Op-ed: Pennsylvania fails new mothers in the workplace

 

This is an excerpt of an editorial written by WLP’s Amal Bass and Tara Murtha recently published on PennLive.com:

Twenty-six years after the World Health Organization and other international groups signed a document calling to protect, promote and support breastfeeding in order to improve public health, U.S. breastfeeding rates still fall short of national goals.

This failure is not due to lack of information about the problem, but rather a lack of political will rooted in a sexist refusal to acknowledge, and accommodate, the needs of working mothers.

Working mothers are the sole or primary breadwinner in two-thirds of American families, yet the United States is the only developed country in the world that provides zero weeks of paid leave for new parents, a situation that forces many new mothers back to work within weeks, or even days, of childbirth.

HBG-Capitol

The Pennsylvania state Capitol building dome in Harrisburg (Dan Gleiter, The Patriot-News)

In Pennsylvania, many moms are forced to choose between breastfeeding babies and earning a paycheck.

Medical experts at WHO, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other groups recommend new mothers breastfeed exclusively for at least the first six months of a baby’s life, and then continue breastfeeding for one year, or for as long as mutually desired by mother and baby. The Center for Disease Control cites increasing breastfeeding rates as a “key strategy” for improving the health of Americans.

Breast milk provides infants and mothers with a wide range of benefits. Breastfed babies tend to have a lower risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, a lower risk of hospitalization for respiratory tract infections, and a lower rate of gastro-intestional problems. Health benefits for breastfeeding mothers include a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

Nonetheless, Pennsylvania has failed to enact workplace protections that would enable more new mothers to continue breastfeeding after returning to work.

Perhaps this speaks to the priorities of a General Assembly that is 82 percent male, but it is a basic biological fact that a woman who recently gave birth simply can’t go eight hours without expressing breast milk five days a week, or perform even longer shift work, and still maintain her milk supply.

You can read the rest of the piece here.

Despite all the evidence supporting the need to pass legislation that supports new mothers, The Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act (House Bill 1100), sponsored by Rep. Mary Jo Daley and Rep. David Parker, has been sitting in the Labor & Industry Committee in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for 15 months.

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The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

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On Women’s Equality Day, 2016

In 1920, Congress ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, finally granting women the right to vote. The success was achieved a full 42 years after the amendment was introduced into Congress, and 72 years after the suffrage movement officially launched in Seneca Falls, New York.

The fight for suffrage, the fight for full citizenship and equality in law and practice, is an ongoing history of fragile alliances and schisms. The struggle for equality is a complex and women-votepainful project, and though much progress has been made over the last century, it is a project that is not even close to complete.

After the 15th and 19th amendments were passed into law, barriers such as voting taxes and “literacy tests” were used to prevent Black people from voting, an effort reinforced through violence. Some states prohibited Native Americans from voting until 1957. In 1925, Congress banned Filipinos from U.S. citizenship unless they have served three years in the Navy.

In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law to correct “a clear and simple wrong” by eliminating tactics such as literacy tests and installing supervision of states with a history of strategically disenfranchising Black voters.

Progress does not march a straight line.

In 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States invalidated a key part of the Voting Rights Act, effectively removing federal oversight of problematic states and districts. Immediately, some of these states proposed changes to voting procedures such as voter identification laws.

Despite scant evidence of voter fraud in Pennsylvania, lawmakers here passed a voter identification law in 2012. The law was subsequently struck down by a state judge who “ruled that the law hampered the ability of hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians to cast their ballots, with the burden falling most heavily on elderly, disabled and low-income residents, and that the state’s reason for the law — that it was needed to combat voter fraud — was not supported by the facts.”

And so the project continues.

In Pennsylvania, coalition of organizations are working to reform and improve elections called Keystone Votes. They advocated for four types of reform to make it easier to vote in Pennsylvania, which has notoriously outdated voting procedures. When more people are able to vote, our policies will start better reflecting the realities of our citizens. It is perhaps not a coincidence that Pennsylvania, behind the times when it comes to running elections, is also failing to support modern American families.

