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Updated: 22 hours 53 min ago

Working People vs. Trump: The First 100 Days

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 14:48

Ever since FDR passed 15 major pieces of New Deal legislation during his first 100 days in office, presidents have been measured by their effectiveness within the same time frame. President Trump thought the benchmark so important that he signed a “contract” saying what he would accomplish during those hundred days.

Trump promised to get many things done, especially for the benefit of profitable corporate elites at the expense of the rest of us. Even before he pushed out his contract, working men and women, and their allies across the country have banded together to stand up to Trump’s extreme proposals.

The first fight started when Trump selected CKE Restaurants CEO Andrew Puzder to be his Secretary of Labor in December 2016. The now-former head of the Hardee’s and Carl Jr.’s chains spent most of his career undermining the people who work for him, humiliating women, and fighting against fair wages, family sustaining jobs. Working people, fast-food and restaurant workers, women’s rights organizations, civil rights advocates, labor rights groups campaigned to oppose, and ultimately defeat, Puzder.

Our campaign demonstrated the power of our movements in pushing back against this administration’s dangerous agenda. Even Andrew Puzder, the only Trump cabinet secretary nominee to withdraw, credited “the Left” for his loss.

This defeat had ripple effects. It took Trump until his 98th day in office to appoint a Secretary of Labor. As newly-confirmed Labor Secretary R. Alexander Acosta heads to that cabinet seat, workers’ rights activists who opposed his confirmation have put him on notice. We will be watching him to make it clear that when he has to choose between protecting working people and implementing the Trump agenda, it is his duty to protect working people.

Trump hasn’t turned his attention to appointing a Deputy Secretary of Labor, new members of the National Labor Relations Board, or other key officials who could make workplaces worse once in office. Trump has only made one nomination to the lower courts despite more than 100 vacancies. By not filling out these posts, Despite Trump’s pre-election promise to overturn Obama-era regulations that hold corporations accountable for creating safe, sustainable, and family-supporting workplaces, many still remain on the books.

We also won another big victory against the Trump administration by forcing congressional Republicans to withdraw the corporate American Health Care Act. The GOP’s boardroom bailout plan would have decimated Medicare, repealed much of the Affordable Care Act, and stripped insurance coverage from nearly 30 million Americans.

A deluge of protests erupted in response. And even when legislators hid in the shadows instead of listening to their constituents, community groups organized town hall meetings in their place, providing a platform so working people could make their voices loud and clear in opposition to this destructive bill. As a result, Trump broke one of his major promises for his first 100 days: that he would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

That is not to say that there haven’t been setbacks. Most strikingly, Trump appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court despite Gorsuch’s clear pro-corporate agenda. Working people fought hard against Gorsuch, and Trump and his Senate allies had to break constitutional norms and Senate rules to get his nominee on the Court.

Furthermore, the delays caused by stopping Puzder and resisting the rest of the Trump agenda have been a double-edged sword. The administration passively unravels rules on the books by not enforcing them. For instance, the Trump administration has not withdrawn the overtime rule, which, if implemented, would give a raise to millions of Americans. But the administration hasn’t decided whether to continue to defend the overtime rule, which a federal judge put on hold after corporations sought to tie up the rule in the courts.

Similarly, Trump has yet to withdraw a rule requiring Wall Street investment professionals to put the welfare of retirement savers ahead of their sales commissions. But the Labor Department just delayed its implementation, while industry lobbyists seek to eliminate it altogether. The Trump administration also delayed the date in which companies have to comply with limiting the exposure of working people to cancer-causing silica dust The AFL-CIO estimates that 160 people could die as a result of the delay.

Overall, working people withstood the period when a president is at his or her most powerful. There is still a long way to go in the president’s term, and Trump will get his share of wins. However, even with politicians beholden to corporate CEOs controlling the White House and both houses of Congress, working families have stood together and stopped critical parts of the Trump agenda.

