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


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.