Last week, I talked to a cashier at a Ralph’s grocery store in Orange County, California. She told me she lives with and supports her 82-year-old mother and her disabled 56-year-old sister. She represents a growing group in the United States: a working woman who is head of household and also a family caregiver.
But with the rise of the low-wage retail giants like Walmart, she is also part of a shrinking group: a union worker with rights on the job, health benefits, paid sick days, vacation and possibly a pension or retirement fund. And, with a union contract, she won’t be arbitrarily paid less than a man doing the same job with the same seniority.
In June 2011, a sex-discrimination lawsuit brought by 1.5 million current and former female employees of Walmart reached the Supreme Court bringing national attention to the company’s policies of paying women less than men in every job category and promoting women less – often in spite of better job performance. The Court decided against allowing the women to pursue the lawsuit as a single class but Walmart will likely have to face these claims individually for years.
Walmart’s treatment of women workers is bad news for everyone fighting for equal pay. As the US and World’s largest retailer, Walmart ‘leads the way’ in setting standards and has the effect of depressing retail wages in every community where it opens shop. Right now, average pay for all Walmart workers is $8.81 an hour and ‘full-time’ is considered 34 hours a week. Imagine the woman I talked to at Ralph’s trying to support her family on that income in California.
Equal Pay Day is here and I have an idea: let’s recommit to defeating Walmart and what it stands for: low wages, bad working conditions, unequal treatment of women workers, union busting, and a business model that hurts the ability of working families to survive.
Equal Pay Day symbolizes how far into 2012 women must work to earn what men earned in 2011. Women now earn 77.4 cents for every dollar men earn. We have not made a lot of progress since Equal Pay Day was first instituted back in 1996 when women earned 73.8 cents for every dollar men earned. I think the rise of companies like Walmart and the demise of union jobs have a lot to do with our lack of progress in this area.
More and more families depend on a woman’s paycheck to put food on the table and a roof overhead. Two-thirds of women are either dual earners or the heads of households. Women are also carrying out the bulk of caregiving duties in families. We need decent wages and flexible workplaces with paid sick days and family leave. This Equal Pay Day, commit to getting involved in raising the standard of living for working women everywhere. Let’s build the movement for workplaces that support caregivers. Let’s start with Walmart.
For information on how to get involved in supporting positive change at Walmart, go to http://makingchangeatwalmart.org/ For information on local campaigns advocating for paid sick days and paid family leave go to http://familyvaluesatwork.org/