Join us in strengthening women’s economic security – Vancouver

Vancouver Women's Economic Security Forum1You are warmly invited to join us in building women’s economic security across Washington state – next stop, Vancouver!

What: Strengthening Women’s Economic Security Forum

When: September 10th, 5:30-7:00 pm

Where: Vancouver Community Library (Columbia Room) 901 C St.

This event is part of a statewide campaign to strengthen women’s economic security. The previous forums in Seattle, Kirkland, Tacoma, and Spokane have all been powerful successes.

Coming soon: Stay tuned for an additional forum in Bellingham this fall. We will see you there!

Join us in strengthening women’s economic security – Spokane

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You are warmly invited to join us in building women’s economic security across Washington state – next stop, Spokane!

What: Strengthening Women’s Economic Security Forum

When: August 20th, 5:30-7:00 pm

Where: Spokane Falls Community College  (Student Union Building 17-Room 102)

This event is part of a statewide campaign to strengthen women’s economic security. The three previous forums in Seattle, Kirkland, and Tacoma have all been powerful successes.

Coming soon…Stay tuned for two more forums in Bellingham and Vancouver this September. We will see you there!

The Real Feminist Nightmare: It’s definitely not Michelle Obama

By Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director and co-founder of MomsRising.org, a grassroots organization working for family economic security and to end discrimination against women and moms. Kristin is also a member of the Washington Work and Family Coalition.

 

When the first lady is attacked for embracing her role as “mom-in-chief”—despite her leadership in key policy areas like stemming the childhood obesity epidemic, increasing access to healthy food and aiding military families and veterans—it’s time to call foul.

The headline for Michelle Cottle’s recent article in Politico Magazine, “Leaning Out: How Michelle Obama Became A Feminist Nightmare,” got it wrong. First Lady Michelle Obama isn’t a feminist nightmare.

The real feminist nightmare is when women are undermined because they are mothers—particularly because more than 80 percent of women in our nation have children by the time they’re 44 years old.

If feminism isn’t for mothers too, then who is it for?

After all, demeaning moms demeans the vast majority of women. And at the societal level, this doesn’t just hurt feelings. It hurts pocketbooks. Motherhood is now a greater predictor of inequality than gender in the United States.

Too often mothers in the workplace have to hide the fact that they have children, tip over the pictures in offices and not talk about their families in order to be taken seriously.

This isn’t simply paranoia. Mothers experience rampant wage and hiring discrimination. Studies have found that even when people have identical resumes, education and job experiences, mothers are much less likely to be hired than non-mothers and are offered significantly lower starting salaries. Dads, on the other hand, are offered more. It’s no accident that fewer than 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women; that women comprise only 18 percent of Congress; and that of the last six Supreme Court nominees all the men had children while none of the women did.

In this context, having a first lady who embraces her own motherhood is a boost to the 85 million mothers across our nation. For some, it is even revolutionary. Feminist writer Tamara Winfrey Harris shares: “The sexist stereotype of women as demure, sacrificing, quietly strong, beautiful and maternal homemakers has rarely been extended to women of color, much less Black women, whose ancestors were brought here to be beasts of burden. So the idea that you have a Black woman as the nation’s mom-in-chief is revolutionary, and I say this as a woman who has no biological children of my own.”

As first lady, Michelle Obama is both an inspiration and a lightning rod for critique.

That the current attack against her focuses on her embracing the mom moniker should be no surprise. A Maternal Wall is standing in the way of many taking the first lady seriously. It’s also standing in the way of most women ever entering a room with a glass ceiling. Here’s what that Maternal Wall looks like in raw numbers for women in the labor force: While most women without children make 90 cents to a man’s dollar, mothers make only 73 cents, single mothers make about 60 cents and mothers of color earn as little as 54 cents to a man’s dollar.

As a result, families are struggling. Even though for the first time in history women comprise half of the entire paid labor force—and three-quarters of moms are now in the labor force—many moms who work full-time still struggle to make ends meet and put food on the table. When women, the primary purchasers in our consumer-fueled economy, don’t get paid fairly, then they have less money to spend. This hurts children. This hurts our economy. This hurts us all.

