Labor - And A Whole Lot More

What Women Want - and Badly Need
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A LEGISLATURE SHOWS CONGRESS HOW
A LEGISLATURE SHOWS CONGRESS HOW
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It's way past time to meet the urgent and long neglected needs of the women who make up fully half of the country's workforce.

Those needs were spelled out clearly in a survey of working women nationwide that was done for the AFL-CIO. No matter what their race, income or level of education, the women agreed with near-unanimity on these priorities:

Pay equality with men and other affirmative action; paid leaves to deal with family emergencies; subsidized child care centers; health insurance; retirement security; better treatment for part-time and temporary workers, most of whom are women; and generally greater respect and a stronger voice on the job.

Most of the women are working out of necessity. More than half of them who are married or living with a partner provide half or more of their families' income. Forty percent of them are single.

More than one-fourth of women with children under 18 said at least part of their working hours were at night or on weekends -- times when arranging child care is particularly difficult, if not impossible. More than half of those with youngsters worked different schedules than their husbands or partners, many because of the dearth of available or affordable child care centers.

More than one-third of all the women surveyed said their employers did not offer any flexibility in setting working hours, regardless of their families' needs. Almost as many had no paid sick leaves for themselves, and more than half did not even have paid leaves to care for ailing infants or other family members needing their close attention. Few could afford to take such leaves on an unpaid basis.

About 25 percent of the women said their jobs didn't offer "secure, affordable health insurance."

Given that women earn less and thus accumulate less wealth than men, they are far more likely to retire poor. Yet close to 30 percent said they had no pension benefits.

What's most needed, what virtually every woman surveyed cited as the most pressing need of all, is to guarantee women pay equal to that of men holding comparable jobs.

Even in these supposedly enlightened times, and even though the federal Equal Pay Act has been in force since 1963, women earn only 74 cents for every $1 paid their male counterparts. It doesn't matter if women have the same education, experience and skills as men in their line of work or if their jobs involve the same effort, responsibility and working conditions.

Which means that women are being shorted some $200 billion a year, an average loss of $4,000 for each of their families.

Collective action would do much to raise the womens' second-class status. A typical female union member earns 35 percent more on particular jobs than those who are not union members and is at least twice as likely to have the benefits so long sought and so long needed by all workers.

But lacking such action -- and less than 20 percent of working women belong to unions -- the burden must fall on Congress to act. Democratic-sponsored bills to considerably strengthen the Equal Pay Act and meet other vital needs cited in the survey have been pending for several years, only to be blocked by Congress' Republican majority.

Raise the status of working women, the AFL-CIO argues, and it will raise the status of everyone else in their families. It will in fact raise the status of the entire country.

Copyright Dick Meister