Women are on the front lines

George Gresham | 3/2/2017, 11:01 a.m.

Each March we pay tribute to the generations of women who have made incalculable contributions to our nation, and we recommit ourselves to the ongoing struggle for women’s equality.

We recall, also, that Women’s History Month has its origins here in New York City in the struggle of garment workers against oppressive sweatshop conditions and child labor, and for the right to vote. Originally called International Working Women’s Day, March 8 is celebrated throughout the world. And here in the U.S., the observance has been lengthened to the entire month.

Undoubtedly during the month, elected officials from the White House on down will mouth platitudes about their commitment to women. But talk is cheap. We know that Trump administration officials and their abettors in Washington and state houses across the nation will continue their cruel offensive against many of the hard-won gains of women, children and working people as a whole.

The president, who campaigned on a platform of job creation and the protection of programs such as Social Security and Medicare, has appointed a cabinet of extremists hostile to labor and to government as a whole. The administration has laid plans and taken steps to roll back the rights of women to control their own bodies and their health, to have clean air and water, to access education and training and much more.

The attacks on labor and the right to join unions will have an especially pernicious effect on those at the bottom of the economic ladder. Although women have made significant educational gains in the past few decades, at every educational level, women continue to earn less than their male counterparts. Recent studies show that they earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by men.

The gender pay gap between unionized workers is approximately half—just 9.4 cents—of the wage gap between non-unionized workers. And although women in recent years have become a larger share of the unionized workforce—more than 45 percent—the share of all unionized workers has declined.

By all indications, the administration is committed to continuing that trend, but that won’t happen without a fight. A blizzard of protests already has led to the resignation of the president’s first choice for labor secretary, the anti-labor, fast-food mogul Andrew Puzder. The president’s second choice for the post, Alexander Acosta, a law-school dean who served in the civil rights division of George W. Bush’s Justice Department, is also widely regarded as pro-business.

In addition to a corporate-leaning labor secretary, the president will be able to appoint two new members to the National Labor Relations Board. Most importantly, the president has selected an anti-labor jurist to the Supreme Court seat that rightly should have been filled by President Obama.

These appointments will hurt working people and the nation as a whole. But the most vulnerable among us, women of color and immigrants, will suffer disproportionately. These women constitute a large percentage of 1199SEIU’s membership. In addition to the unpaid labor these women perform in their homes, they also care for seniors and people with disabilities in nursing homes and as home care workers.