Categories: Human Rights

Workers’ Memorial Day Reminds Us Why the Fight for a Safe Workplace Continues

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 17:19

On June 18, 2016, Regina Elsea went to work at the AJIN USA auto parts manufacturing plant in Chambers County, Alabama. Two weeks away from getting married, she took the job in part, to help pay for her wedding. Regina’s job included overseeing the robots used to build parts supplied to Hyundai and Kia. When a robot stopped working that day, she attempted to fix the machine. The robot abruptly restarted and crushed Regina to death. She was 20 years old.

Following this tragedy, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration levied $2.5 million in fines against AJIN USA, citing 27 violations of federal safety rules. OSHA found AJIN failed to install safety measures to prevent the type of accident that claimed Regina’s life.

Regina’s story is not unique. In 2015, more than 4,800 people were killed at work, a six-year high. Today, the AFL-CIO reports that Latinos have a fatality rate that is now 18 percent higher than the overall working population. According to the same study, those ages 65 and older are nearly three times more likely to die from work-related causes.

April 28 marks Workers’ Memorial Day, a time for us to honor the memories of men and women who died on the job and continue fighting for safe and healthy workplaces for all. Workers’ Memorial Day coincides with the anniversary of the enactment of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970. Working people, labor and environmental advocates who wanted to hold corporations accountable for preventable deaths, chronic illnesses, injuries, and other serious accidents galvanized Congress to create the landmark legislation.

This Act established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA, the federal agency tasked with enforcing that employers provide adequate safety and training for the people who work for them. OSHA protecting lives and preventing injuries, and punishing businesses when they fail to do so. Since its passage, the Occupational Safety and Health Act saved more than 553,000 lives.

Despite OSHA’s important role, its resources are limited. The agency employs just 1,838 people to inspect 8 million workplaces. By next Workers’ Memorial Day, OSHA’s capacity to keep Americans safe could further diminish. OSHA operates under the Department of Labor, with a mission to “improve working conditions.” President Trump’s budget proposal cuts 21 percent of the department’s funding, which could gut the quantity and quality of health and safety inspections.

In addition to the proposed cuts, the Department of Labor continues to stall a major safety regulation. In March 2016 the Obama administration issued the “Silica Rule,” requiring corporations to limit their use of the toxic substance in worksites by 2017-2018. Exposure to silica dust causes an array of life-threatening health problems, including lung cancer and kidney disease. The Committee for Occupational Health and Safety found that 95,808 people died from long-term exposure to toxic substances, like silica. Earlier this year the Trump administration delayed the date in which companies have to comply with the Silica Rule, arguing that the rule shouldn’t move forward until a Labor Secretary is in office. With 2.3 million men and women exposed to the dangerous substance, the AFL-CIO estimates that 160 people could die as a result of the delay.

Even as Congress appears ready to confirm President Trump’s pending nominee for Labor Secretary—Alexander Acosta doesn’t inspire confidence that he’ll keep workplaces safe. When asked by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) during his confirmation hearing about whether he’d move forward with the Silica Rule, Acosta refused to directly answer whether the Labor Department should regulate the cancer-causing agent at all. Acosta also dodged explaining how the Department of Labor could successfully investigate workplace safety if Trump’s anemic budget proposal passes.

Of course, government agencies alone will not ensure people work in healthy and safe environments. Joining in union is a key way to increase worker safety. According to a recent study by the New York Committee for Occupational Health and Safety, non-union employers are the least safe. Seventy-nine percent of fatal accidents at construction sites were non-union and “severe violators” of health and safety regulations are almost always non-union employers.

150 people dying each day from hazardous working conditions, is 150 too many.

As we mourn those we’ve lost, Workers’ Memorial Day serves as a clarion call to action to end deaths of working people once and for all. Please take a minute to reach out to your members of Congress. Urge them to fully fund OSHA so the agency can provide fundamental health and safety inspections and trainings. It’s up to us to hold our elected leaders accountable to demand corporations put people above profits. Together, we can ensure that Regina Elsea and thousands of others will not have died in vain.


