By Ellen Bravo
If we listened to corporate lobbyists and conservative politicians, we’d spend our time dodging imaginary chunks of falling sky. Make sure all workers can earn paid sick days? Higher wages and equal pay? Protections for pregnant workers and an insurance fund so they and their partners have income when they give birth? Affordable, quality care for children and for the elderly? No way, they tell us – it’s impossible.
So it’s a huge breath of fresh air that 30 organizations are launching National Days of Action between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day this year with the simple slogan of “Mission Possible: Building a Strong Economy for Families, Women and the Nation.” What these groups remind us is that we must act to bring workplace policies into the 21st century. Not only is our mission possible – it’s necessary to boost our economy, and it’s long overdue.
The kick-off event was a press conference May 13 at the U.S. Capitol. Two representatives of Family Values @ Work member coalitions were among the speakers. Shelby Ramirez-Martinez, a local leader from Colorado 9to5, shared her story of having to decide whether to pay rent or pay for her family’s medications and meals when her father and daughter needed surgery at the same time.
“Had I needed two months of unpaid leave instead of two and a half weeks, I’d have been homeless,” Shelby said. “I am very aware of what low pay and lack of paid time to care will mean for my social security. I know many women who worry that growing older will also mean growing poorer.”
Onetha McKnight from Philadelphia talked about working as a wheelchair attendant in the Philadelphia International Airport, the impossibility of earning a sub-minimum wage and living off tips, and the catch-22 of not being able to take a paid sick day when she is ill, which puts herself and her passengers at risk.
They joined Marine Corps veteran and MomsRising member Charlotte Brock, law firm partner Rebecca Gellar, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and three other Congressional champions to highlight an agenda of policy solutions and the growing momentum across the country to win those policies.
Because all of these women have joined the movement to turn #MissionPossible into #MissionAccomplished. As Onetha McKnight, who’s organizing with SEIU 32BJ, said, “While I struggle to get by day-to-day I have hope that my co-workers and I will win. In fact, I know we will win if we continue to stand strong.”
In her remarks, Teresa Younger, President and CEO of the Ms. Foundation and emcee of the May 13 event, pointed to the reasons for our confidence: the breadth of our movement represented at the event – moms and dads, low-wage workers and successful business owners, activists for racial justice and for LGBTQ rights, faith leaders and women’s groups and more, as well as the wins we’ve seen in recent years. “As of today,” she said, “18 cities and 3 states have passed paid sick days policies and more are on the way; 3 states have family and medical leave insurance programs and more local jurisdictions and states are advancing some form of paid family leave; partners are working to improve access to high quality, affordable childcare, fair pay and scheduling policies, and much more. We have seen an increase in bipartisan support and expect that to grow.”
Because in the words of talk show host John Oliver, “You can’t have it both ways. You can’t go on and on about how much you love mothers and then fail to support legislation that makes life easier for them.”