Latina Equal Pay Day (Nov. 1) is the day on which average Latina earnings catch up to what the average white male earned in 2015. Working Latinas earn just 54 cents to the dollar earned by white men, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Latinas who are immigrants face an even more dire situation. They are paid just 37 cents to the dollar paid to a white male worker, while countless women actually receive no money at all for their work because of rampant wage theft that is committed against working immigrant women, especially undocumented working immigrant women.
This is an issue working people in unions care deeply about and was highlighted at a recent summit in Miami Springs, Florida, on Latina Equal Pay Day. The event was hosted by the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), the AFL-CIO, the South Florida AFL-CIO, South Florida LCLAA and other groups. Featured speakers included two of the labor movement’s leading officers, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Secretary-Treasurer Esther López and AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler.
The timing of the event was an opportunity to remind voters that this election will have consequences for the livelihood of Latinas and their families. Several speakers emphasized the need for members of the audience, including hundreds watching via live-stream, to support candidates who stand for working families. Additionally, LCLAA organized members in its chapters throughout the country to engage in the campaign, including speaking to Latino voters about how equal pay is a Latino voter issue.
Here are some of the critical messages shared:
1. Working people must always be at the center. Marcia Olivo of the Miami Workers Center stressed the importance of ensuring that Latina workers are always at the center of the Latina worker justice movement. “We have to make sure that Carla (her co-panelist) and all of the Carlas must be at the center (of the organizing) because of all of the conditions that are impacting their lives,” Olivo said.
2. All work must be valued as important, dignified work. Carla Hansasck, a leader who is employed as a house cleaner and caregiver,made the powerful point that if it were not for her efforts and hard work, not to mention that of thousands of professionals like her, it would be impossible for other people to go to work and do their jobs. “Before, no one ever told me that my job was important, but now I understand that it is because of me [you] can go out and work. I take care of your home. Cook your food. Take care of your baby.” We must validate and lift up the role that each of us plays to contribute to our overall economy.
3. Solidarity is critical. Shuler emphasized the importance of Latina equal pay for the entire labor movement, “I’m here to say that the AFL-CIO stands with Trabajadoras. And working people will not thrive unless Latina workers do, too.”
4. Be mindful of stereotypes and place the blame where it really belongs. The term “low-wage workers” has been widely used to refer to workers who are employed in low-paying jobs. López warned all attendees to steer clear of these stereotypes and labels, saying that “[t]here is no such thing as a low-wage worker. There are only low-wage jobs.” Reminding all of us of the need to be careful about the language we use in our campaigns and everyday usage to avoid demeaning someone or misplacing blame.
5. Latinas are organizing. Andrea Mercado of the National Domestic Workers Alliance lifted up the fact that working Latinas are mobilizing on the ground and in their communities for improved working conditions, the good of their families and the best for our nation. “Everywhere I look, Latinas are organizing,” Mercado said.
6. Union membership makes a difference. It is estimated that Latinas who are represented by unions earn $242 more than Latinas who are not represented by unions. Working people in unions must continue to support our Latina sisters who are organizing on the job and make space for them in the labor movement. “Sisters:organize and find your spot. I honestly believe that unions are an important spot for our community. I say that con todo corazon,” said López.
“Come out of the darkness. You do not have to go through that anymore. There is a system in place already. We can be protected,” words of affirmation that Carla Hansasck shares with other women she speaks with when organizing.
Monica Ramirez is the director of Gender Equality and Trabajadoras' Empowerment, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA).