Women’s Economic Security

By:  Heather Reichardt, President, Gaithersburg Branch

I had the pleasure of attending and participating in an excellent forum in Silver Spring last weekend centered on the topic of women’s economic security (#pushWESA).  The forum was held at the Silver Spring Civic Center and was organized by Maryland Working Families, a chapter of the national-level Working Families organization based in Brooklyn, NY.  Other sponsors included the Montgomery County Commission for Women, as well as State Senator Susan Lee from Montgomery County’s district 16 and Montgomery County Councilwoman Nancy Navarro.  The Forum was hosted by former Montgomery County Councilwoman, Valerie Ervin, the Executive Director of the Participatory Democracy Project for Working Families.

In addition to the local and state advocates mentioned above, AAUW very is active and vocal in advocating for women’s economic security, as well.  The results of their research on the gender pay gap are startling.  Not only are working mothers and those responsible for the care of older family-members at a disadvantage when their pay is lower than that of their male counterparts, but even women recently graduating from college often start at lower salaries than their male colleagues.   The lifetime ramifications of lower wages for working women and their families are staggering when added up.

There are many facets to the women’s economic security agenda that, if resolved, would obviously increase the economic well being, not only of Maryland, but the region and the country.   And, the incredible financial strain imposed on so many working and older women would be lessened.    The issues include:  affordable and quality child care, affordable housing, paid maternity leave (for both parents), threats to social security and Medicare, and the very low wages paid to caregivers, to name a few.  For an excellent summary on these issues at the Federal level, see Congressional Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s Women’s Economic Agenda website.

Because it takes time and an incredible effort to get any positive changes made legislatively, the Maryland Working Families coalition is laser-focused on three non-partisan and important bills that will be presented to the Maryland General Assembly in the 2016 session.   Passage of this legislative package will make a significant positive impact on Maryland’s workforce (note-bill numbers are from the 2015 GA session):

  • Pay Equity (HB 1051/SB 424): Strengthens the protections of the 1963 federal Pay Equity Act and creates disincentives for employers to pay unequal wages for equal work.  MDWF fact sheet.
  • Paid Sick Days (HB 385/SB 40): Nearly three quarters of a million Maryland workers do not have access to paid sick days and have to make very hard choices about going to work sick, sending a sick child to school or not being able to take care of another family member without the fear of losing pay or, worse, their jobs. WorkingMatters fact sheet.
  • Fair Scheduling (HB 965/SB688): This bill would require employers with hourly workers to provide worker schedules three weeks in advance so that workers have a reasonable time-frame in which to schedule appointments, attend school meetings or arrange for child care.  MDWF fact sheet.

In addition to the support of Maryland Working Families, the non-partisan Maryland Legislative Agenda for Women has supported several of these bills over the past few years.  Again at this year’s MLAW conference, these issues were front and center and will be considered by MLAW’s members as possible women and family-friendly legislative initiatives to support during the 2016 General Assembly session.

As Valerie Ervin mentioned in her opening remarks at the forum, “Women are disproportionately impacted by many of the barriers targeted in the proposed legislation, but the effect will be to lift all workers!”   These sensible and just legislative changes will benefit so many families in Maryland.

Hillary Clinton has said that “Women’s rights are human rights” and Nancy Pelosi says that “When women succeed, America succeeds.”  These very short statements are so powerful, but… they are also just plain common sense!   Let’s all work toward passage of these bills for the good of our entire state.

Note: Maryland Working Families is planning another forum in Baltimore in early December – stay connected to their website for more information.