Categories: Human Rights

Worksite and Community Raids – Resource Hub

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 17:49

As the Trump administration aggressively ramps up deportations, community advocates are coming together to protect their immigrant co-workers, friends, and neighbors. More worksite raids are expected as part of Trump’s overreaching immigration enforcement efforts. Union organizers, labor and human rights advocates, and grassroots activists need to be equipped with best practices to respond to anyone impacted by a workplace raid. Even rumors of raids can destabilize communities, silence whistleblowers from speaking out against abuse on the job, and reduce the chances that people will unite together for a better life.

Jobs With Justice has created an online information sharing portal to post and exchange resources to defend workers’ rights against trumped-up immigration enforcement. Our hub features a variety of materials to support immigrants in the workplace, guidance on building rapid response teams to prepare for raids, tools for organizing local business and employers in dealing with ICE, proactive policy and advocacy solutions to implement, and more.

To gain access to the hub, connect with community and labor organizers across the country, and be alerted to upcoming trainings, contact Natalie at jwj dot org.

Categories: Human Rights

Trump’s “America First” Stance Puts Arts and Humanities Last

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 12:51

Arts and humanities programs educate, enrich and shape our lives and communities. But these programs seem to have no place in Donald Trump’s America. His draft fiscal year 2018 budget calls to eliminate funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), which would go into effect this October.

The NEA’s mission “is to make sure all Americans have access to the arts no matter where they live.” While budget cuts may not have a devastating impact on cultural hubs like New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC, underserved urban and rural communities absolutely will. Forty percent of NEA-supported activities take place in high-poverty neighborhoods, and more than half of NEA-funded art events occur in places where the median household income is less than $50,000.

Thirty-six percent of NEA grants fund organizations that reach populations of people with disabilities, people in institutions, and veterans. Federal agencies, like the Department of Defense, partner with the NEA to use the arts as a platform for enhancing quality of life. For example, the NEA Military Healing Arts Partnership supports creative art therapy programs to assist injured or ill service members and their families on their road to recovery.

NEH grants led to the creation of books, films, museum exhibits, and other exciting discoveries, over the past 50 years. Humanities programs play a key role in supporting and engaging urban, at-risk youth across the country. PRIME TIME, created by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, is one such program. It was designed to build literacy skills and encourage family bonding through storytelling, using “award-winning children’s books that include culturally diverse stories.” A commissioned impact study revealed students who participated in PRIME TIME from grades 1-4 scored higher on Louisiana state exams. Parents also reported that PRIME TIME gave them the opportunity to bond with their child, made them more comfortable going to the library, and caused their child to want to read more books.

The NEH also invests in significant social, cultural and public health research ventures that could disappear if Congress approves Trump’s budget plans. The agency backed grants to Indiana University for projects as diverse as tracking the spread of HIV/AIDS throughout society to the preservation of heritage materials from Native Americans, and indigenous groups across the world.

The CPB is the largest single source of financing for public media, providing operational support for and universal access to public television and radio stations, and related online and mobile services. A loss of federal funds means that the CPB would have to raise 200 percent more in private donations to stay afloat. Americans would pay a high price – not only by way of donations, but by “losing enriching, thought-provoking content that broadens people’s horizons.

Lidia Bastianich is one of public broadcasting’s many stars of who bring powerful stories and content to American households. Now a renowned chef, Bastianich escaped Yugoslavia as a child refugee and also lived in a Nazi concentration camp in Italy. She has a special interest in honoring American troops who “fight for the freedoms she never takes for granted.” Thanks to CPB funding, she hosted “Holiday for Heroes,” broadcast to millions on PBS, where she met and cooked with veterans who shared tales of their service, and how food factored into their recovery.

In a letter to President Trump, a bipartisan group of senators expressed interest in continued support of the NEA, NEH and CPB, arguing that their ‘shoestring budgets’ are worth the return on investment. The arts and culture sector is a $704 billion industry, accounting for 4.2 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The combined budgets of the agencies equal $741 million per year – less than one-tenth of one percent of the annual federal budget. Gutting these programs would prove costly to the livelihoods of all Americans.