This also leads to 1 in 5 children in our nation experiencing food scarcity due to family economic limitations. Access to healthful food is a policy area that the first lady has prioritized, and it’s a policy area that is also critically important to mothers. It might be easy to dismiss it as having little substance if the children in your community never experience food scarcity, poor nutrition or debilitating health conditions like diabetes that stem from this. However, since 20 percent of kids in our country go to bed without proper nutrition, this policy area that the first lady is championing matters to a large percentage of women and is indeed a feminist issue, as economic security for women and families is a feminist issue.

Yet the “Leaning Out” article outright dismissed the first lady’s work in this area as “gardening” and “evangelizing good eating habits,” and the article led one to infer that she has done “so little of substance.”

This assessment couldn’t be farther from the truth. The first lady’s “Let’s Move” initiative has directly led to many substantive gains, including the fact that the 50.1 million students in our nation who attend public elementary and secondary schools now will have healthier food in school lunches and in vending machines.

Given that nearly 49 million Americans, including 16 million children, live in food insecure households, the first lady’s work to increase access to healthy foods through schools and communities should most definitely not be dismissed as “gardening.”

Childhood obesity is another area of the first lady’s work that has significantly more substance than the “home-grown vegetable” image the “Leaning Out” article presents. Nearly one in three children, which is more than 23 million adolescents and children in the United States total, are either obese or overweight, placing them at increased risk for serious diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and stroke. Lower income communities are particularly at risk.

This is a public health emergency that millions of mothers across the nation care about deeply.

In this policy area, reports show that the first lady’s “Let’s Move” initiative is successfully fighting childhood obesity on many fronts. Not only has the initiative helped lead to more healthful school lunches and food; it also has increased the number of schools that are meeting the HealthierUS Schools challenge in nutrition and fitness (3,300 schools met the standard in 2012, with more coming on board); worked with grocers to build or expand 1,500 stores in communities with limited access to healthful food (reaching more than 9 million people and creating thousands of jobs); educated and engaged childcare professionals and organizations in the implementation of new criteria for nutrition and physical activity; successfully worked with restaurants, hotels and corporations like Disney to improve nutrition quality and address food marketing toward kids; made salad bars available to more than 700,000 kids in schools; helped make nutrition guidelines clear to parents; worked with the Department of Defense to improve food nutrition for those who serve our country; and more.

This work is having a cumulative impact with positive results. A recent study found that the childhood obesity rates have dropped in 18 states.

“The first lady has very effectively used her bully pulpit to put children’s health front and center. People in communities all over the country have responded to her call to take child health seriously and we’re already seeing results. When children are healthier, the benefits ripple out to whole communities,” noted Lori Dorfman, director of Berkeley Media Studies Group, part of the Public Health Institute.

Is the first lady perfect? Of course not. No one person could take on all that needs to be done in our nation; nor will everyone be satisfied with her priorities.

Is the first lady being unfairly judged? Absolutely. We live in a nation that so deeply devalues caregiving and motherhood that embracing motherhood is being used as an excuse to accuse the first lady of treason against the feminist movement.

Motherhood is also too often used as a wedge between women. While only 9 percent of women make more than $75,000 per year, the mothers who are in that top 9 percent often have the most life choices due to their relatively high economic status, and those mothers often get the most criticism and attention in the mainstream media. As author Joan Blades notes, “When mothers choose to ‘lean in’ to high pressure jobs that entail working long hours, they often have guilt heaped upon them for supposedly neglecting their children. And when some choose to adjust their careers to have more family and personal time, they’re often accused of betraying feminism. It’s damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”

Kirstin Larson, a Seattle mom, has this to add: “As a corporate executive-turned-mom-in-chief of my own household, I’ve grown weary of every woman’s life choices being judged using the lean in/lean out litmus test. Would it be more acceptable for the first lady to be mom-in-chief or to work on childhood obesity if she was less well-educated? If she had not had a successful career? She chooses to support her family, country, and community in a hands-on way. She should be thanked, not judged.”

Larson concludes, “I thought the point of feminism was to rally against prescribed roles for women and to gain enough economic and societal equality to define our own paths.”

There are deep complexities with motherhood itself in our nation. Joya Misra, professor of sociology and public policy at the University of Massachusetts, shares findings from recent research: “When black women appear to step back from the workplace they are excoriated and when White women step back they are celebrated. Michelle Obama is negotiating extremely tricky terrain and the ‘Leaning Out’ piece belittled her work in ways that were extremely inappropriate.”

