Terri’s story, or, why cancer really doesn’t care how responsible you are

terry cavillo 3

Terry Cavillo did everything right to protect herself financially. Her cancer didn’t care.

Terri did everything right. She and her husband raised three great children – now mostly grown. She was a loyal employee for 14 years and prepared for the future, buying into the short term disability plan her company offered and investing in a 401(k). She even decided it was time to get healthy and lost 30 lbs.

When her cancer diagnosis came, she had family support, a financial cushion, and the legal protection of the FMLA. But none of that proved quite enough to last through two years of treatment and three surgeries. Despite her years of hard work and responsible actions, one bout of seriously bad luck has left Terri worried about her family’s future.

In September 2013, after speaking with some co-workers, Terri became suspicious of symptoms she’d been having. She visited the doctor and after two biopsies learned she had cancer in both breasts. In October, Terri had a lumpectomy and eventually a double mastectomy. In total, Terri has needed to take 3 separate medical leaves from work to deal with her cancer

“It was the worst experience of my life” said Terri.

Terri has worked for a major retailer in Tacoma for 14 years. She felt lucky to have her job protected through the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act which covers employees in companies with 50 or more employees, who have worked with the same employer at least a year and for enough hours. She had also purchased short term disability insurance. This meant she would have some income to keep her family afloat while she recovered from surgery and have a job to go back to after the ordeal.

But disability insurance did not fully cover her wages—and it left her particularly short when she had to go back for a 2nd surgery. Coordinating all the paperwork with her medical team, HR department, and the separate disability plan provider also proved complicated. It never seemed like they were on her side.

“It was such a hassle that I didn’t need. I kept getting certified letters from the HR department saying they had not received the doctor’s letters… I’m the face of their company, I don’t call in sick unless I have a legitimate reason. I should be rewarded for being a decent employee.”

To add more stress, her health insurance did not fully cover medical expenses and bills began to pile up. With limited options, Terri decided to tap into her 401K. Despite spending most of her retirement savings, she still has unpaid medical bills that keep her and her family underwater. Even her strong family started feeling shaky. “Money problems are hard on a marriage” Terri says.

If Washington had enacted and funded family and medical leave insurance (HB 1273),Terri would have had stable income throughout her cancer treatments – without nearly exhausting her retirement account. Her husband could have taken leave to help care for her. She would have had less stress, meaning faster healing, better morale when she returned to work, and less strain on her family.

Terri’s story could be anyone’s experience. That’s why we all need family and medical leave insurance.

At this rate, equal pay for women is 43 years away – but we don’t have to sit and wait

April 14 is Equal Pay Day, the day in 2015 the typical woman working fulltime in the U.S. catches up to what her male counterpart made in 2014. [Image: American Association of University Women]

April 14 is Equal Pay Day, the day in 2015 the typical woman working fulltime in the U.S. catches up to what her male counterpart made in 2014. [Image: American Association of University Women]

April 14 is Equal Pay Day, the day in 2015 the typical woman working full-time in the U.S. catches up to what her male counterpart made in 2014.

Congress banned pay discrimination in this country over 50 years ago, but at the current rate of progress it will take until 2058 before women gain pay equity, according to a recent analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. And for women of color, it will take even longer.

Because women are still denied equal pay for equal work – and often equal work in the first place – families struggle to pay bills, local businesses have fewer customers, and children face a lifetime of obstacles rather than opportunities. The economic structures we now have in place systematically place a lower value on “women’s work.”

We don’t have to sit by and wait it out. We can change some of those economic structures. The Women’s Economic Agenda of the Washington Work and Family Coalition will help women catch up much more quickly. The Equal Pay Opportunity Act, Paid Sick and Safe Leave, and the FAMLI Act will require employers to change many of the practices that hide discrimination and keep women at a  disadvantage.

Sometimes women are paid less for exactly the same job as a man – but don’t know it because so many companies impose pay secrecy policies. Even in establishments with open pay policies, company practices and manager assumptions can result in men being assigned to higher paying departments and promoted more quickly. Is there any other way to explain the fact that male nurses make more than female nurses, even controlling for education, experience, and hours worked? Or that in grocery stores highly paid meat cutters are mostly men, while lower paid deli workers are primarily women?

Washington’s Equal Pay Opportunity Act addresses both these problems by assuring employee free speech about compensation, and establishing that both differences in pay and differences in career opportunities need to be based on job-related factors, not on assumptions about gender.

