession that resulted in massive job loss and lost revenues to governments at all levels. It means examining revenue enhancers as a means of reducing the federal debt. And it means finding ways to safeguard and strengthen the social programs that will help ordinary people recover from the extraordinary recession.

The National Council of Women’s Organizations, composed of more than 240 organizations representing more than 12 million women, expresses its concern for all women—especially older and low-income women—in the face of the upcoming budget decisions by launching a new social media campaign, “Respect, Protect, Reject.” The campaign aims to highlight the vital importance of reaching a budget result that will:

Respect women’s contributions to the economy and their need for economic security.

Protect Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and programs that disproportionately serve and employ women.

Reject budget plans that threaten the economic security of women.

We strongly urge policymakers to craft a national budget that will fulfill these goals.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Philadelphia Needs Earned Sick Days


Mayor Nutter put himself on the wrong side of history with his June 28 veto of Philadelphia’s new earned sick days ordinance, which was passed by City Council and supported by an overwhelming majority of Philadelphia voters. Momentum is growing in Philadelphia and across the country for this common-sense policy that is good for public health, for families, for workers and for businesses, too.

9to5, National Association of Working Women will continue to stand with the Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces, the Philadelphia coalition leading the earned sick days campaign, as they continue their efforts to win earned sick days in their city.

In order to strengthen jobs and the economy, safeguard public health and protect working families, we need earned sick days – in Philadelphia and across the country.

-Linda Meric, 9to5 Executive Director

Monday, June 6, 2011

It's time now for workers to be able to earn paid sick days in Philly and across the country

Crossposted from The Custom-Fit Workplace

Millions of Americans working without paid sick days face the impossible choice between caring for their health and that of their family, and keeping their paycheck or job. At a time when many families are worried about their financial security, the threat of losing a job or needed wages forces many workers to go to work even though they are ill.

The lack of paid sick days poses a risk to public health. Many of the workers without paid sick days are in food service and health care jobs where illness can be spread to those they work with and serve.

Laura, a coffeeshop barista, says her employer does not offer her paid sick leave. She says that puts others at risk because she is forced to go to work sick in order to make enough money to cover rent.

“We exchange cash with you, make your latte, hand you your pastry, and yes, we sneeze,” Laura says. “So if an employee had to come to work with the flu because she couldn’t afford to miss work, you might be walking out of the store with your double latte and the flu.”

But the lack of paid sick days is more than just a public health crisis – it is an economic crisis. As hard-working Americans are fired for being sick, they add to the growing unemployment rates and keep our economic recovery from moving forward.

“My daughter, who was eight months pregnant, had an asthma attack at work,” says Rhonda. “She’d been on the job five months, but she didn’t qualify for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. When she returned to work three days later with a medical statement, she was fired. No one would hire her at eight months pregnant. She became homeless. If she’d had paid sick days, my daughter would have kept her job and her income.”

There is a solution.

Policymakers at every level, and voters, can and must take steps to allow workers to earn paid sick days to recover from illness, access preventive care or look after a sick child or other family members.

San Francisco, Washington DC and Milwaukee have already passed paid sick days laws. The Healthy Families Act was re-introduced at the federal level last week by Congresswoman DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Harkin (D-IA). City Councils, state legislatures and voters are considering paid sick days measures across the country. IT’S TIME FOR PHILLY TO TAKE ACTION!

Providing a way for workers to earn a modest amount of paid sick leave will have a huge impact on millions of workers, allowing them to take care of themselves and their loved ones when they are sick – without the fear of losing their jobs or needed wages.

And paid sick days will help workers without hurting business. In San Francisco and Washington, DC, where laws have already been implemented, studies have shown that workers are not only healthier but more productive when they have access to paid sick days. Six in seven employers surveyed in San Francisco say that paid sick days have had no negative effect on profitability, and two-thirds of employers support the law.

Paid sick day policies are good for public health, for families, for workers and for businesses, too. In order to strengthen jobs and the economy, safeguard public health and protect working families, we need paid sick days – in Philly and across the country.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Young Women Need Paid Sick Days (Too)


Crossposted from the Institute for Women's Policy Research blog.

While some workers lacking paid sick leave can take time off without losing pay, many lose pay when they are out sick and cannot afford to take a single day off. This is particularly the case for young women. At an early stage in their careers, many younger women workers are living day to day and others juggle multiple jobs to make ends meet. With limited wealth and savings, a large debt from college or even a steady income, younger women often find themselves between a rock and a hard place when illness strikes. Younger women are often not in a position to take lower pay when sick, especially when medical expenses are involved.

