Union membership helps women fix wage inequality


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The second Tuesday of April was “Equal Pay Day,” which represents the extra four months the average woman would have to work if she wanted to earn as much as a man did in the last year. With women making up half of the workforce and earning more college degrees than men, why are they paid less? Employment discrimination, caregiving responsibilities, and less value being put on jobs defined as “women’s work” make it difficult for women to earn the same as men. Women often have to choose jobs with flexible schedules that typically pay less because they have families to care for. Single mothers and women of color are at a greater risk of poverty than men throughout their lives because of the gender wage gap. The children and, quite possibly, the elderly parents of these women are at risk, too.

Research shows that union membership improves the lives of women and their families, both economically and by giving them a voice in their workplace. Both men and women want higher wages, better benefits and job security, but women bring new perspectives to the labor movement because what they face on the job is different from men. By giving women a voice in the workplace through collective bargaining, women in unions are more likely to have greater security from harassment and discrimination. The wage transparency in a unionized workplace helps close the gender wage gap and prevents gender bias. Unions also typically provide women better access to benefits such as pensions and health care.

But union women have also helped us make the connection that what they’re dealing with at home is important, too. Juggling the responsibilities of work, family and community can make union activism very difficult, but women have used their voices to not only better themselves and the lives of their families, but also the overall community. Women in unions have used their voices to speak up and shape national policies that are important to them, like fighting for equal pay, women’s health concerns, child care policies and paid family leave.

Yet, despite this, our country still has a long way to go in addressing the issue of gender inequality.

As more and more families rely on women’s paychecks, being paid less than men for the same job results in women and their families being shortchanged. – UAW President Dennis Williams

Many achievements that have been made by women have been under attack by the Republican Party, which has a different vision of what women and their families deserve. While the GOP takes  care of the wealthy, it passes laws that make forming a union more difficult, prevent women’s access to health care and social services, and block equal pay for equal work laws.

Republicans support bad trade policies that hurt all workers by displacing jobs, lowering wages and discouraging workers to form unions. But low-income workers are the most negatively affected by these free-trade agreements and most of these workers are women — women who are already being paid less than their male counterparts. A lifetime of unequal pay makes it more difficult for a woman to save money for retirement, for her children’s education or for the down payment on a house.

In this election, we have to vote for candidates who will support economic policies that help women and their families. Child care isn’t just a woman’s issue, it’s an economic one. Women can’t go to work every day if they can’t afford safe quality child care. Unlike every other developed country, the United States doesn’t have guaranteed paid maternity leave and access to paid family leave is limited. Women lose paychecks  and even their jobs if they have a baby or a family member gets sick.

As more and more families rely on women’s paychecks, being paid less than men for the same job results in women and their families being shortchanged.

But women have the power to determine the outcome of elections. In 2012, women were the majority of voters and  most of them voted for President Barack Obama. As I’ve said before, this election is critical and will decide if we are going to move forward or go back to how things were eight years ago. UAW fights for the so-called “women’s issues” because these issues are really economic issues that affect us all. A country that supports women is a country that supports families and communities.

Women in the labor movement have a proud history of championing women’s rights through political action, fighting for racial equality and organizing nonunion workers. We should support working women and listen to their needs because an economy that works for women works for us all.

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