Tag : essential workers

January 26, 2021 by

How to Really Achieve Equal Pay?

As Americans were obsessing over the results of the presidential election, a New Zealand law aimed at eliminating pay discrimination against women in female-dominated occupations went into effect. The bill, which takes an approach known as “pay equity,” provides a road map for
addressing the seemingly intractable gender pay gap.

Unlike “equal pay”—the concept most often used to address gender pay disparities in the United States—the concept of “pay equity” doesn’t just demand equal pay for women doing the same work as men, in the same positions. Such efforts, while worthwhile, ignore the role of occupational segregation in keeping women’s pay down: There are some jobs done mostly by women and others that are still largely the province of men. The latter are typically better paid.

But if the coronavirus has taught us anything, it is that what has traditionally been women’s work—caring, cleaning, the provision of food—can no longer be taken for granted. “It’s not the bankers and the hedge fund managers and the highest paid people” upon whose services we’ve come to rely, said Amy Ross, former national organizer for New Zealand’s
Public Service Association union. “It’s our supermarket workers, it’s our cleaners, it’s
our nurses—and they’re all women!”

It has also taught us how poorly these jobs are compensated. Over half of workers
designated essential in the United States are women; their jobs are typically paid well below the median hourly wage of a little over $19 an hour. (Median hourly pay for cashiers is just $11.37; for child care workers it’s $11.65; health support workers such as home health aides and orderlies make $12.68.)

Instead of “equal pay for equal work,” supporters of pay equity call for “equal pay for work of equal value,” or “comparable worth.” They ask us to consider whether a female-dominated occupation such as a nursing home aide, for instance, is really so different from a male-dominated one, such as corrections officer, when both are physically exhausting, emotionally demanding, and stressful—and if not, why is the nursing home aide paid so much less? In the words of New Zealand’s law, the pay scale for women should be “determined by reference to what men would be paid to do the same work abstracting from skills, responsibility, conditions and degrees of effort.”

What is at stake is not just a simple pay raise but a society-wide reckoning with the value of “women’s work.” How much do we really think this work is worth? But also: How do we decide?

ANNA LOUISE SUSSMAN, “Women’s Work’ Can No Longer Be Taken for Granted,” The New York Times, November, 2020.

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January 25, 2021 by

Retail Work in the Pandemic Is Hell


Home Haven (name changed), a local, family-owned home goods store, is as close to an old-fashioned department store as it gets these days, with three-and-a-half floors and an array of products that one customer jokingly described to me as “everything you didn’t know you didn’t need.” I begin my work days there by wiping down the catalog keyboard, shared pens, label makers, and pricing guns with sanitizing wipes, then sanitizing my own hands before using the scraper usually reserved for getting gum off the floor to remove dried globs of hand sanitizer from their landing place directly beneath the automatic dispenser.

I, too, sanitize my hands intermittently, although as the day goes on, I remember to do so less and less between tasks. I straighten my magnetized employee badge, greet and make eye contact with customers, try to smile so widely beneath my mask that they can still tell I’m smiling, that I’m ready to help. My feet ache whenever I stop to remember them. A shocking number of customers, required by Vermont law to wear a face covering in the store, seem oblivious to the fundamental science of how masks can keep us safe during this pandemic, slipping their masks beneath their noses and even chins once they’ve entered the store. My coworkers are mostly women about my age, college students and recent graduates. We share leads about other jobs in the area, bemoaning our inability to find work in our preferred industries. Like many people our age right now, we have endured months of professional rejection and share an overwhelming fear for our futures.

Customers come in looking for all kinds of things: slotted spoons, toaster tongs, banana hangers, English muffin slicers, tart dishes, woks, whiskey glasses, 16-piece dinnerware sets, canning equipment. In some ways, it makes sense that people are purchasing so many home goods right now— if we are all spending more time at home than ever, why not buy new baking supplies and cocktail glasses? But it still feels awful to interact with a steady stream of customers looking for frivolous items while the pandemic rages, and to engage with so many people who are “just looking.” The knowledge that so many people are going about their lives as if the pandemic is not happening, or barely happening, is almost heartbreaking. I want to tell everyone to hurry home.