While part-time and low-income workers’ concerns are widely discussed, the needs of younger workers are almost unheard of, as it is usually assumed that their health status—without the burdens of chronic health conditions and age—is excellent, and that they don’t yet have care giving responsibilities.

Data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), however, shows that young workers need paid sick days just like everyone else. In fact, of those private sector workers that reported having fair or poor health, 30 percent were 35 years or younger and a larger portion were young women (18 percent compared to 12 percent for young men). The same data show that a majority of young workers lack paid sick days; only 37 percent have paid sick days, compared to 58 percent of all workers.

Across the board, younger workers have limited access to paid sick days, no matter what they do for living, what their schedule looks like, or the size of the business they work for. For instance, whether young workers are employed in high-end jobs like legal occupations or in lower paying occupations like health support, data from the NHIS show that only one out of five workers with paid sick days in those occupations are between 18 and 35 years old.

For younger workers concentrated in traditionally low-income occupations or small businesses, the picture is even grimmer. Along with part-timers, these workers are most often afflicted, and women are overrepresented in this type of work arrangement. The outlook is especially challenging for young women with care giving responsibilities on top of lower earnings: paid sick days are even more essential for them to to stay afloat. For single mothers, usually with limited resources and often living in poverty, having paid sick days can make a big difference when medical problems arise.

Paid sick days are essential to all workers, but even more so to those with limited resources, including younger workers who are more vulnerable and have fewer resources than many of their older counterparts.

Claudia Williams is a Research Analyst with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Healthy Families Act Reintroduced in Congress


Millions of Americans working without paid sick days face the impossible choice between caring for their health and that of their family, and keeping their paycheck or job. At a time when many families are worried about their financial security, the threat of losing a job or needed wages forces many workers to go to their jobs even though they are ill.

The lack of paid sick days poses a risk to public health. Many of the workers without paid sick days are in food service and health care jobs where illness can be spread to those they work with and serve.

Laura Baker, a barista at a Denver Starbucks, says the company does not offer her paid sick leave. She says that puts others at risk because she is forced to go to work sick in order to make enough money to cover rent.

"We exchange cash with you, make your latte, hand you your pastry, and yes, we sneeze," Baker says. "So if an employee had to come to work with the flu because she couldn't afford to miss work, you might be walking out of the store with your double latte and the flu."

But the lack of paid sick days is more than just a public health crisis – it is an economic crisis. As hard-working Americans are fired for being sick, they add to the growing unemployment rates and keep our economic recovery from moving forward.

“My daughter, who was eight months pregnant, had an asthma attack at work,” says Rhonda Willette, of Milwaukee 9to5 . “She’d been on the job five months, but she didn’t qualify for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. When she returned to work three days later with a medical statement, she was fired. No one would hire her at eight months pregnant. She became homeless. If she’d had paid sick days, my daughter would have kept her job and her income.”

There is a solution.

The Healthy Families Act, introduced last week by Congresswoman DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Harkin (D-IA), will allow workers to earn up to seven paid sick days a year to recover from illness, access preventive care or look after a sick child or other family members.

This modest amount of sick leave will have a huge impact on millions of workers across the country, allowing them to take care of themselves and their loved ones when they are sick – without the fear of losing their jobs or needed wages.

And paid sick days will help workers without hurting business. In San Francisco and Washington, DC, where laws have already been enacted, studies have shown that workers are not only healthier but more productive when they have access to paid sick days. Six in seven employers surveyed in San Francisco say that paid sick days have had no negative effect on profitability, and two-thirds of employers support the law.

“Paid sick day policies are good for public health, for families, for workers and for businesses, too,” says Erin Bennett, Colorado Director of 9to5. In order to strengthen jobs and the economy, safeguard public health and protect working families, we need paid sick days – and we need the Healthy Families Act.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Paycheck Fairness Now!


On April 12, 2011, the nation observes Equal Pay Day to symbolize that women have to work a year plus more than three months to equal what men make in just one year, on average. This past year women were paid 77 cents for every dollar paid to men in the U.S. For women of color, the gap is even wider, with African American women earning 67 cents and Latinas 58 cents on the dollar.

9to5 member LaTerrell Bradford calls equal pay a “non-negotiable.” While working as part of an all-female support team, a man was hired in the same job classification. Her female supervisor discovered that he was to earn much more than any of the women and advocated for every team member to be paid at the higher rate. Human resources relented because as Bradford says, “It would not have been fair nor legal to sit next to him, do the exact same work and have him be paid more.”

Not only is the pay gap unfair, it harms families and children. Recent 2009 statistics show the largest number of people, including children, living in poverty since those numbers have been measured, and adult women 32% more likely to be poor than adult men. Women’s paychecks put food on the table and pay for doctor visits for sick children. With women as the sole or co-breadwinner in more families than ever, equal pay is critical.

