As we have sorted through the rubble of this difficult election, trying to understand the motivations of those who voted and those who did not, the economy and jobs have emerged as a central theme.
Many working folks are profoundly struggling to make ends meet. They want—what we at the National Women’s Law Center are fighting for every day—dignity and respect in the workplace and stable jobs that allow them to provide for and care for their families. As much as this election sought to divide us, the reality is that this desire for greater economic stability is shared across gender, race, and immigrant status.
While these economic concerns led folks to vote (or not) in many different ways last Tuesday, they led voters in San Jose, California to unite around one sound economic policy—Measure E: the Opportunity to Work initiative. Measure E requires employers to offer available extra work hours to their current, qualified employees before hiring more employees.
This common sense, simple economic policy directly addresses a deeply destabilizing trend in American workplaces—the proclivity of businesses to hire lots of part-time workers instead of fewer full-time workers, paying them less than full-time workers and providing them fewer benefits. But many of the folks working part-time are desperate for full-time hours—in 2014, one in five part-time workers worked part-time involuntarily. Unable to get enough hours at work, too many folks are struggling to pay bills and put food on the table. Many are forced to cobble together two or more part-time jobs, increasing their transportation costs, and making it extremely difficult to arrange for child care or pursue training or education to move ahead in their careers.
With the passage of Measure E, 64,000 working people will now have a fair shot at greater income and a more stable life. This is the first time such an initiative has been on the ballot in the United States, and unofficial results show that a resounding 63% of voters backed it. Americans clearly want such policies—and not just in San Jose. San Francisco passed similar protections providing part-time workers greater access to work hours in 2014 and, earlier this year, Seattle, Washington, and Emeryville, California, did the same. Fifteen states from Arizona to Rhode Island have also recently considered bills promoting more stable schedules for employees, many of which require employers to provide available hours to current employees first.
Women, and particularly women of color, who are especially hard hit by unfair scheduling practices, were powerful leaders of the San Jose ballot initiative campaign. As the organizers behind the initiative said: “Here in Silicon Valley we’re showing that economic opportunity needn’t come at the price of racial equity, but that smart policies and bold movements address both. When working people, voters, women, and people of color rise up together, we drive progress.”
May we rise up together across the country to provide for greater dignity and stability in all of our lives.