Given this complex reality, in which there is also heightened wage and hiring discrimination against all moms and the work of caring is greatly undervalued, it’s not so very surprising that a woman, in this case the first lady, who frames her contributions within the tricky terrain of motherhood is discounted.

One thing is clear: First Lady Michelle Obama is not the feminist nightmare. The real feminist nightmare is that motherhood is now a greater predictor of inequality than gender, and we have yet to shine a bright enough light on this type of discrimination to address its rippling impacts.

The real feminist nightmare is that women like the first lady are attacked due to their work on policies that are important to mothers everywhere, just because those policies are priorities for moms.

The real feminist challenge is that so much more needs to be done by all of us to achieve equality and family economic security.

Motherhood is the unfinished business of the contemporary feminist movement.

Feminism is for mothers too.

 Via Politico

WA Work and Family Coalition blocked efforts by conservatives to gut family-friendly policies

olympia springtimeAfter two special legislative sessions this year, it’s safe to say that many of us are glad it’s finally over!  The actions of the legislature were driven by the need to pass the state’s operating budget and sharp political divisions between the House and Senate, thus making it hard to move forward new policies to benefit Washington families. Still, the Washington Work and Family Coalition did succeed in establishing family and medical leave insurance and statewide paid sick days standards as high priority policies for the legislature to address next year. We were also victorious in fighting back efforts to roll back paid leave protections for Washington families.

We successfully blocked efforts by Senate conservatives to repeal the 2007 family leave program. This program has been postponed for the past 2 -budget cycles due to legislator’s lack of courage to fund it. Given the current budget fiasco, we knew it would be a challenge to even keep the program on the books. But by working with Rep. Green and Sen. Keiser to introduce HB 1457 and SB 5292, we showed policymakers a solid plan to fund and expand the program, and compelling testimony at hearings and communications from constituents convinced many legislators that our state’s families and economy will be stronger with family leave in place. In the end, the legislature did pass HB 2044 which removes the 2015 implementation date of the family leave insurance program.

We also blocked two pieces of absurd legislation that moved in the Senate which would have prevented or limited laws by local cities guaranteeing workers the right to earn paid sick days, like the one passed by the city of Seattle. HB 1313 and SB 5594 offered a different vision that would ensure Washington families can seek medical treatment and stop the spread of illness by not going to work when sick—a simple and effective public health practice that also helps rebuild family economic security.

The Washington Work and Family Coalition has laid the groundwork to pass family and medical leave insurance and paid sick days in the very near future – so stay tuned.

Status of Work and Family bills in Olympia

olympiaWednesday, March 13 was “cut-off” in Olympia. For the rest of the legislative session, only bills that have already passed the House or the Senate will be considered, except for budget bills and bills “necessary to implement the budget.”

Neither Paid Sick Days or Family & Medical Leave Insurance made it past cut-off – but thanks to all of your great work and a tremendous amount of public interest and support, we still made a lot of progress.

Here’s what we’ve accomplished so far this session:

Our coalition-sponsored bills were heard and moved through committees, positioning them well for future action:

  • HB 1313, establishing paid sick and safe leave, successfully passed out of the House Labor and Workforce Development, Appropriations, and Rules committees, but was not brought to the House floor for a vote. The Senate companion SB 5594 was heard in the Senate Commerce and Labor committee.
  • HB 1457, implementing family and medical leave insurance, successfully passed out of the House Labor and Workforce Development committee and was heard in the Finance committee. The Senate companion SB 5292 was heard in the Senate Commerce and Labor committee.

We blocked 2 out of 3 bills that would roll back paid leave protections:

  • SB 5159, repealing family and medical leave insurance, and SB 5728 preempting local paid sick and safe leave regulation both passed out of the Senate Commerce and Labor committee and Rules committee, but were not brought up for a vote on the floor.
  • However, SB 5726, placing geographic limitations on local paid sick leave and paid safe leave programs did pass the Senate and will be sent over to the House.

We have placed paid leave solidly on the policy agenda as key to healthy families and healthy communities:

  • Policymakers, the media, and the general public are growing increasingly aware of the high social and economic costs when workers do not have paid leave available, and the far-reaching benefits of paid leave policies.

