By Kate Meyer*
Last night Governor Walker and 18 equally uncompromising Republican Senators managed to approve a monumental blow to collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin after weeks of unprecedented protests in Madison. “In 30 minutes, 18 state senators undid 50 years of civil rights in Wisconsin,” stated Mark Miller in a New York Times interview  today. Miller is the leader of the 14 Wisconsin Senate Democrats who have been hiding out in Illinois in order to stall the bill. The bill would severely weaken the power of Wisconsin unions by cutting collective bargaining rights for public employees, ending direct withdrawal of union dues from paychecks, forcing unions to hold annual elections to keep their certification, and raising pension and health care costs, among other things. Now all that’s left before the bill becomes law is a final vote by the State Assembly. The vote - for now- has been stalled temporarily by continued demonstrations inside the Capitol building , giving the working families of Wisconsin one last, fleeting reprieve.
What does this drastic measure mean for Wisconsin’s women? As recently highlighted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research , women have become the majority of newly organized union members over the past 25 years. They represent 52% of unionized workers in state governments and 61% in local governments. In Wisconsin, unions representing female-dominated professions, such as teaching and nursing, will be stripped of collective bargaining rights with Walker’s bill. On the other hand, police and firefighter unions, two prime examples of male-dominated professions, are exempt. In short, the bill disproportionately affects female-dominated unions. Firefighters have recognized this disparity and refused to accept it; they have been seen bravely demonstrating at the Capitol and offering concessions in solidarity  with their fellow unions.
Why is it so crucial, especially for women, that we stand with unions? For one, unions are making faster progress towards pay equity than the non-union world . Unionized women workers make 88 cents for every dollar a man earns, whereas non-unionized women make only 81 cents. Second, union jobs lead to higher median weekly earnings for women . Unionized women make $911 on average, whereas non-unionized women make only $717. Third, unions lead to job retention among low-income mothers , and can pressure employers to adopt safety measures, paid sick leave, and other lifelines for women. And keep in mind that over 6 in 10 American families with kids  now count on women to be breadwinners or co-breadwinners.
According to research by Randy Albelda , Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts, 43% of single mothers, 38% of Black women, and 46% of Latinas are in low-wage jobs. A national attack on unions disproportionately denies single mothers and women of color stuck in low-wage jobs the opportunity to make a living wage, work a quality job, and reach economic security.
*Kate Meyer is a Research and Programs intern at the National Council for Research on Women. She recently graduated from Cornell University where she studied Government , Spanish and was a member of the Cornell Women’s Resource Center Advisory Board.
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