Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Guest Commentary: Wal-Mart and gender discrimination

Reposted from:


Coloradan Mary Henderson is devastated that justice still has not been served, 10 long years after she, Betty Dukes, and other women workers filed a sex discrimination case against Wal-Mart. The U.S. Supreme Court decided on Monday that these women could not join together as a "class" against Wal-Mart for gender discrimination in pay and promotion. The decision is crushing for the 1.6 million current and former women Wal-Mart workers who experienced discrimination first-hand and must now pursue legal claims one at a time.

Mary was paid thousands of dollars less than a man with less education and the same seniority in the same position. Her daughter, also a Wal-Mart employee, applied for a supervisory job that ended up going to a man because "he had a family to support" - even though she was supporting her family, as well. When Mary inquired about this, she was punished with transfer to a store requiring an hours-long commute.

Mary was not alone. The case contains thousands of pages of disturbing evidence documenting pervasive gender stereotypes, statistical pay and promotion disparities, and policies that allowed those stereotypes to negatively influence employment decisions affecting women throughout the company. It is an outrage that the court did not provide full justice for these women.

This decision does not exonerate Wal-Mart for discriminatory practices, but it does create a huge burden for those who have experienced discrimination. Allowing the world's largest employer to engage in wholesale discriminatory practices and then take on each woman (with high-priced lawyers and stalling tactics) by herself is bad law and just plain wrong.

But this case still presents an opportunity for Wal-Mart to update its corporate culture, as well as a lesson to other companies to do the same. Businesses that are inclusive of women - and people of color - are better positioned to compete in an increasingly global economy. But retaining these employees depends on taking positive steps to make sure discrimination never happens, like:

Ban on Stereotypes. Notions that women are inferior to men, are uninterested in career advancement and would be better off "barefoot and pregnant," as one Wal-Mart manager allegedly stated, are just not true. Make sure your workplace is a stereotype-free zone so all feel comfortable and able to be productive members of a real team.

Pay and Promotions. The Wal-Mart women demonstrated disparities in pay and promotion, a no-no. Businesses should conduct human resources self-audits of pay and promotion equity. If women are paid less for equal skills and experience, fix it immediately. Be vigilant in ensuring that pay differentials are due to solely to credentials, experience and responsibilities, not sex, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, age, religion or gender identity.

Trust and Transparency. Policies prohibiting employees from discussing pay don't work, as Wal-Mart found out when women there discovered they were regularly paid less than men. HR invitations to air complaints on the job should never be twisted into retaliation as happened when a Wal-Mart manager told female employees alleging discrimination, "I can fire you, without taking any steps, for using the (O)pen (D)oor (POLICY)." The most productive workplaces are those where employers create trusting relationships and adhere to fair policies.

Now is the time for Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to prevent the abuse that the women of Wal-Mart described

in court documents. The bill will protect employees by allowing them to discussing wages with their peers and prohibit employers from retaliating against those raising wage-equity issues. The persistent pay gap between men and women for the same work must be addressed.

This case has educated the public about employer responsibilities and employee rights in the workplace, even if the women were not able to seek justice as a group. All companies, including Wal-Mart, must be fair to all employees - men and women alike.

Linda Meric is the executive director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, a national membership-based organization of low-income women working to improve policies on issues that directly affect them. EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an online-only column and has not been edited.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Young Women Need Paid Sick Days (Too)

Cross posted from the Institute for Women's Policy Research blog.

While some workers lacking paid sick leave can take time off without losing pay, many lose pay when they are out sick and cannot afford to take a single day off. This is particularly the case for young women. At an early stage in their careers, many younger women workers are living day to day and others juggle multiple jobs to make ends meet. With limited wealth and savings, a large debt from college or even a steady income, younger women often find themselves between a rock and a hard place when illness strikes. Younger women are often not in a position to take lower pay when sick, especially when medical expenses are involved.