Alongside the potential loss of cultural content is the loss of employment. Trump campaigned on a job creation platform but is all set to slash funding to these three organizations. The agencies directly and indirectly support millions of jobs in all states and congressional districts, many of which are family-sustaining jobs. The NEA, NEH & CPB provide career development and advancement opportunities for people who aren’t living in large cities, or who may not have the money to get started in the arts. Actors Equity Association Executive Director Mary McColl summed it up: “The President says he wants to create jobs—he can start by protecting our nation’s investment in middle-class arts jobs.”

While eliminating arts and humanities funding and ultimately, American jobs, the Trump administration instead is seeking billions of dollars for other appropriations. His draft budget – titled “A Blueprint to Make America Great Again” – puts priorities in the wrong place, pivoting from the organizations that add to the multi-layered fabric of our country to a spirit of American exclusivity. As the Performing Arts Alliance maintains, the arts have the “power to transport audiences, unite communities, promote empathy and understanding, and humanize differences.” In other words, the NEA, NEH, and CPB are a large part of what makes America already great.

Take action: call your congressional representative and urge them to reject any budget that eliminates funding for the arts, humanities and public broadcasting.

Categories: Human Rights

When Wall Street Writes the Rules for Retirement

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 10:59

Saving for retirement can be stressful. And regrettably, our elected leaders are taking active steps to keep it that way.

Today in the United States, nearly half of all those employed in the private-sector don’t have access to a retirement savings plan at work. Put another way, a near majority of private companies have walked away from contributing to or even offering the convenience of retirement plans for the people who work for them. Over the last few decades, corporations all but eliminated the defined-benefit pension plans that guarantee retirement security for the people who work for them. In doing so corporate America shifted the responsibility and risks associated with saving for retirement on the shoulders of working people.

Limited access to retirement plans, combined with stagnating wages, fluctuating work hours and other factors, results in one in three working Americans having nothing saved for retirement at all. Over the next decade, this crisis will become particularly acute for members of the baby boomer generation who are among the first who have to reckon with the individualized retirement system. With so many struggling to set aside enough money for their futures, elected officials would be wise to implement solutions to bring a secure retirement within reach for more Americans.

Unfortunately, both the House of Representatives and Senate recently voted to repeal an Obama-era regulation allowing states and cities to establish their own retirement savings plans. The rule empowered local governments to help provide an easy and practical way for individuals without access to a retirement plan at work to start saving. To boost participation rates, the programs were designed to use automatic enrollment. This feature adheres to the research of behavioral scientists who find that people are more likely to save if they don’t have to complete so many steps to start.

Why did this commonsense rule get killed?  Again, Wall Street-backed politicians put corporate profits ahead of the financial well-being of working people. Insurance companies and big banks fear these transparent, low-cost retirement savings plans could compete with their high-fee, aggressively marketed savings products like annuities that are not a good fit for many savers. And so their lobbyists, including various financial services trade associations and the Chamber of Commerce came out in force to overturn the rules.

The Trump administration is also rushing to defend the financial services industry. In March, the Department of Labor delayed rolling out the Obama administration rule requiring investment professionals to put the welfare of retirement savers ahead of their sales commissions, as industry lobbyists seek to eliminate it altogether. The fiduciary rule forces stock brokers and other financial advisors to only recommend investments that are in their clients’ best interests, instead of those which may pay brokers large commissions or sales fees. The 60-day implementation delay will cost retirement savers $3.7 billion, and a permanent repeal would have an even harsher impact.

It’s not surprising that the same politicians who take billions in contributions from Wall Street are stepping in to shield their donors from rules to hold them accountable. Working people and consumer advocates aren’t deterred. California officials plan to move forward with the launch their state retirement program by 2019. And men and women—from security guards at some of the most profitable corporations to writers at digital media companies, continue to join together to make our jobs more secure and boost our chances to retire with dignity.


