Labor - And A Whole Lot More

Here Come The Women!
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Good news for women: Despite the recession - or because of it - womenworkers will very soon outnumber male workers for the first time in U.S. history.

After many, many years of minority status, many years of generally beingpaid less than men and otherwise treated as second-class workers by male bosses, women now have the numbers to more effectively combat workplacediscrimination.

New data from the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics show that at mid-year,women held half the country's jobs - and undoubtedly will hold more thanhalf by year's end.

The number of women workers has been growing steadily for decades, but thenumber has boomed during the recession. That's partly because the greatestjob losses have been in male-dominated fields such as construction andmanufacturing. Men have lost more than three million jobs in those areasalone since the recession began in late 2007. Three-quarters of all jobslost - a total of 4.75 million - were held by men. Women lost three millionfewer jobs.

Women have been gaining jobs because the sectors of the economy that havebeen growing despite the recession are those in which women havetraditionally held a majority of the jobs - health care, education, andstate and local government. The growth of jobs in those areas has been inpart because much of the federal stimulus money has gone to them.

The figures are downright spectacular. Local governments, for instance, havelaid off 86,000 men during the recession, but they have hired 167,000 women. That's largely because women generally are paid less than men and are hiredmainly for office jobs, whichtypically are better funded than other government positions.

More than 90 percent of all government jobs and nearly 80 percent of thehealth care jobs filled during the recession have gone to women. Also, there's been an expansion in teaching and other fields dominated bycollege-educated women.

But though women are gaining jobs in many fields, men still dominate thehigher-paying executive positions. And women generally work fewer hours thanmen and thus earn less. They also hold more part-time jobs than men thoughmany, if not most, want - and need - full-time work.

What's more, women earn only 77 percent of what men earn. One of the mostimportant reasons for that is simple. Despite their growing numbers anddominant position in some areas, women workers are still concentrated inareas where unionization is low - the health care, hospitality and retailfields.

Unionized women get a third more in pay than non-union women. Last year, themedian pay for women in unions was about $800 a week, about $600 fornon-union women. That amounted to about $2 an hour more for women unionmembers.

Pay is only part of it. Three-fourths of unionized women haveemployer-funded health care and pension benefits, while only half ofnon-union women have them. Women in unions are guaranteed paid holidays andvacations, premium pay for overtime work and usually work under unioncontracts that promise them the same pay and benefits as men doing the samework. The working conditions of union members are invariably better thanthose of non-members and unionization gives them a strong voice on the job and in their communities.

The conclusion should be obvious: More women need the leverage ofunionization to fully realize the advantage of their growing numbers in theworkplace.

There's one sure way for them to gain unionization -congressional approvalof the long- pending Employee Free Choice Act that would deny employers theunderhanded tactics they've used to block millions of workers fromunionizing.

It's way past time for Congress to act, way past time that Congress enabledall workers, men as well as women, to fully exercise their rights as workers.

Copyright 2009 Dick Meister