9to5 member and former Wal-Mart employee Mary Henderson is among the original plaintiffs of a massive gender discrimination class-action lawsuit against Wal-Mart heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in late March. Mary was paid thousands of dollars less than a man with less education and the same seniority in the same position. Mary’s daughter, also a Wal-Mart employee, applied for a supervisory job that ended up going to a man because “he had a family to support” – even though she was supporting her family, too. When Mary inquired about these instances of gender pay discrimination, she was punished with transfer to a store requiring an hours-long commute.

The pay gap is evident in almost every occupational category, in every income bracket; it’s a constant despite education, despite experience. The National Women’s Law Center found the gap represents $10,622 a year, with which a family could:

  • Buy a year’s worth of groceries ($3,210)
  • Arrange for three months of childcare ($1,748)
  • Pay three months of rent and utilities ($2,265)
  • Cover six months of health insurance ($1,697)
  • Pay down six months on a student loan ($1,602) AND
  • Purchase three full tanks of gas ($100)

The Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963 to address the pay disparity that was 59 cents for women working full-time year-round jobs as compared to men’s one dollar of pay at that time. Since then the wage gap has narrowed by less than one-half of one cent per year. At this rate, women won’t achieve equality for 66 years, in 2077!

The Paycheck Fairness Act will be an important step to help end significant and persistent disparities in pay, as it updates the Equal Pay Act of 1963, strengthens penalties courts may impose for violations of existing equal pay laws, prohibits retaliation against workers who inquire about or share wage information and empowers women to better negotiate for equal pay. It must be passed for the women of today and for the women of tomorrow.

The U.S. Congress must consider how the pay gap places families of today in jeopardy, especially in these tough economic times. They should think about how they love and value their own daughters, granddaughters, and great-granddaughters. Are they really worth less than their sons, grandsons and great-grandsons?

Of course not! Equality is the cornerstone of our American way of life. Let’s all urge U. S. Senators and Representatives to champion fair pay for America’s working women and sign on as co-sponsors of the Paycheck Fairness Act as it is re-introduced this year. It’s the right thing to do for women, families and our country.

-Linda Meric, 9to5 Executive Director

Arizona-Style Laws An Attack on Women and Children


In response to frustration with the federal government’s lack of a coherent immigration policy, state legislatures across the country are considering several Arizona-style immigration bills to require or allow law enforcement officers to demand proof of immigration status from anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally. Although the well-being of women and children isn’t usually the first thing that springs to mind as an immigration issue, the reality is that these types of laws put women and children in harm’s way.

Officers could be forced to interrogate all brown-skinned people, anyone speaking in accented English or Spanish – most of whom will be American citizens or legal residents. The courts are currently reviewing the constitutionality of potentially institutionalizing racial profiling, largely blocking sections of the original Arizona law from enforcement.

Regardless of how you feel about these laws, the truth is that women and children are the ones who have the most to lose if these bills pass. Families will be torn apart, children will be traumatized, domestic violence survivors will be silenced and workplace abuse will increase. Furthermore, these bills will undermine public safety for all of us.

Tearing Families Apart: Traffic cops targeting drivers for potential deportation means mothers are taken away from their children – often children who are U.S. citizens – splitting up families in pursuit of enforcement of a broken immigration system. A mother dropping her children off at school or child care in the morning doesn’t know if she’ll be there to pick them up in the afternoon. Children have been separated from parents who are detained and eventually deported; others have been removed from their parents’ homes and placed in foster care. These families endure harsh economic and emotional hardship.

Traumatizing Children: Children experience severe psychological trauma when separated from their primary caretakers. A 2010 Urban Institute report documented this: “The vast majority of children whose parents were detained in ICE raids in the workplace and in the home exhibited multiple behavioral changes in the aftermath of parental detention, including anxiety, frequent crying, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, withdrawal and anger…Disturbingly, the children also experienced dramatic increases in housing instability and food insecurity, which are both dimensions of basic well-being.”

In a Congressional hearing, 11 year-old Heidi Ruby Portugal described her reaction after her mother was seized in Arizona, “They took away the most precious thing that children have, our mother. With one hit they took away my smile and my happiness.”

Silencing Survivors of Domestic Violence: These laws actually increase the threat to women facing domestic violence or sexual assault. Domestic violence survivors will be reluctant to call the police for fear of deportation, sometimes leading to fatal consequences. Survivors of sexual assault will avoid hospitals and services, fearing the involvement of the police. This is particularly dangerous for immigrant women who already face so many barriers, including language access and cultural stigmas that may make it less likely that they will seek services.