Categories: Human Rights

Taking Action This May Day

Mon, 04/17/2017 - 11:00
Categories: Human Rights

Gorsuch’s Confirmation Is One Battle in a Long Fight that Working People Will Win

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 17:56

Today, working people lost a huge fight when the Senate confirmed Neil M. Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Until recently, a significant number of Democratic senators remained publicly undecided on how they would vote on Gorsuch. Progressive groups, including civil rights organizations, women’s rights groups, democracy advocates, clean money campaigners, environmentalists, and other allies urged the Senate to reject the nominee. The deluge of resistance exposed his history of bending over backward to side with big corporations.

A number of Senators demonstrated opposition due to Gorsuch’s stances against working people. For instance, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said during the floor debate: “[Gorsuch] has made it clear, in many instances, that he favors corporations at the expense of the working people.” Assistant Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) pointed out that in a fight between the religious rights of corporate CEOs and their employees, Gorsuch sided with the CEOs. And Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) commented: “I am deeply concerned that granting [Gorsuch] a lifetime appointment to be a final authority on the meaning of the Constitution would further tip the scales of justice in favor of corporations and the powerful at the expense of working people and the powerless.”

Gorsuch received only three ‘yes’ votes from Democrats. For context, that’s the same amount of ‘yes’ votes that Robert Bork received from Democrats when his nomination was defeated in 1987. Gorsuch would not have been confirmed if his supporters did not engage in chicanery. Senate Republicans deployed the “nuclear option” to break the rule requiring at least 60 senators agree before a vote could be held. Gorsuch bypassed the block with a bare majority.

Do these margins of error matter now that Gorsuch has a lifetime seat on the highest court in the land? Absolutely. But even though the loss was difficult for progressives, the seeds for victory in the overall fight against the corporate Trump agenda have been planted.

The Trump administration, Congress and their corporate friends now know what they’re up against: a strong, vocal, diverse movement uniting against millionaires and lobbyists who rig the rules in their favor.  We’ll be watching and waiting for their next sneak attack against working people, and we will be ready to resist and armed to win.

Categories: Human Rights

Intersectional Organizing Key to Winning Reproductive and Economic Justice

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 16:39

A doctor decided that Loretta Ross shouldn’t have any more children. He sterilized her without her permission when she was 23. A woman working at Burger King wanted to see a doctor because she was bleeding profusely. Her manager pressured her to stay at work or risk losing her job. She later discovered she was having a miscarriage.

At a recent talk about the interplay between economic and reproductive justice hosted by Center for American Progress, advocates shared these stories in discussing the significance of women asserting control of their reproductive health.

Black women came together in 1994 to launch the reproductive justice movement to ensure women gained autonomy over their bodies. Since its founding, the movement has empowered women across incomes, borders, race, and ethnicities to organize for better maternal health, OB/GYN care, birth control, STI treatment, abortion rights, and sex education.

Today’s movement activists are engaging in epic battles to protect and advance health care for women, their children and all who follow. And they’re not doing it alone.

Reproductive justice advocates recognize that economic and social factors play a large part in reproductive health care. For instance, access to affordable housing, public transportation, sustainable employment, and quality education impact a woman’s choice about whether or not to become a parent. Women’s health and wellness are determined by a range of systemic conditions that may extend far beyond the traditional agendas of reproductive health groups.

That’s why intersectional organizing is so important. As Loretta J. Ross, co-founder and national coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective said, it “invites us to think about all the issues.” Building relationships with, and engaging stakeholders throughout the reproductive, social, and economic justice fields also results in wins.

For instance, a cross-movement effort derailed Andrew Puzder, Trump’s first pick for Labor Secretary. He opposed policies that would raise women’s pay and close the gender wage gap, and attacked women’s health care, making it harder – and even illegal – for women to get the reproductive health care they need. Thanks to the work of a wide range of groups, including organizations like All* Above All, that put sweat equity into intersectional organizing, we prevented Mr. Puzder from taking office.