While part-time and low-income workers’ concerns are widely discussed, the needs of younger workers are almost unheard of, as it is usually assumed that their health status—without the burdens of chronic health conditions and age—is excellent, and that they don’t yet have care giving responsibilities.

Data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), however, shows that young workers need paid sick days just like everyone else. In fact, of those private sector workers that reported having fair or poor health, 30 percent were 35 years or younger and a larger portion were young women (18 percent compared to 12 percent for young men). The same data show that a majority of young workers lack paid sick days; only 37 percent have paid sick days, compared to 58 percent of all workers.

Across the board, younger workers have limited access to paid sick days, no matter what they do for living, what their schedule looks like, or the size of the business they work for. For instance, whether young workers are employed in high-end jobs like legal occupations or in lower paying occupations like health support, data from the NHIS show that only one out of five workers with paid sick days in those occupations are between 18 and 35 years old.

For younger workers concentrated in traditionally low-income occupations or small businesses, the picture is even grimmer. Along with part-timers, these workers are most often afflicted, and women are overrepresented in this type of work arrangement. The outlook is especially challenging for young women with care giving responsibilities on top of lower earnings: paid sick days are even more essential for them to to stay afloat. For single mothers, usually with limited resources and often living in poverty, having paid sick days can make a big difference when medical problems arise.

Paid sick days are essential to all workers, but even more so to those with limited resources, including younger workers who are more vulnerable and have fewer resources than many of their older counterparts.

Claudia Williams is a Research Analyst with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Campaign for Paid Sick Days Launched in Denver!

Dozens of Denver residents gathered earlier this month to announce the launch of a November 2011 city municipal ballot initiative campaign to protect public health by ensuring paid sick days for all workers today, just before submitting ballot language to City Council staff and the Denver City Attorney. Nearly forty percent of Denver workers do not have access to paid sick days.

The noon gathering attracted the attention of hundreds of lunchtime customers of the area’s fast food restaurants who were handed cards explaining that most restaurants do not offer paid sick days to their employees –meaning many of those workers have no choice but to go to work sick. Seventy-two percent of Denver food service workers do not have paid sick days – and 80% of restaurant workers nationally report going to work while suffering from vomiting or diarrhea rather than miss a day’s pay or face termination. Nation’s Restaurant News reported the Centers for Disease Control found that 41% of all stomach “flu” cases stem from food service establishments.

“We exchange cash with you, make your latte, hand you your pastry and yes, we sneeze,” said Laura Baker, a barista at a popular national coffee shop. “So if an employee had to come to work with the flu because she couldn’t afford to miss work, you might be walking out of the store with your double latte and the flu.”

Research shows that offering paid sick days is good for business, particularly in terms of increased productivity, workforce stability and workplace health. “We offer paid sick days to our employees because it’s a good business decision,” said Jim Bryan-Kanda, general manager of Trout’s Fly Fishing. “Our customers and other employees aren’t exposed to illness and our workplace is much more productive. It’s a win-win all the way around.”

“Almost 70% of Denver voters favor laws that protect public health by guaranteeing workers a basic standard of paid sick days in a recent poll,” said Erin Bennett, Colorado Director of 9to5 Association of Working Women. “Paid sick day policies are good for public health, for families, for workers and for businesses, too.”

Similar measures have passed in Milwaukee by 69% and San Francisco by 61% after proponents made the case that feverish and contagious workers in restaurant, childcare, and bank teller positions are a public health hazard. A recent detailed study of 59,000 businesspeople in San Francisco evaluating the five-year old paid sick days law there found that six in seven employers there say that paid sick days have had no negative effect on profitability or businesses growth and nearly 70% of employers surveyed support the law.

The Campaign for a Health Denver – a coalition of more than 40 community organizations, labor groups, faith leaders and organizations, public health groups, elected officials and businesses seeks to pass a Denver ballot initiative to protect public health by guaranteeing a basic standard of paid sick days for employees in all Denver workplaces.

Find out more about the Campaign for a Healthy Denver at their website and on Facebook.