Category Archives: Working Women

Treading Water: The Current Challenges of Women’s Work

Source: Shilpa Phadke and Diana Boesch, Center for American Progress, January 18, 2019

…. This column reviews how women’s work is segmented and undervalued; how workers at the margins—such as domestic workers, farm laborers, part-time workers, and gig economy workers—face persistent barriers and inequality; and how policymakers must prioritize centering workers’ voices and holistic needs and experiences as they craft meaningful economic policy. While this column does not detail the myriad ways in which women often struggle to maintain their economic security to the detriment of their health, it is important to emphasize that women do not live their lives in silos, and access to a range of programs and policies, such as comprehensive reproductive health services, as well as access to affordable education and skills-based learning, are critical to women’s economic success. ….

Working Women versus Employers: An Insider’s View

Source: Anne Ladky, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History, Vol. 15 no. 3, September 2018
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In her book, Knocking on Labor’s Door: Union Organizing in the 1970s and the Roots of a New Economic Divide, Lane Windham compellingly illuminates the context of organizing in that decade and dispels long-held myths. She makes clear that it was not a lack of organizing that resulted in the decline in unionization in the following decade but the aggressive refusal of companies to tolerate union organizing activity—or any campaigns that they perceived could lead to unionization—aided by government failures. The experiences of those of us in what has been called the working women’s movement bear out her arguments.

I am not a historian—my comments are aimed at connecting what I was experiencing as an organizer with Windham’s narrative. I was organizing in the 1970s around women’s employment issues as a member of the Chicago Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and then as a member of Women Employed (WE). I joined the staff of Women Employed in 1977, became its executive director in 1985, and served in that position for thirty-two years. WE, whose founding is noted in the book’s second chapter, is now a forty-five-year-old organization whose mission is to break down barriers to women’s economic advancement and promote workplace fairness. It has a staff of twenty; it is locally based with national policy reach. The organization has opened hundreds of occupations to women, helped outlaw and reduce sexual harassment, did some of the very first work on family-friendly workplace policies, made affirmative action a dramatically effective tool for women’s advancement, and much more. Today, its priorities are to change workplace policies and practices that affect low-paid working women, expand work-family policies, and enable more low-income women to enter and succeed in higher education. While the organization’s priorities have changed to address evolving barriers facing low-paid female workers, the organization’s mission is unchanged since its founding in 1973….

Related:
Tangled Up in Race: Working-Class Politics and the Ongoing Economic Divide
Source: Dan Graff, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History, Vol. 15 no. 3, September 2018
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The title of Lane Windham’s impressive new exploration of union organizing in the 1970s, Knocking on Labor’s Door, immediately calls to mind Bob Dylan’s hit single “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” Whether the allusion is intended or not, the song’s release date resonates, since 1973 — marked by the oil crisis and stagflation — is widely considered among historians to be the year of reckoning for the New Deal order, the US labor movement, and the heyday of American liberalism. But where Dylan’s song is a dirge, with its mournful narrator accepting “the long black cloud” announcing death, Windham’s monograph exudes an opposite tone. By uncovering stories of worker-activists who organized with a purpose and a passion reminiscent of the 1930s, Windham rejects the notion of the 1970s as “the last days of the working class” (3)….

Labor Feminism Meets Institutional Sexism
Source: Katherine Turk, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History, Vol. 15 no. 3, September 2018
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Lane Windham’s Knocking on Labor’s Door offers important contributions to labor and working-class history and to the emerging literature on American capitalism. Most important, the book reminds us that the 1970s did not mark a gloomy descent into neoliberalism; rather, those years were shot through with electrifying possibilities.

My comments will reflect on how Knocking on Labor’s Door handles the identity politics of sex and class. The book offers striking insights into the political economy of the 1970s; in particular, it sheds new light on employers’ efforts to protect their profits as they navigated a globalizing landscape. But in blaming those employers when union campaigns led by women and men of color fell short, Windham downplays other factors — especially the roadblocks thrown up by wage-earning white men. Laboring women had to aim their campaigns for equity at their employers as well as at their union “brothers.” Aware of the distinct yet related challenges they faced everywhere they worked, many women experimented with and blended new and well-established forms of activism. The formal labor movement thus offers too narrow a lens to capture the range of outcomes that working people — women in particular — imagined and pursued as they fought the baked-in inequities that shaped workplaces and unions alike…..

I Hear You Knockin’. . . . But You Can’t Come In
Source: Alex Lichtenstein, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History, Vol. 15 no. 3, September 2018
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Knocking on Labor’s Door is an impressive achievement. By combing through National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) records and revisiting some crucial but forgotten labor struggles from the 1970s, Lane Windham seeks to refute pessimists like Jefferson Cowie, who regard that decade as ringing the death knell of an empowered American working class. Specifically, Windham wants to call our attention to the energized struggles of African American, women, and immigrant workers. Newly emboldened by the previous decade’s rights revolutions, these members of the working class sought to join and reinvigorate the flagging American labor movement that had previously done much to exclude them. They indeed were “knocking at labor’s door.”