Intersectional organizing also helped defeat the American Health Care Act (ACHA). Preserving the Affordable Care Act was a major coup to protect women’s health and economic freedom. The ACHA would have forbidden women from using tax credits to purchase abortion-providing insurance coverage, and would have required them to purchase a separate plan for that purpose. House Republicans would have rolled back Medicaid coverage and subsidies, threatening the health and economic security of 3.9 million women, including 2.3 million working women who recently gained Medicaid coverage. Angela Ferrell-Zabala, director of strategic partnerships at Planned Parenthood, underscored the threat: “Many women who come to Planned Parenthood are on Medicaid. When you tamper with Medicaid, it impacts the community – primarily Latinx and Black women.”

Now reproductive justice fighters are in the trenches with consumer advocates, democracy organizations, economic justice allies and many more to stop Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. The judge, whose confirmation vote is scheduled for this week, has a track record of siding with big corporations and against the interests of working women and men. When Hobby Lobby sued to avoid having to cover birth control for their employees, Gorsuch ruled in the retailer’s favor. This decision, allowing corporations to restrict insurance coverage of basic family planning care, made Gorsuch a target for a cross-section of progressive organizations. Reproductive justice activists also oppose Gorsuch for his rulings and campaigning to defund Planned Parenthood.

Intersectional organizing is vital in ensuring women have a full say about their bodies, their health, their workplaces, and their communities. Using the last 100 days as a yardstick, the Trump administration does not seem to have women’s health issues at heart. Thankfully, the past three months demonstrate the power of mobilizing various movements and amplifying a bold array of voices to action.

Categories: Human Rights

Immigrant Activists Targeted By Trump Administration Are Not Backing Down

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 14:22

Zully Palacios and Enrique Balcazar are activists with Migrant Justice to improve the living and working conditions of farmworkers across the state. Enrique leads the #MilkWithDignity campaign, calling on Ben & Jerry’s to commit its dairy farm suppliers to providing dignified conditions for farmworkers. The two Vermont advocates also organize teach-ins, host community forums, and are vocal about creating better lives for their fellow neighbors.
By all accounts, Zully and Enrique are model community citizens and activists. Neither of them has a criminal record. But they were arrested last month.

Human rights, labor and immigration groups attested that officers targeted the pair due to their social activism. After local groups, including Jobs With Justice affiliates Vermont Workers’ Center and Massachusetts Jobs With Justice, mounted protests and a legal defense fund, a judge released Enrique and Zully last week.

This type of retaliation against community leaders, unfortunately, is not an isolated incident. Reports have surfaced within the last six weeks that immigration enforcement officials in Mississippi, Oregon, and New York have arrested active immigrant rights organizers and supporters Individuals who spoke out publicly or participated in community meetings. It appears that some immigration offices, perhaps emboldened by the Trump administration’s aggressive and overreaching policies, are pursuing those who criticize him.

The Trump administration’s actions are distressing to anyone who cares about our citizens and our abilities to exercise our rights and civil liberties. Dissent is a vital part of our democracy. The right to free speech is protected by The U.S. Constitution protects the right to free speech—and that right isn’t limited only to citizens or those with documentation. Hunting down people simply for being active in their communities betrays our values and rights to speak out in a democratic society.

Retaliation against immigrant activists follows the trend of Republicans pushing anti-protest bills in several states, which either floundered or were immediately shot down as unconstitutional. If the trend of local and federal authorities curbing protests continues, we can’t ignore the chilling effect.

Ellen Schwartz, president of the Vermont Workers’ Center, explained that Enrique’s arrest was “designed to sow fear within the immigrant community, pushing workers into the shadows where they are susceptible to exploitation and abuse. Left unchallenged, the perception of reprisal surrounding his arrest will create harmful ripple effects for undocumented workers, and indeed for all people exercising free speech rights in support of vulnerable groups, not only in Vermont but across the country.”

