More than a century after the passage of the 19th amendment, the struggle for equal rights for women continues.
Unionization is our path forward.
Women’s Equality Day is a moment to commemorate suffrage for American women and reflect on progress over the past 100 years, but is also a chance to recommit ourselves to advocate for the rights of women, particularly those who have been marginalized or underserved.
After the passage of the 19th amendment which guaranteed that the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex”, many women were still left behind. Poll taxes, literacy tests, intimidation and other tactics disenfranchised Black women, Latinas, Asian women, indigenous American women, and many immigrants.
It took more than another 40 years, with the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, to remove many of the voting obstacles facing women of color. The fight for women’s rights, and the rights of others, continues today after the Supreme Court invalidated part of the law’s federal oversight in 2013. We can not continue to backslide when something as precious as our vote and our voice in the democratic process is at stake.
This Women’s Equality Day, we must also confront the pervasiveness of inequality for women. Women still earn only 82 cents compared to every dollar earned by a man, and the disparity is worse for women of color. American Indian and Alaska Native women earn 69 and 86 cents respectively for every dollar earned by a white man. Black women earn 63 cents for every dollar paid to a white man. For a Black woman working full time for 40 years, this equates to nearly a million dollars lifetime wage gap when compared to a white male counterpart. Pay gaps are getting worse in certain areas, possibly driven by pandemic induced economic pressures.
What can be done?
Raising the wages of women benefits individual women and families. As a nation we must do better to raise the living standards for women and for all those who live and work in America.
Here’s what can help:
- Eliminate the tipped minimum wage, currently at $2.13 an hour. More women than men rely on this low wage, and even with tips, still make less than their male counterparts.
- Provide paid family leave.
- Provide paid sick leave.
- Increase access to quality affordable childcare.
- Enforce laws that protect workers from wage theft. $50 billion is stolen from employees each year due to employer’s unscrupulous practices such as failure to pay wages, overtime or payroll taxes. Women are more likely than men to work in occupations where wage theft occurs.
All of these efforts would go a long way in changing the future for women, however the single most effective and timely way to close the gender wage gap is to increase women’s participation in unions.
While we continue the fight for legislation guaranteeing fairness and equality regardless of sex, there are things women can do right now to close the gender wage gap. Collective bargaining through a union affords women the same power as their male counterparts, and through negotiation, better wages, benefits, and rights.
On average, union workers earn more than non-union workers. In 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that overall Union workers earned nearly 20% more than non-union workers, but unionized women actually earned nearly 30% more than non-union women.
Half of American households are headed by women. If most of those were unionized with a roughly 30% wage boost from union membership, that could buoy the entire American middle class. Unions also effectively raise wages for people who are not in unions.
The high quality benefits that come with union employment, including individual and family health insurance, retirement plans, and paid leave can be difficult to secure in some non-union workplaces. But being a union member makes these types of benefits much more likely which benefits women and families.
Unions also provide workers with a right to due process or protection from being fired without cause, providing stability for women. A union can negotiate for safety standards that have saved countless lives and save more everyday.
And that’s not to mention benefits like having a consistency of hours, which is highly important for working moms.
Why now is the moment.
Women have borne the economic brunt of the pandemic and the crisis has laid bare the long-standing, underlying economic challenges and inequality American women have faced for generations. Women of color, particularly those in low-pay jobs deemed essential in the care and service sectors, have been particularly vulnerable during the pandemic and are disproportionately impacted by America’s lack of pro-women policies. In order for America to truly have a just, inclusive recovery, women must be at the forefront of economic policy.
With President Joe Biden, we have an opportunity to Build Back Better. Pro-women, pro-family policies like improved investments in child care and long term care and the child tax credit are important steps. However, the administration’s commitment to unions and union organizing are critical for the long-term success and stability of women and families.
The administration supports increased protection for workers engaged in collective bargaining which can be particularly important for women who may fear retribution in the workplace. Additional opportunities and funding for apprenticeships and training programs are also part of the administration’s agenda and will prove vital for not only increased union membership, but also for increasing the number of women in careers or trades traditionally associated with men.
Women’s rights have always been borne of struggle. Unions allow us to continue the fight together.