Making Our Foremothers Proud on May Day by Fighting Back
“What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist — the right to life as the rich woman has the right to life, and the sun and music and art. You have nothing that the humblest worker has not a right to have also. The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.”
- Rose Schneiderman, 1911 (My favorite immigrant, Jewish, feminist, socialist, queer, trade union and women’s suffrage organizer)
Today is May Day, the day that working people around the world celebrate what we’ve won and bring attention to how far we still have to go in our fight for dignity and respect for all working people. May 1st is known around the world as International Workers Day and celebrated as a public holiday in countries from Germany to India to South Africa.
Although many in the United States have forgotten May Day, it was first “celebrated” in Chicago in 1886, as a powerful march calling for eight hour work days in an era when people regularly toiled for ten hours a day or longer. Since the first May Day (and tbh, since long before that first May Day), women have been on the front lines; organizing and demanding better and more equal wages; safe, healthy and harassment free environments; the right to organize and collectively bargain and so much more.
I’m proud that the National Women’s Law Center is continuing that tradition. We are working to ensure that our foremothers who agitated for workers’ rights in the streets would be proud of us today. Check out some of the work we are doing to improve working people’s lives:
- Helping people who have experienced sex discrimination find lawyers, and then helping people who have experienced sex harassment at work pay for their legal representation through the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund
- Championing the BE HEARD in the Workplace Act, the first comprehensive federal legislative proposal to address workplace harassment in the wake of #MeToo going viral. It would extend protections against harassment and other forms of discrimination to more workers; remove barriers to access to justice, such as short statutes of limitations and restrictively interpreted legal standards; promote transparency and accountability; and require and fund efforts to prevent workplace harassment and discrimination.
- Fighting for the Paycheck Fairness Act, to close the gender wage gap through measures like prohibiting employers from relying on salary history to set pay when hiring, guaranteeing women can receive the same remedies for sex-based pay discrimination as are available for race- or ethnicity-based discrimination, promoting pay transparency by protecting workers from retaliation for discussing or disclosing their wages, and requiring employers to report pay to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
- Pushing for the Raise the Wage Act, which would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024, index the minimum wage so that it continues to rise along with wages overall, and gradually increase the lower minimum cash wage for tipped workers until it matches the regular minimum wage—so that all working people are entitled to the same fair minimum wage regardless of tips.
- Moving forward the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act which will make clear that employers must provide reasonable accommodations (like a bottle of water or stool to sit on) to workers who experience limitations at work because of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. The PWFA is necessary to help ensure that women don’t have to choose between a paycheck and a healthy pregnancy.
These are just some of the ways that we are putting our shoulder to the grindstone to make sure that working people in every workplace can fulfill Rose Schneiderman’s dream – that workers get bread, but they get roses, too. Happy May Day. See you in the streets.