The damaging effect of Trump’s policies is not merely theoretical. News reports have surfaced revealing that immigrants who were once comfortable joining together and speaking up for better workplaces won’t come forward now due to the administration’s stance on immigration. Some say they are too afraid to collect back wages that are rightly due to them after the Department of Labor found their employers guilty of stealing their pay, for fear of being deported.

Like many of Trump’s plans, his immigration agenda benefits corporations that don’t want to ensure safe workplaces or pay fair wages. Punishing whistleblowers and community activists only will embolden disreputable employers, making it easier for them to exploit and mistreat the people who work for them, regardless of their status.

Immigrant and labor activists aren’t backing away from demands for sustainable jobs, healthy communities, and a brighter future for our children, despite retaliatory attempts to stop them. On May Day, more than 100 communities will march, protest, and strike against Trump’s attacks on working people and immigrants, to send a loud message of solidarity and resistance. Now that Zully and Enrique are free, they will continue their advocacy efforts with Migrant Justice, working to ensure Ben and Jerry’s follows through on its promise to farmworkers.

Categories: Human Rights

Equal Pay Day: Don’t Celebrate, Organize!

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 03:00

A version of this post was originally posted on April 11, 2016 on the Women’s Media Center blog.

Today marks Equal Pay Day, the day that symbolizes “how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year,” according to the National Committee on Pay Equity.

Today, women are paid, on average, 80 cents for every dollar their male counterparts are paid. That gap is even more pronounced for women of color, as Black and Latina women earn 70 and 60 cents, respectively, for every dollar paid to a white male.

This means women and their families are being wildly shortchanged over the course of their lifetime—costing the average woman between $700,000 and $2 million.

And let’s be clear: This phenomenon can’t be easily explained away. Women today make up more than half of the workforce and have higher levels of education than men. And as more and more women move into the career fields that have traditionally been male-dominated, we’re seeing even more discrepancies in pay.

Take Atisha Perdue, for example. Atisha is a passenger service agent for American Airlines and a single mom of three young kids living in North Carolina.

Over the past 50 years, ticket agent jobs shifted from being held primarily by men to women—and wages have dropped by 43 percent in that time. Simply because Atisha—and the majority of her coworkers—are women, employers have placed a lower value on the work she does every day. For Atisha, that meant living paycheck to paycheck, working overtime to sustain her family, and spending less time with her kids. “You have to do what you have to do,” Atisha said.

Something is wrong when millions of women like Atisha are working hard and can’t make ends meet. Women who work for a living ought to earn a living. And being there and providing for those you love isn’t negotiable.

Women cannot always count on their employer to give them equal pay for an equal day’s work. But we can close the gap if working women like Atisha are able to come together to negotiate the terms of their work.

The wage gap in union workplaces is half the size of the wage gap in non-union workplaces. That means women who have joined in union take home over $200 per week more than their non-union counterparts.

That means a real difference in the lives of people like Atisha and her three kids.

When Atisha and her coworkers came together for a fair return on their work—and won representation through a union—it changed her life.

“With the pay increase and benefits, it gives us the best of both worlds. It gives you hope that you can take care of your family. It was a struggle before, but now I’m able to spend more time with my family,” she said.

That’s real progress. And real proof that when women come together, we can move mountains.

We can rewrite the rules by putting real power in the hands of working women and giving them a say in their economic future through access to paid family and sick leave, a seat at the table with management, and equal pay for equal work.

We need a movement for women’s economic freedom.

I’ve seen the beginnings of that movement in women like Atisha, and it makes me believe that real change is possible. And it’s clear that other women believe it’s possible, too.

A recent study of nearly 25,000 working women found that the one issue that we’re most motivated about—no matter our age, our race, where we live, and what we do for a living—is equal pay for equal work.

Imagine what’s possible if the millions of women from all walks of life joined forces to demand a fair return on their work. By demanding a better future for ourselves, our daughters, nieces, and generations of working women to follow, we could make the wage gap history.

Categories: Human Rights