Family Values @ Work

An anti-family conservative agenda

April 14, 2012

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Ellen Bravo

April 14, 2012


Comics and pundits alike spoof Mitt Romney for being out of touch with American voters. Yet, with poll after poll showing women favor President Barack Obama by large margins, the likely Republican candidate for president clearly sees that he and his party have a gender problem.

Romney’s solution? He’ll listen to his wife: “She reports to me regularly that the issue women care about most is the economy.”

But for Romney and many other conservative politicians, their positions on the economy only highlight the breadth of the war on women.

Wisconsin earned an unenviable part in this story when Gov. Scott Walker slipped a bill into his signing pile that makes it harder for women to fight pay discrimination.

Then, state Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) entered the fray. “You could argue that money is more important for men,” he told a reporter for The Daily Beast. “I think a guy in their first job, maybe because they expect to be a breadwinner someday, may be a little more money-conscious.”

In a country where two-thirds of women are primary or co-primary breadwinners in their households, telling female voters “money is a guy thing,” as Stephen Colbert put it, is about as tone-deaf and shortsighted as you can get.

Never mind that most people in their first job have no say over the amount of pay they will receive. Assembly-line workers, cleaning staff, food servers and many other low-paid jobs all reflect workplaces where pay violations routinely take place.

And never mind that many workers are told they’ll be fired if they dare to discuss pay with each other.

Not surprisingly, Grothman also supported the bill to steal paid sick days from Milwaukee after 69% of the electorate voted in favor of the ballot measure and after every aspect of the ordinance was upheld in court. He and his colleagues also tried to weaken the state’s family leave law, aiming to take away the ability to substitute paid time off the worker had earned for the unpaid provisions of the law.

So much for family values or concern for motherhood.

These anti-family positions are an essential part of the conservative agenda: oppose any effort to bring the workplace into the 21st century, even though a growing body of evidence shows that common-sense policies such as allowing workers to earn paid sick days help people keep their jobs and give them have more money to spend in their communities – two essential elements for economic recovery.

Here’s another important point for politicians to consider: When you hurt women, you may well anger men as well.

During the pay equity fight for state employees in Wisconsin in 1984, I often had the experience of speaking in congregations or community centers. Men would come up to me and give some variation on this speech: “When my wife got hired, I never thought about why she earned so little. I saw her pay as extra to help the family out. Then I got laid off. Now her income is all we have. She works hard and has a lot of skills – we need her to be paid what she’s worth.”

Men also know they have a stake in policies such as paid sick days and making family and medical leave affordable. They themselves get ill. Many also would like to spend more time with a new baby or a sick loved one. And men certainly don’t want family income to plummet because a wife is punished at work when she follows doctor’s orders or answers the school’s call if a child falls ill.

Take a memo, candidates. Women want to make their own decisions about their health. And they want to be able to support their family and help care for them. Note especially: When women do well economically, families do well.

Ellen Bravo is executive director of Family Values @ Work Consortium, a network of state coalitions working for policies such as paid sick days and family leave insurance.