Adults with children can face complications if they want to pursue education or career development and, while community colleges often try to make things as convenient as possible for adults, college resources may not be enough. Partnerships between community colleges and other schools, local nonprofits, private businesses, and government agencies can make a difference. Many creative ways of pulling these partnerships together have been found in different parts of the United States. One of these, highlighted by IWPR’s Student Parent Success Initiative (SPSI) in a new fact sheet, is Carreras en Salud: Carreras is a program of the nonprofit organization Instituto del Progreso Latino in Chicago, in partnership with Chicago’s Association House, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), and the city college of Wilbur Wright. This particular partnership helps low-income adults, most of them Latinas with children, successfully obtain education, training, and certification in health care fields. The affiliated organizations help student parents through different curricula and services: for example, parents taking bridge courses at Instituto del Progreso, such as English-as-a-Second-Language, receive child care. IWPR is also examining the need to improve work conditions and opportunities for in-home care workers who are immigrant women (please see our earlier blog post) and a program such as Carreras shows great promise for improving the quality of jobs in care work. Partnerships among community colleges that help student parents to complete education and career development pathways, whether in health care or other occupations, can help maximize existing resources through community coordination.
Jane Henrici, Ph.D., is a Study Director with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
A new development in the Wisconsin union story occurred a couple nights ago when Wisconsin’s Republican state senators discovered a roundabout way, without any of their Democratic colleagues present, to pass a bill that will strip collective bargaining for public sector employees in the state. The state senators took out the “financial” aspects of the bill and voted to strip collective bargaining rights from public sector employees separate from the budget bill. But banning collective bargaining will have financial ramifications—especially for family budgets.
Collective bargaining allows for workers to negotiate more effectively for things like higher wages and better benefits. Wisconsin’s bill limits collective bargaining over wages and eliminates the power to collectively bargain over benefits and pensions. Without collective bargaining, workers have fewer options for recourse against unfair wages or low benefits, issues women are more likely to face. As has been noted elsewhere, state and local public sector workers are actually paid less than their private sector counterparts, once their qualifications are taken into account, and as we pointed out last week, the majority of public sector workers at the state and local level are women.
Recently, the Wisconsin Women’s Council released a fact sheet showing that a staggering 71 percent of Wisconsin’s women with children under the age of six are working. This means that there are a lot of working mothers in Wisconsin–more than the national average of 60 percent. Not all of them work in the public sector, of course, but the same fact sheet also showed that the 56 percent of state government workers and 58 percent of local government workers in Wisconsin are women, and women exceed 60 percent of the state government workforce in 12 counties.
In general, lower women’s wages hurt families that rely on their earnings. Women workers still face a stagnant wage gap–regardless of private or public sector employment. But collective bargaining gives women a collective—and thus, effective—voice in wage disputes. In a recent projection for NBC News, IWPR estimated that it will take until 2056—45 years from today—until women’s wages catch up with men’s. The same NBC story noted that women represent the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of U.S. households, underscoring the importance of women’s wages to family economic security.
If this trend to eliminate public sector workers’ collective bargaining power spreads to other states, the bills will have a disproportionate affect on families of color as well. Nationally, more than one in five black workers are public sector employees, compared to 17 percent of white workers. Although black women in the public sector have the lowest wages, the gender wage gap is actually five percentage points narrower in government (81 percent) than in the private sector (76 percent), according to the U.S. Census Bureau. (The racial wage gap, as it happens, is also narrower in the public sector.) And five percentage points is not insignificant; remember that it has taken about 16 years (since 1993) to narrow the overall gender wage gap by five percentage points.
Families are already facing an uphill battle with the persistent gender wage gap affecting their household finances. In Wisconsin, female-dominated public sector professions will take the biggest hit from the new legislation and many of the women affected will be working mothers. The last thing these Wisconsin families need is one less way to improve women’s wages.
Jennifer Clark is the Development Coordinator with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
Since March 23, 2010, when the President signed the Affordable Care Act, employers with at least 50 employees have been required to provide reasonable breaks for mothers of infants under one year of age to express breast milk. They are also required to provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk. The law only covers nonexempt employees (typically hourly, not salaried employees) and the Department of Labor (DOL) is charged with interpreting and enforcing the law. IWPR just a released a report indicating that the law will dramatically increase rates of breastfeeding among working moms.
Why would the DOL need your help? Because the law applies to employers with at least 50 employees in any location. That includes a lot of small establishments owned by bigger entities, including many chain restaurants, convenience stores, chain hair salons and barber shops, construction companies, small retailers, all but the smallest of airlines, public transit authorities, sales offices, branch banks, and so forth. These employers do not have to provide permanent facilities, but once a woman requests breastfeeding breaks, a place must be provided, and the DOL is looking for inventive ideas for practices and places that will work. Tell us about what has worked in your experience or use your imagination!
Please email your ideas to Youngmin Yi at yi<at>iwpr<dot>org by January 30, and we will put together the best ideas, post them here on the FemChat blog, and send them to the DOL.
Smaller employers are exempt from the law if they can prove that following it would be an “undue burden.” So, the more great ideas we can generate to make the law work in small workplaces, the fewer small employers will ask for (or receive) exemptions, and more moms will finally be able to breastfeed and hold down a job.