Access to paid leave is also particularly a women’s issue. Mothers are far more likely to have to stay home with a sick child than fathers. Women provide more elder care as well, and of course only women get pregnant, give birth, and breastfeed.

But 4 in 10 U.S. workers don’t get a single day of paid sick leave – except in the now more than 20 cities and states with sick leave laws in place. Only 12% get paid family leave – except in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island where all workers earn that benefit (and women in New York and Hawaii have the right to paid maternity disability leave).

When all workers are able to earn paid sick leave and paid family leave, women and their families will have more stable incomes, be better able to save for education or retirement, and stay in jobs longer. Businesses will have healthier, more productive workers with less costly turnover. All babies will gain the lifelong advantages that come from intense early nurture and care. Children will be healthier and do better in school. The state will spend less on public assistance, remedial education, and senior care – and gain more tax revenue from additional money circulating through the economy. Our communities will be stronger.

Unfortunate, none of these bills will pass the Washington legislature this year. The House passed paid Sick and Safe Leave and the Equal Pay Opportunity Act, but both died quickly in the Senate. The FAMLI Act didn’t even make it out of the House.

So one good way to commemorate Equal Pay Day would be to contact your state legislators and tell them you want them to prioritize all three bills for passage in 2016. Our daughters and granddaughters, sisters and nieces, all deserve better than another five decades of inequality.

[Cross-posted from the Economic Opportunity Institute]

Equal Pay, Paid Sick/Safe Leave, FAMLI Act Legislative Update: April 1, 2015

Late yesterday, Senator Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, cancelled today’s meeting of the Washington Senate Commerce and Labor Committee which he chairs. Since today, April 1, is “cut-off”, that means that the equal pay, paid sick days, and minimum wage bills heard in committee on Monday are essentially dead for this year.

But all of this year’s bills can be reconsidered again, starting next January. The Washington Work and Family Coalition will be working hard in the meantime to be sure that all of our priorities are priorities for our legislators in 2016.

And you can help send them the message.

Women deserve equal pay whether they live in Spokane or Seattle, Yakima or Grays Harbor, Bellingham or Vancouver. Yet we heard in testimony Monday that employers across the state impose wage secrecy policies, so no one knows if some co-workers are getting paid more than others for the same work. And managers in high tech companies, grocery stores, and hospitals use their discretion – and assumptions about gender roles – to more often recommend men for promotion and assign them to higher paying departments. That is why we need to pass the Equal Pay Opportunity Act.

We also know that everyone gets sick, but 1 million workers in Washington get no paid sick leave, and even more are discouraged from using the sick leave they’ve earned. Every day in every school district in our state, sick kids are waiting miserably at school because no adult in the family can leave work to pick them up. Children as young as 9 or 10 are missing school to stay home with their sick younger siblings because their mom can’t risk missing another day of work.

The Washington State Board of Health, in a comprehensive health impact review of House Bill 1356, establishing Paid Sick and Safe Leave, concluded: “Evidence indicates that HB 1356 has potential to improve financial security; decrease the transmission of communicable disease; improve health outcomes; and to decrease health disparities by income, educational attainment, race/ethnicity, and geography.”

Meanwhile, with over 20 U.S. jurisdictions now requiring paid sick leave, including Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland, we know that businesses thrive with healthier and more productive workers and more financially stable customers.

And we haven’t forgotten Family and Medical Leave Insurance, which “died” in the legislature a few weeks ago. No one should have to forego needed surgery or drag themselves back to work before they’ve fully healed because they don’t have enough paid leave. Our elders should have family surrounding them through serious illnesses and during their final weeks of life, whether they’re part of the 1% or the 99%.

Every baby born or adopted in our state deserves several months of uninterrupted, unstressed time with their parents while their little brains and bodies are developing most quickly. We know from states with universal paid family and medical leave programs already in place that babies and moms are healthier, both moms and dads take longer leaves from work, fewer families are forced to rely on public assistance, and more moms are employed and for higher pay a year following childbirth.

Equal pay, paid sick days, and paid family and medical leave are all simple concepts that the vast majority of voters support – whether Democrat, Republican, or Independent, whether they live in a big city or not. The Washington Work and Family Coalition will continue fighting for these policies.

Let your elected officials know that you will, too.