But did that door open? With all due respect to Windham’s ability to uncover the dynamics of previously ignored or overlooked struggles of this era, I want to provoke discussion by laying out an alternative narrative, based as much as possible on the compelling evidence of labor ferment she herself has unearthed and brought to life in the pages of this book.

Here is my alternative narrative:…

Author’s Response
Source: Lane Windham, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History, Vol. 15 no. 3, September 2018
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I am grateful to Anne Ladky, Dan Graff, Katherine Turk, and Alex Lichtenstein for their carefully considered and provocative analyses of Knocking on Labor’s Door: Union Organizing in the 1970s and the Roots of a New Economic Divide. In writing the book, I aimed to open up a fresh discussion of the workers’ movement in the pivotal 1970s and also to offer new approaches for understanding working people’s struggles today. These accomplished scholars and activists clearly have embraced both undertakings. I would like to also thank the Newberry Library for hosting this forum and the journal Labor for allowing us to further our dialogue here….

Women in State Legislatures for 2019

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures, November 27, 2018

NOTE: This is preliminary post-election information, which is subject to change due to recounts, resignations, appointments and special elections.

Approximately 2,090 women will serve in the 50 state legislatures in 2019. Women will make up 28.3 percent of all state legislators nationwide.

This represents a significant increase from the 2018 session’s ratio of 25.3 percent, and the most women elected at one time.

Information about women in legislative leadership for 2019 coming soon.

Still a Man’s Labor Market: The Slowly Narrowing Gender Wage Gap

Source: Heidi I. Hartmann and Stephen J. Rose, Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), ID: C474, November 26, 2018

From the press release:
Women today earn just 49 cents to the typical men’s dollar, much less than the 80 cents usually reported, according to a new study by economists Heidi I. Hartmann and Stephen J. Rose released today by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR).

The study, Still a Man’s Labor Market: The Slowly Narrowing Gender Wage Gap, uses the Panel Study on Income Dynamics, a longitudinal dataset to look at the gender earnings gaps between men and women in 15-year time spans. When measured by total earnings across the most recent 15 years for all workers who worked in at least one year, women workers faced a wage gap of 51 percent in the 2001-2015 period. The analysis also found that while the long-term earnings gap has narrowed significantly since 1968, progress has slowed in the last 15 years.

Related:
Abstract

#MeToo: Sexual Harassment and Executive Compensation

Source: John L. Utz, Journal of Pension Planning & Compliance, Vol. 44, No. 4, Winter 2019
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It would not surprise me to learn that workplace sexual harassment has a history as long as that of working relationships themselves. The incidence of misbehavior may have varied with geography, work setting, or the times, but bad behavior seems obdurate. Power is intoxicating and, when combined with carnal impulses (and perhaps an executive’s inflated self-image and underdeveloped empathy for co-workers), makes possible mischief that is personally hurtful and institutionally corrosive.

The intractability of workplace sexual harassment has been noted with woe by a taskforce formed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “EEOC”). That taskforce—the two co-chairs of which were EEOC commissioners—reported that studies of sexual harassment suggest 25 percent of women, at the low end, report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Select Taskforce on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace, U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission, June 2016, p. 8. Also, this is the result 30 years after the Supreme Court held that workplace harassment is an actionable form of discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Meritor Sav. Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986).

Perhaps 2017 will prove to have been a watershed year, both in the effort to reduce the incidence of sexual harassment, and the effort to identify and punish wrongdoers…..

We’re Pregnant: New State Law Protections for Pregnant Employees

Source: Theresa A. Kelly and Alba V. Aviles, Employee Benefit Plan Review ,Vol. 72, No. 12, November/December 2018
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Several states across the country (including most recently Connecticut and Massachusetts) have enacted legislation that provides additional protections to pregnant employees. In these laws, pregnancy is broadly defined to include not only pregnancy, but also childbirth and related conditions (such as lactation and expressing milk for a nursing child).

Many of these laws require an employer to reasonably accommodate a pregnant employee unless the employer can demonstrate that doing so would result in undue hardship—a difficult standard to meet. This article provides an overview of the recently enacted legislation in Connecticut and Massachusetts, as well as similar requirements in New Jersey and New York. ….

Women in the Workplace 2018

Source: LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, 2018

Women in the Workplace 2018 is the largest comprehensive study of the state of women in corporate America. Since 2015, LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company have published this report annually to give companies and employees the information they need to advance women and improve gender diversity within their organizations. McKinsey & Company also conducted similar research in 2012. This year, 279 companies employing more than 13 million people shared their pipeline data and completed a survey of their HR practices. In addition, more than 64,000 employees were surveyed on their workplace experiences, and we interviewed women of different races and ethnicities and LGBTQ women for additional insights. Since 2015, 462 companies employing almost 20 million people have participated in the study.

Based on four years of data from 462 companies employing almost 20 million people, including the 279 companies participating in this year’s study, two things are clear:

1. Women remain significantly underrepresented, particularly women of color.
2. Companies need to change the way they hire and promote entry- and manager-level employees to make real progress.