Recently, a mysteriously sweaty young white man came in looking for a beverage container. When I showed him our selection of gallon and two-gallon dispensers, he was dismayed, then explained, “Need bigger. Having a party.” Pause. “Wanna come?” I wanted to ask him what world he’s living in. I wanted to yell that I wanted my life back, too, but guess what? Instead, I shook my head and walked away, leaving him to contemplate his choices.

Chaya Holch is a New Voices fellow at Jewish Currents.

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January 25, 2021 by

Is Gen-Z Alright?


Ten feminists, ages 18 to 27 squint at the future imperfect through a coming-out journal, religious faith, long-distance love, an opera career on pause, working retail to survive, and more.

From top left: Chaya Holch, Tziporah Herzfeld, Ilana Starr, Rachel Fadem, Rena Yehuda Newman, Kira Yates, Makeda Zabot-Hall, Abigail Fisher, Noa Wollstein, Arielle Silver-Willner

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July 27, 2020 by

Labor Activism Has New Momentum

AMELIA DORNBUSH is a former Malka Fellow at Lilith and currently works for a union in Michigan.

Labor unions in the United States have an approval rating of 64% in the US according to Gallup. Yet, union density continues to decline—currently hovering just above 10%. Clearly, there’s a gap between the wish of American workers to have a democratic say in their lives and the legal mechanisms by which they can attain such a voice.

In early April, I was struck by a headline in the publication Labor Notes that read: “Will Covid-19 be Our Triangle Fire?” In 1911, over a hundred workers (many of them Jewish women) burned alive in a shirtwaist factory because of unsafe conditions that were entirely preventable. The protests that followed led to the establishment of numerous worker safety protections.

The parallels to our current moment are unmistakable. Tens of thousands of Americans have died of Covid-19. Essential workers are especially at risk, all the more so because the protections that workers won over a century ago have gradually been eroding.

Historically, an interplay between shop-floor action and legal changes have led to the growth of workers’ rights and democratic expression. Given the antilabor Labor Board and Supreme Court, it seems unlikely that legal avenues will offer much solace now.

That leaves direct action. And during the pandemic, worker organizing is on the rise. A strike map has shown over 200 walkouts since March, many of them happening at not-yet-union facilities.

It is genuinely impossible to say what the future of organizing will be after the pandemic—unemployment is rising and union members have been hit hard with layoffs. Corporations have ruthlessly fired workers who organize, even hospitals short-staffed during a pandemic. In many ways, the future could be grim.

We have to hope we can build ourselves a new world from the ashes of the old. The labor movement at its core is about democracy and connections among workers. A virtual world makes it harder to attain those things—but the labor movement has adapted before and will adapt again.

During this pandemic, we have seen glimmers of what that new world could be. From anecdotal evidence, it looks like unions have been fielding an increased number of calls from workers seeking to organize. Even without a formal union, workers have been winning demands through collective action. So there is hope.

Following the Triangle Fire, Rose Schneiderman delivered a speech to the Women’s Trade Union League. She said: “Public officials have only words of warning to us—warning that we must be intensely orderly and must be intensely peaceable, and they have the workhouse just back of all their warnings. The strong hand of the law beats us back, when we rise, into the conditions that make life unbearable.

“I can’t talk fellowship to you who are gathered here. Too much blood has been spilled. I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class movement.”

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The Lilith Blog

May 11, 2020 by

When the Clapping Stops

I may no longer know what day it is, but I can set my clock to the nightly applause that rumble in my neighborhood at 7:00 PM sharp.  A time reserved for New York City residents to step outside (if they can) and bang on pots, whoop, or clap wildly to show their appreciation for the healthcare workers who are tirelessly on the frontlines combatting the deadly Coronavirus.  What will happen when the clapping stops?

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