One step closer to real progress for Washington women and their families

Original photo: Rachel Samanyi

Original photo: Rachel Samanyi

We’ve just learned that the Chair of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee will hold a hearing on Paid Sick and Safe Days, the Equal Pay Opportunity Act, and minimum wage legislation next Monday, March 30th at 1:30 p.m.

This puts us one step closer to real progress for Washington women and their families!

It’s going to be close, though. The committee must vote to move these bills forward by Wednesday, April 1 (no fooling!) or they will be dead for the rest of this year.

And we’ve heard that some corporate lobbyists are hard at work to kill the bills – or whittle them down to the point where they actually make it harder for women to earn equal pay and paid leave to support and protect themselves and their families.

Please take a minute to tell your Senator that Paid Sick and Safe Days (HB 1356), the Equal Pay Opportunity Act (HB 1646), and a $12 state minimum wage (HB 1355) are steps that help Washington women advance and strengthen our whole economy. Urge them to pass these bills without crippling amendments.

Washington state has led the charge for women in the past. Women here won the right to vote in 1910, a decade before the rest of the country. We passed the first Equal Pay Act in 1943, while Rosie the Riveters were helping win World War II.

But too many companies continue to discriminate, hiding behind pay secrecy policies and passing women over for higher paying jobs. And too few women – breadwinners for their families – can earn paid sick days on the job.

Take a moment now to tell your state Senator: Washington women deserve a raise, and the right to paid sick and safe leave. All workers do.

Thank you!

A woman’s work is never done: A new economic agenda

marilyn watkins

Marilyn Watkins, Policy Director at the Economic Opportunity Institute

Women’s work is central to our economy. Most households couldn’t make ends meet without women’s income. Yet, women make less than men across every occupation. Because employers find ways to pay women less, families struggle to pay their bills, and can’t save for education or retirement.

To reach the same income the typical white man makes in 12 months, White women in the U.S. have to work full time until March of the following year, Black women to mid-July, and Latina women to October – of the second year!

Three bills before Washington’s State Legislature would strengthen finances in households all across our state by giving women a better chance for equal pay. The Democratic-controlled House has passed bills to raise the state minimum wage to $12 over four years, assure all workers can earn paid sick leave, and help women achieve equal pay. But all three could die in the Republican-controlled Senate. Of course, fair wages for women along with a higher minimum wage and access to sick leave, will boost incomes for men, too, but these are especially women’s issues.

The Equal Pay Opportunity Act, House Bill 1646, targets the gender pay gap by protecting the right of workers to talk about wages and job opportunities, so women can find out if they are being paid less or passed over for promotion. Even though pay discrimination based on gender has been illegal in Washington State since 1943, many employers prohibit employees from discussing pay. And many employers make culturally based assumptions about women’s capability for leadership, complex assignments, or traditionally male jobs.

Women in high tech complain about being passed over for promotions and having their ideas appropriated by men. In groceries, nine in ten meat cutters are men, while most deli workers are women. Guess which job pays more? The Equal Pay Opportunity Act will protect freedom of speech about compensation and require that differences in pay and career opportunities be based on job-related factors such as education or experience, not on perceptions about gender roles.

So far, none of our state’s major corporations have had to take a public position on the bill. It’s been largely ignored in the news media , so corporate lobbyists can whisper their position quietly to legislators.

Women are the majority of low wage workers. Some occupations that require skill and are important to society – like childcare and home healthcare – pay very little because they are deemed “women’s work.” Women also take home less than men in restaurants and retail jobs. Raising the minimum wage, as House Bill 1355 proposes, gives low wage workers and their families greater economic security, keeps people in jobs longer, and puts that money right back into neighborhood businesses.

southseaLimited access to paid sick leave is also a women’s issue. Mothers are more likely than fathers to have to stay home with a sick child. Six in 10 of those moms get no paid sick leave when they do. About 1 million workers in Washington don’t get a single day of paid sick leave. They have to make the tough choice of working sick or when their ill child needs them – or losing pay, and maybe risking their job.

When sick people can’t stay home, they spread their germs to the rest of us. Sick workers are also less productive and more prone to accidents, and sick kids can’t learn. Assuring that all workers can earn a few days sick and safe leave, as House Bill 1356 will, protects public health, keeps families economically stable, and enables domestic violence victims to seek safety. We also know from the successful laws in Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, and other cities and states that businesses thrive with paid sick days laws.