Our coalition still has work to do this session, and we’ll let you know when it’s time to act:

  1. We need to stop bad policy. We must make sure that SB 5726 dies quickly in the House, and that restrictions on local sick leave ordinances and repeal of family and medical leave insurance are not part of any budget deal.
  2. We need to let legislators and the Governor know that Family and Medical Leave Insurance and Paid Sick Days remain important policy priorities.

Also, some great news from around the country:

  • Portland, OR passed paid sick and safe leave! Portland’s City Council unanimously adopted paid sick leave standards on March 13 (up to 5 days in companies with at least 6 employees).]
  • Philadelphia passed paid sick and safe leave! Their City Council approved paid sick leave by a vote of 11 to 6 today, March 14.

Family medical leave law deserves wide support

This article originally appeared in The Olympian

This article originally appeared in The Olympian

Editorial from The Olympian:

In response to the looting and chaos that erupted in Baghdad following the American invasion of Iraq, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, “Democracy is messy.” To some, it was a callous remark, but not entirely an inaccurate description of how a representative democracy actually governs.

State lawmakers frequently propose legislation to raid the general fund for pet projects that serve the special interests of a constituency of voters. These measures often arise and get passed into law without regard for how they fit with the sum total of all other legislation.

Aside from the governor’s annual budget and State of the State address, there is no big picture vision for what the people of Washington want our state to become. Instead, it’s cobbled together by individual, and often competing, pieces of legislation.

Such is the case with the Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FMLI) law. The Legislature passed a law in 2007 granting workers of businesses with fewer than 50 employees up to five weeks of time off without worry of losing their jobs. It includes a small stipend. Women having babies, for example, could receive up to $250 per week – based on a formula using their rate of pay – and spend time with their newborn child.

Lawmakers have postponed implementation of the law because they considered it an undue burden on families and small businesses during the recession. A bill making its way through the Legislature would repeal the law.

At the same time, several other bills in the House and Senate acknowledge the benefits of early childhood education, and would require the Department of Early Learning to expand its education and assistance programs. Other bills call for legislative task forces on early learning, and to fund expansion of early learning programs.

Education experts agree that when parents are able to spend quality time with their children from birth to age 5, the children do better in school, are more likely to graduate and are less likely to become a burden on taxpayers through the criminal justice system.

Allowing women who work in small businesses to spend five weeks with a newborn – another bill would expand the leave to 12 weeks – is consistent with state support for our early learning goals.

The FMLI law also supports the state’s drive for economic recovery. Less than 10 percent of businesses in Washington offer paid family leave plans. Middle- and low-income workers must rely on 12 weeks of unpaid leave to recover from serious injuries or for care of a newborn.

Taking unpaid leave can lead to financial disaster for average income households with mortgages and other bills to pay. The small amount of assistance provided by FMLI can make the difference whether a parent can afford to stay home with a newborn, or is forced to leave them in child care.

The family leave law is largely self-funding, with no charge to the state’s general fund. It is financed by a payroll tax of 0.2 percent of wages, shared equally by employees and employers. For the average worker, that means about a dollar a week.

Rep. Chris Reykdal is co-sponsoring the House bill to expand and implement the 2007 FMLI law. The bill deserves support, because it strengthens families and the state’s middle-income households.

Pictures from Olympia: Hearing for Paid Family & Medical Leave and Paid Sick Days

Photos from the House Labor and Workforce Development Committee hearing on February 5th, which brought hundreds of people down to Olympia to show their support for Paid Sick Days and Family and Medical Leave Insurance.

Don Orange (at front right), a small business owner from Vancouver, WA, spoke in favor of Family and Medical Leave Insurance

Don Orange (at front right), a small business owner from Vancouver, WA, spoke in favor of Family and Medical Leave Insurance

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Senator Karen Keiser (left) and Rep. Tami Green (right), prime sponsors of the Family and Medical Leave Insurance bill, showing off their storks from MomsRising

Testifying before the Committee (from L to R): Frank Irigon (PSARA), Mark Barfield (father of 8), Don Orange (small business owner) and Sarah Francis (MomsRising)

Testifying before the Committee (from L to R): Frank Irigon (PSARA), Mark Barfield (father of 8), Don Orange (small business owner) and Sarah Francis (MomsRising)

Makini Howell, owner of Plum Bistro, tells legislators her business has grown under Seattle's paid sick days law.

Makini Howell, owner of Plum Bistro, tells legislators her business has grown under Seattle’s paid sick days law.

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