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#WEmatter: A Message to Lawmakers from Today’s Families

August 26, 2014

by Ellen Bravo

What happens when a woman lands a good job usually done by men, but the workplace doesn’t have paid sick days?

Anne Lott Cropped 2Take Anne Lott from Minneapolis. She had a factory job that paid a decent wage, except it operated as if people didn’t ever need time to care for sick kids.  But Anne’s kids did get sick from time to time, and eventually, six absences over a year led to a pink slip. Anne and her kids had to double up with her mother to survive, leading her to a spiral of jobs done mainly by women that paid a lot less – not because these jobs required less skill or responsibility, but because they related to tasks women do in the home and that bear the long legacy of discrimination. Now in her 50s, Anne is starting over as a personal care attendant, working six days a week to try to get on her feet.

For women like Anne, “having it all” has never been on the table. Instead, the question has always been how close you are to losing it all — and how you manage when you do.

For a lot of people in this country, losing even a few days’ pay can equal grocery money for a month. Eight days can wipe out a family’s life savings.

Maria Elena JeffersonInsecurity comes from many sources:  low wages, undervalued work, pay docked for caring for oneself or a loved one, lack of collective bargaining, and the artificially low value of the minimum wage. It also comes from lack of parity for part-timers and unpredictable schedules. Maria Elena Jefferson, a Walmart worker and OUR Walmart member in Southgate, California, works full time every hour on the job but her manager keeps her hours just below what counts as full time – preventing her from having enough to live on and from qualifying for paid sick days. Like many retail workers, Maria Elena also has to live with schedules that can change with little notice, making it hard to arrange family caregiving.

PA_Bravo_PearsonFamilyEven for women in so-called professional jobs, lacking time to care for a family member is a significant problem. Anne Marie Pearson in West Chester, Pennsylvania was a human resources manager who oversaw among other things the firm’s family and medical leave policy. When her older sister was diagnosed with cervical cancer, Anne Marie stepped in to help and tried to take leave under the FMLA herself. That’s when she found out that FMLA’s definition of family doesn’t include siblings.  She had to leave her job of 17 years to take care of the sister who had helped raise her.

That kind of job loss takes a big bite out of a family’s economic security and a woman’s future retirement income.

On August 26 we celebrate the 19th amendment, when Congress stopped denying women the right to vote. Of course, for decades many women of color, especially African-American women in the southern states, continued to have people in power block their voting rights. But women’s voices mattered. They raised their voices to remove those barriers. And today women are using their voices and using their votes to say: #WEmatter.

On this August 26, dozens of groups and thousands of individuals across the country are tweeting using the #WEmatter hashtag.

Because women’s economic security matters.

Because our votes matter.

Because #WEmatter.

Pay attention, those running for office. #WEmatter isn’t just a hashtag; it’s notice that there’s a linked policy agenda that values families and the work that they do. And one we’re keeping our eye on.

We need to raise the floor and remove the barriers for women and families. Our agenda includes the demand for gender justice and for racial justice – conditions that assure that all of us can live free of fear, harassment or violence, that all of our children can thrive, and that all of us can provide for and care for our loved ones.

It’s an agenda that says we all matter. Click here to join in.



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