These three bills help businesses as well as families by helping companies retain trained workers, maximizing the abilities and contributions of all employees, and gaining new customers. These policies also help the state budget. Additional income for families means less reliance on public services and more money flowing through the economy producing tax revenue. Moreover, healthier kids with more stable lives will do better in school and in later life.

So why wouldn’t these great policies sail right through the Senate? That’s a good question to ask your state senator. You can send a brief message to your district legislators through the in-state toll-free Hotline number: 800-562-6000, or find your legislators’ contact information at here.

Via the South Seattle Emerald

One Senator blocking Equal Pay, Paid Sick Leave? Please help!


Urge WA State Senator Michael Baumgartner to hold a hearing on equal pay and paid sick days legislation, and pass both out of committee.

Hundreds of WA Work and Family Coalition supporters recently urged members of the state House to support Paid Sick and Safe Leave legislation and the Equal Pay Opportunity Act. And the House passed both!

Now, one state Senator is threatening to slam on the brakes. But we haven’t come this far to give up now – right?!

Here’s what’s happening: Both bills have been sent to the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee — but Senator Baumgartner, the committee Chair, hasn’t scheduled them for a public hearing.

Please contact Senator Baumgartner and other members of the Senate Commerce and Labor committee today. Urge them to hold a hearing on both bills and pass them out of committee.

The Equal Pay Opportunity Act will ensure all workers can communicate about their wages and ask about access to career opportunities without fear of retribution. It’s a key tool for women to achieve equal pay for equal work.

Passing Paid Sick and Safe Leave legislation will help protect public health, build family economic security, and improve children’s outcomes in school. Paid sick leave laws are now on the books in over 20 cities and states across the U.S., so we know healthy workers and families also support thriving businesses and strong economic growth.

If these bills don’t pass out of committee by April 1, they’ll be dead for this year. Please don’t wait. Urge the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee to schedule a hearing for these two bills today.

Thank you!

~Marilyn, Gabriela and the entire team at the Washington Work and Family Coalition

Equal Pay Opportunity Act passes Washington House!

Photo credit: Keith Ellwood

Photo credit: Keith Ellwood

What’s that sound? It’s the sound of cheers and applause coming from women and their allies across Washington State.

Why are we cheering? Because the Equal Pay Opportunity Act (HB 1646) just passed the Washington State House, with bipartisan support (55-43). The bill, if it passes through the Senate this session, will provide workers with key protections and help close the gender wage gap. The Act:

  • Protects employee communication about compensation and job opportunities, and clarifies that all employees can ask their employer why they are being paid less or don’t have the same access to career opportunities as others.
  • Adds being denied more favorable jobs or career tracks because of gender, in addition to pay discrimination, as a cause of civil action.
  • Strengthens existing enforcement by requiring a valid business reason related to the job – such as education, training, or experience – for a gender disparity in pay, hiring, work assignments, or career track; and by providing for recovery of damages and expenses in civil suits.

The Equal Pay Opportunity Act is sponsored by Representative Tana Senn (D-Mercer Island), who believes it’s time to move quickly toward gender pay equity. “Even today, women are paid 80 cents for every dollar earned by men for similar work,” said Rep. Senn in her announcement of sponsorship of the legislation.

The Washington Work and Family Coalition has led the way in pressing for the Equal Pay Opportunity Act – and has shown outstanding leadership in working to combat gender discrimination across Washington State.

Marilyn Watkins, Policy Director at the Economic Opportunity Institute, which convenes the Coalition, says, “The EPOA will help women get ahead, and also help to change our culture so that women get the pay and opportunities they’ve earned. Our society still consistently undervalues women’s work and contributions, even all these decades after our state banned wage discrimination. Unequal pay leaves big holes in family budgets, makes it harder for local businesses to prosper, and means women get less in retirement, too.”

Thank you to Representative Tana Senn and the 44 other representatives in the House who cosponsored this bill.

We expect the bill to be heard in the Senate in the coming weeks. You can still send your stories and support for the bill to your Senators through the Washington Legislature page.

Women can’t wait for this bill. As Redmond High School student Olivia Roskill reminds us, “women are worth more than spare change.”

By Sam Hatzenbeler, MPHc

[Crossposted from Washington Policy Watch]