Discriminating Against Women in the Workplace: Abusive employers who violate wage, sexual harassment and discrimination laws – laws that protect everyone who works in our country – will benefit from these measures. Immigrant women will be vulnerable to employers using the threat of deportation to control and exploit them professionally and sexually. An Arizona-style law will silence women from speaking out, from reporting crimes and violations of workplace rights.

Undermining of Public Safety: Most police chiefs and law enforcement experts agree that public safety is hurt when trust between immigrant communities and the police is replaced by fear. If police participate in immigration enforcement programs, crime victims and witnesses will be unwilling to come forward and report crime. This makes the entire community less safe.

Our immigration system is clearly not working but our time is far better spent promoting policies that help position ALL women and families to live the American dream, like policies to help close the pay gap so women can support their children now and prepare for an economically secure retirement tomorrow, and workplace standards like paid sick days that protect jobs and income for workers when faced with illness, domestic violence and sexual assault. Let’s not pass laws that attack women and children.

-Linda Meric, 9to5 Executive Director

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Stop Wal-Mart From Discriminating Against Women

LINDA MERIC and MARY HENDERSON

Ten years after Betty Dukes and other women workers first brought their claims of sex discrimination in pay and promotions against Wal-Mart, their case will go before the Supreme Court on March 29. 1.6 million women currently and formerly employed at Wal-Mart will be affected by the Court’s determination on whether Wal-Mart’s female employees can join together as a class, to challenge company-wide discrimination. The fair-minded among us will agree that Dukes v. Wal-Mart should be a class action case.

These patterns of discrimination catalogued in the lawsuit are exemplified in the experience of Mary, a 9to5 member and former Wal-Mart worker, who questioned why she was paid thousands of dollars less than a man with less education and the same seniority in the same position. Mary’s daughter, also a Wal-Mart employee, applied for a supervisory job that ended up going to a man because “he had a family to support” – even though she was supporting her family, as well. When Mary inquired about this, she was punished with transfer to a store requiring an hours-long commute.

The case contains thousands of pages of disturbing evidence documenting pervasive gender stereotypes, statistical pay and promotion disparities, and policies that allowed those stereotypes to negatively influence employment decisions affecting women throughout the company. A few examples:

Gender Stereotypes. The documents reveal an ingrained corporate culture that views women as inferior to men, and not interested in career advancement. Among the hundreds of statements detailed in Court documents is a manager telling one employee, “Men are here to make a career and women aren’t. Retail is for housewives who just need to earn extra money.” Another male manager declared, “Women should be home, barefoot and pregnant” – and NOT as a bad joke.

Pay Disparities. The women at Wal-Mart earned less than men, even after accounting for seniority, turnover and performance. In fact, the women had higher performance ratings and more years of employment on average, yet made 5% to 15% less: an average of $5,000 per year less than comparable men.

Promotion Problems. Women received fewer promotional opportunities for in-store management positions, and had to wait longer for the promotions they did receive.

Hiding Discrimination. Despite Wal-Mart's policy prohibiting employees from discussing pay, women discovered they were regularly paid less than male counterparts. A female assistant manager discovered that a less-experienced male assistant manager earned $10,000/year more than she did when someone gave her his misplaced W2. One woman realized that she earned less because “many male associates [at her store] brag[ged] about their pay.”

Retaliation for Complaints. Although Wal-Mart’s “Open Door” policy supposedly allowed employees to air complaints, in reality it “was a fa├žade and resulted only in retaliation,” according to one employee. Another reported that a Wal-Mart Home Office representative told female employees who made complaints of sex and race discrimination, “I can fire you, without taking any steps, for using the [O]pen [D]oor [policy].”

Wal-Mart has long been fueling a race to the bottom through its low standards of wages, benefits and working conditions. The company has been found guilty of numerous wage and hour and overtime violations, unfair labor practices, and absenteeism policies that punish workers for using their paid sick days. This lawsuit could put the brakes on; sending the message to all employers that illegal wage discrimination won’t be tolerated, even if you are the nation’s largest employer.

Evidence strongly suggests that sex discrimination is rampant at Wal-Mart. It can be stopped by a class action resolution to address the company-wide problem. This case will educate the public about employer responsibilities and employee rights in the workplace. All companies, including Wal-Mart, must be fair to all employees – men and women alike.

Linda Meric is the Executive Director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, a national membership-based organization of low-income women working to improve policies on issues that directly affect them.

Mary Henderson of Canon City, Colorado is a former Wal-Mart assistant manager who is fighting for a better tomorrow for her daughters and 12 granddaughters.