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SOTU Calls for An End to Mad Men Era

January 29, 2014

by Ellen Bravo

On the day Newark, New Jersey joined the growing list of American cities guaranteeing its workers will earn paid sick days, President Barack Obama made a powerful link between that policy and two goals of a great society:  equality for women and an economy that works for all.

Newark photo

The president pointed out that women now make up about half the workforce, yet still earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn. “That is wrong,” he said, “and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work.”

But equal pay laws alone will not solve the problem.  The president went on to say that a woman also “deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job.  A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship – and you know what, a father does, too. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode.”

Mad Men prevail because we lack minimum standards to bring the workforce in line with the realities of today’s families.  Policies like paid sick days (the Healthy Families Act) and family and medical leave insurance (the FAMILY Act) will create those standards.

President Obama had started the State of the Union speech by urging us to make this “a year of action.” In that spirit, he called on “Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street to give every woman the opportunity she deserves.”

The President spoke to each plank of the Economic Agenda for Women and Families  – equal pay, paid leave, and child care – and echoed the theme of the Congressional women leaders who are promoting that agenda. We should expand these opportunities, he said, “because I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds.” Fittingly, he called for enactment of universal pre-K, and for comprehensive immigration reform, a sorely needed overhaul that will boost so many women and families along with our economy.

This was also a week in which employees of federal contractors at the Pentagon walked off the job to protest artificially low wages. In response, the President announced that he will issue an executive order raising the minimum wage for these workers to $10.10. Several times he insisted on the dignity of work and reminded us that “Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.”

Access to good jobs – that’s what the President described as the “best measure of opportunity.” Clearly, a good job is also one that can last, ensuring workers will not be fired for being a good parent or following doctor’s orders.

“It should be the power of our vote, not the size of our bank accounts, that drives democracy,” the President said. Congress should heed that call and the activism of women and allies across the country, and move forward now on bills that have been introduced to address the needs of women and families.




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