Women make up roughly 47% of the labor force and almost 46% of union membership. While women’s workforce participation rate and educational attainment have risen, working women continue to make less than men, and are more likely to be in low-paying and part-time jobs. Wage stagnation, and the rising costs of child care, health care and student debt, squeeze working families, making it hard to make ends meet, let alone get ahead.
More than half of the U.S. electorate is women, and women vote at a higher rate than men. Yet only a small percentage of our elected policymakers are women, and it shows in the laws passed in recent years attacking workers’ rights, restricting women’s access to health care and defunding vital public services. The austerity agenda takes its highest toll on working women and families, but addressing these concerns will lift up men as well as women, and will contribute to a healthier and more resilient economy.
Policies of austerity add to the burdens borne by working women. The lion’s share of family responsibilities still rests on women’s shoulders. Too often, women end shifts at the workplace only to work a second shift at home.
For working women, the union advantage is clear. With a union contract comes roughly 25% higher wages and a significantly narrower wage gap. Union contracts also bring better benefits—including child care and paid leave, and a voice on the job, which lets us improve our workplaces and make them more equitable and family friendly. Yet, attacks on unions—especially in the public sector—are making it harder for women to get ahead.
In 2013, the AFL-CIO passed Resolution 18, calling for the full integration of women and women’s issues in our leadership, policy priorities and outreach. Accordingly, the AFL-CIO commits to the goals of the Economic Agenda for Working Women and Our Families and will use that agenda as a baseline for our 2016 political mobilization, and to hold elected officials accountable once they are in office.
On behalf of the nearly 7 million working women in the labor movement, the Economic Agenda for Working Women and Our Families calls for:
Expanding Collective Bargaining Rights
A woman’s place is in her union, with a voice on the job, equal pay and an equal say. Union membership reduces the gender and race wage gaps significantly. For instance, the pay disparity between African American women in unions and their white male counterparts is over 75% less.
Union membership also provides protections against harassment and discrimination on the job, above and beyond federal and state anti-discrimination laws.
It is past time for our elected officials to uphold and defend the rights of working women—especially those in low-wage jobs, like child care, domestic work and food service, where women make up disproportionate shares of the workforce. Achieving social and economic equity requires defending and expanding the collective bargaining rights of all working people. Unions must focus on organizing and providing leadership, apprenticeship and mentoring opportunities, and training for women, focusing especially on young women, women of color and immigrant women.
Ending Workplace Violence and Harassment
It should go without saying that women, and indeed all workers, should be safe from gender- or sex-based harassment and violence in or near their workplaces, schools and at home. Employers must be held responsible for ensuring that women have a safe workplace free of all forms of violence, including intimate partner violence and sexual harassment.
Good Jobs with Good Wages for Working Women
Women and their families will benefit disproportionately from policies aimed at improving conditions for low-wage workers, like raising the minimum wage and eliminating the subminimum wage for tipped workers; enforcing penalties for wage theft; and putting a fair value on child care and home care work.
The key to addressing growing inequality and stagnant wages for all workers, including women workers, is rebuilding workers’ bargaining power. This begins with collective bargaining and full employment. There should be a good job for everyone who wants one in America.
Generations after the establishment of the modern women’s rights movement, we still are fighting for equal pay for equal work. Closing the gender and race wage gaps must be a priority for policymakers. While collective bargaining makes working life better and puts pressure on nonunion employers to do better, we need to strengthen laws against discrimination in hiring, pay and promotion. Support for prevailing wage laws, project labor agreements and apprenticeship programs for women contribute to the lowest wage gap in any industry. Women construction workers, on average, earn 93.4% of what men make. Increasing the number of women in this sector will improve economic opportunity for families.
Coupled with paid sick and family leave, fair scheduling laws at the local, state and federal level would help women in the service sector better balance the responsibilities of work, personal and family life while earning a decent living.
The “double shift” faced by working mothers, who come home from work only to put in another shift, can be alleviated through family-friendly workplace policies. Our policies should make it easier for all parents—mothers andfathers—to share family responsibilities on equal terms. Working people must be able to take family and parental leave without forfeiting any employment or related rights.
High-Quality Public Education
Women make up nearly half the workforce, and are increasingly well educated. Young women’s educational attainment surpasses that of young men, yet they still are paid less than men for the same work, and are concentrated in lower-paying and lower-prestige jobs.
High-quality public education must be accessible, and pre-K and higher education must be affordable to all if we truly are to be a nation of equal opportunity. Every avenue to succeed must be accessible to all women. This means expanding job training and education opportunities and alleviating the burden of student debt, which disproportionately affects women and people of color. Training and education for occupations and industries considered nontraditional work should be opened to and actively targeted toward women.
A Strong System of Social Protections
Housing, nutrition, health care and retirement security are basic human rights. Our social insurance system must be designed to ensure all of us have those things necessary to live a decent life—universal access to quality health care, food security and safe housing.
Accordingly, we must defend Social Security and Medicare and expand these programs to strengthen the economic and health security they provide. Women’s longer lifespans make these programs especially important. We must ensure the work women do at home is taken into consideration when calculating Social Security benefits.
Guaranteed health care for all is a top priority for working women. To control costs in the short run, we must tackle high prescription drug prices head on and create a public option that allows employers and individuals of all ages to buy into a public plan. Ultimately, we must adopt a single-payer system.
Women must have the right to control their own bodies and be free from violence, with no negative impact on their promotion at work or pension and retirement rights. We must defend the right to contraceptive equity in health care and stop the use of so-called “religious freedom” loopholes to deny women that right and other rights at work.
For women who choose to become parents or care for family members and still want or need to work, child care and home care are essential. Affordable, high-quality child care and home care must be made available to all families. Moreover, the child care workers, home care workers and early childhood educators who provide these services—currently disproportionately women of color—deserve a fair wage.
Taking Action: Stepping Into Our Power
Union women are poised to be the change-makers the economy so desperately needs, and we gladly embrace that challenge. By talking to our co-workers, family members and friends, our message can spread through entire communities, building on our collective strength. From one woman to millions of families, we will grow our movement and mobilize in support of pro-worker, pro-woman and pro-family candidates and policies.
We are faced with crucial decisions about the leadership and direction of our country and communities. The labor movement will lead the charge to turn out working people to vote, with a focus on women and women’s issues.
That is why we commit to the following mobilization goals for Labor 2016 to make the needs of working women and our families front and center in this election cycle. We will do this by:
- promoting a unified women’s economic agenda across the AFL-CIO and its affiliates and activate union and nonunion women to identify with these values. We will highlight the issues, expertise and experiences of working women in the national debate leading up to the elections;
- using our unified voice to speak up about issues important to working women and our families, in the media and on the ground, and to support endorsed working family candidates, especially women;
- bringing women into our political program and get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts with more women volunteers and positioning our women leaders as national voices. We must show LGBTQ people, women of color and women overall that their issues are central to labor’s agenda, and demonstrate that the labor movement is a movement of and for working women;
- building new and stronger alliances with women’s organizations at the national, state and local levels; and
- taking action to rewrite the rules of the economy so we can raise wages and meet the needs of modern working families. To accomplish this, we commit to:
- conversations between and among working women at worksites and community centers, and at the doors;
- bringing our children, especially our daughters, into the conversation about wages, workers’ rights and democracy. We will be the role models and mentors of the next generation of fearless women labor activists;
- hosting family-friendly political events at union halls, community centers, churches and public spaces; and
- getting out the vote through direct, one-on-one voter contact as well as digital and print media strategies.