*Co-authored by Page Gardner, Founder and President of the Voter Participation Center
Today we celebrate Women’s Equality Day, a day that commemorates the 19th amendment being ratified granting millions of women the right to vote. In the 95 years since, women have used their votes to better their lives, strengthen their families and protect their communities. But women have yet to maximize their power at the polls – about a third of all U.S. women and close to 40 percent of unmarried women are not registered to vote -- or in the workplace. The labor movement provides nearly seven million women with a voice on the job through union membership and is a driving force in the fight for economic equality and security for women.
Women are the sole or primary breadwinners for 40% of families in the United States yet they make up a disproportionate share of low-wage workers. The pay gap is still stubbornly at 80 cents to man’s dollar. Yet union women who have a voice on the job have access to a variety of benefits at much higher rates than their non-union peers. According to a report released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research today, unions help close the wage gap between men and women by making worker salaries public knowledge, subsequently minimizing pay discrepancies based on gender or race. And that’s only the beginning.
Collective bargaining through unions helps ensure every employee is paid fairly for the work they do. Women union members who work full time earn an average of $212 more per week than women in non-union jobs and union membership is particularly beneficial for women of color. Latinas bring home median weekly earnings that are 42.1% higher than Latinas who lack union representation. Collective bargaining through unions also provides union women with good benefits non-union women often lack on the job, with 3 out of 4 union women having access to a health plan via their employer compared to only half of non-union women.
Not only do unions provide women with the economic protection they deserve, unions also build political and leadership skills to help them advance into leadership roles within their unions. This is crucial to advancing issues that heavily impact women including a higher minimum wage and expanded access to paid sick days. Union leadership allows talented women to build the skills they need to run for public office and fight for the expansion of family friendly policies for all women, not just those in unions.
The ability to speak up for each other on the job and at the ballot box is a crucial component in determining the rights and enacting the policies that affect the lives of millions of women and their families. In order to build a stronger nation and create an economy that fairly compensates and respects every employee for their work, women must vote and they must be able to join together on the job to work for a better life.