Getting it Right for Women  

The Center for Economic and Policy Research released a report in early December on the earning power of women in unions. Feministing summarized it like this:

The report...found that unionized women workers earned 11.2 percent more than their non-union peers and that women in unions were more likely to have health insurance and a pension plan.

I know, this is not surprising news. But what if you thought about this study a little differently? What if instead of focusing on the difference in earning power between women able to unionize and those not, we focused more on making it possible for all workers to choose a union?

For those of you who don't know (and let's face it there might be a few here), the ability for workers to decide on a union is really held in the hands of employers. Employers who often intimidate, fire and harass anyone who's signed a card because they want to be represented by a union.

Well, Monday, on the Hill,

...the National Council of Women’s Organizations hosted a congressional briefing for members of Congress, their staff, the press and the public. The goal of the briefing was for attendees to learn more about the Employee Free Choice Act and the difference its passage would make for women workers. The panelists highlighted the key difference that union membership makes for women and stressed the urgent need for reformed labor laws that will make it easier for workers to form their union.

I was especially interested in the focus not only on women, but on how the Employee Free Choice Act will have a dramatic impact on women. Again, from the Teamsters:

The panelists noted that women make up 45 percent of the union work force in the United States, and if the pace of growth continues, women will be the majority of the unionized work force in the United States by the year 2020. Union membership narrows the wage gap and increases the probability that women will have access to health insurance coverage.

So this got me to thinkin'. Women make up 45% of unionized workers. But what about the rest of the work force? How are women fairing in the economy? According to the Daily Toreador, women are doing pretty good, so to speak:

The economic recession led to many job losses, but mainly for men, said Mitra Toossi, a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projections economist.

About 82 percent of job losses belong to men, she said, and the percentage of women who lose their jobs hasn't changed much since the recession began.


Many women who work support families, Toossi said, and women with families are more likely to take jobs that do not require many hours and have little, if any, benefits.

Okay, so this got me really thinking now, specifically about the opposition to Employee Free Choice. It's as if the men in the room, the well thinking, well positioned men; who own businesses; who look like Rick Berman or work at Edleman PR; the men who join country clubs and head to the Senate to represent other men at the Chamber of Commerce, it's as if they are telling me and women like me and my mother that unions are for men, we women shouldn't worry our pretty little heads about it. And yet, the largest group of workers who would be affected by this legislation would be women.

Katie Jordan, president of the Chicago Coalition of Labor Union Women told the World that passing the Free Choice act would assist working women demand equal pay for equal work.

“Women without unions are on the lowest economic totem pole and do not have the equal opportunity to talk to their bosses about increasing their wages,” said Jordan. Too many families today are not in unions and struggle to pay their mortgages, added Jordan.

“It’s the workers who make the products and keep companies alive,” said Jordan. “People need to get paid for what they’re worth and feel free to join unions without being harassed,” she said.

Years ago, I sat through a presentation in college about the ad industry and changes in the ad industry as women entered the workforce. The oddest thing about it, were the images of women portrayed as girls, in pig tails for women's colognes or my favorite the Enjoli woman. If you're in your 30's you likely also remember, but for the rest of you, let me shine some light:

Christina: I can put the wash on the line, feed the kids, get dressed, pass out the kisses and get to work by 5 to 9.
'Cause I'm a Woman, Enjoli!

(Announcer): Charles of The Ritz Creates Enjoli. The New 8 Hour Perfume for The 24 Hour Woman.

Christina: I can bring home the Bacon!
Chorus: Enjoli.
Christina: Fry it up in a Pan!
Chorus: Enjoli.
Christina: And Never, Never, Never let you forget You're a Man!
'Cause I'm a Woman!
Chorus: Enjoli!

Images of women, even when shown to somehow have some power ultimately come down to what she does for a man. I know, the Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly concept of what women are good for, but my bigger issue here is how these very concerned men see empowerment of women as a risk to our society. Passing the Employee Free Choice Act at this time, they claim, would send us into a deeper recession. That the system we have now is good enough.

Again, from the Teamsters:

“Union issues are women’s issues,” Choudhry said.

On a more global scale, Heath pointed to the myth that unions destroy competitiveness, noting that in many European countries, employers pay skilled union workers high wages to produce high quality products that compete in the marketplace. Heath noted that compared to other developed nations, the United States has some of the most restrictive labor laws and the least equitable distribution of productivity gains throughout the population.

Noting that women still earn, on average, 78 cents to the dollar of men’s earnings, Rosenblatt spoke on the critical need for the Employee Free Choice Act in order for women and men to gain rights at work to form a union and bargain collectively for gains.

I know how folks feel about union issues here, they are often dropped in favor of issues relating to the environment or energy. But what I'd like to ask you to do today, is to look around. Look at the mothers, sisters, daughters and friends and think about what they do on a daily basis to feed and clothe their families. And think, for just a minute how much better they could do it if they just had the ability to choose for themselves to unionize or not to unionize.

Clearly, many people do get the impact the Employee Free Choice Act will have on women, and it's profound. I for one am especially appreciative of my former union (International Brotherhood of Teamsters) for getting the word out on women and the Employee Free Choice Act. Seems like the right time for the rest of us now, too.

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