For example, a new state-by-state analysis of laws that support expecting and new parents conducted by the National Partnership for Women & Families gave Pennsylvania a D minus. The grade is disappointing, but hardly surprising, given the lack of political will to pass the Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act, or protect pregnant workers from discrimination, or fix Pennsylvania’s broken equal pay law.

Ninety-six years after the 19th amendment was passed, women still do not enjoy equality with men. Our reproductive rights are under attack. We are paid less than men for comparable work. Violence against us goes unpunished all too often. All women are not treated equally, either. Pay inequity is stratified by race. Women of color are disproportionately affected by attacks on reproductive healthcare. Black women face police brutality and Black schoolgirls are disproportionately punished in school.

In Pennsylvania, only 18% of our General Assembly are women. Only seven of 253 lawmakers are Black women.

We will celebrate Women’s Equality Day by continuing to work for it, and we thank you for your support. Please vote.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking us on Facebook

The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

 

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Equal Pay for Black Women Roundtable at City Hall

Rep. Donna Bullock and WLP's Tara Murtha lead a discussion on pay inequity in Pennsylvania at City Hall, Philadelphia

Rep. Donna Bullock and WLP’s Tara Murtha lead a discussion on pay inequity in Pennsylvania at City Hall, Philadelphia (Photo via Rep. Bullock’s office)

Thank you to everyone who attended the roundtable discussion on equal pay co-hosted by Rep. Donna Bullock and the Women’s Law Project, including Rep. Tonyelle Cook-Artis, Rep. Brian Sims, Brenda Shelton-Dunston of the Philadelphia Black Women’s Health Alliance, Samuel Jones of Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United, Jovida Hill of the Philadelphia Mayor’s Commission for Women, community organizer Denise Ripley, and Jazelle Jones of the Pennsylvania Commission for Women.

Yesterday marked the day of the year that Black women had to work until in order to catch up the earnings of a non-Hispanic white men the prior year. Pay discrimination cuts across almost all industries and demographics, but the problem disproportionately affects Black women and women of color, who experience a double pay gap.

“Pay equity is a family issue,” said Rep. Donna Bullock. “It is an economic stability and growth issue.”

Brenda Shelton-Dunston of the Philadelphia Black Women's Health Alliance spoke to the affect of pay inequity on women's health.

Brenda Shelton-Dunston of the Philadelphia Black Women’s Health Alliance spoke to the affect of pay inequity on women’s health.

The Center for American Progress gave Pennsylvania a D+ ranking for economic security, and the number of children living in poverty is on the rise.

Indeed, just today, a new state-by-state analysis ranked Pennsylvania 47th for women’s equity.

These abysmal scores are unsurprising given the Pennsylvania Legislature’s refusal to fix the state’s broken equal pay law, raise the minimum wage beyond the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour, ensure basic workplace protections for pregnant or breastfeeding workers, or even extend the state’s sexual harassment protections to all female employees.

In recent years, legislation has been introduced that would address all of these issues. Expert testimony about these problems and the disastrous affect they cumulatively have on the economic security of Pennsylvania families have been submitted for lawmakers’ consideration on almost all of these issues.

Yet these bills, including legislation to fix Pennsylvania’s broken equal pay law, have not been passed into law, despite ever-expanding evidence of Pennsylvania families falling behind as a result of outdated policies.

EPT-graphic

The Women’s Law Project, as members of both the Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health and the national Equal Pay Today campaign, will continue to advocate for equal pay and related issues in Pennsylvania.

To stay posted on our progress, like the Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health on Facebook.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Stay up to date on issues and policy by  subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking us on Facebook

The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

 

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Roundtable Today at 3PM: Equal Pay for African-American Women

August 23 is recognized by advocates for workplace equality as Equal Pay Day for African-American/Black Women.

Please join us at 3PM in the Caucus Room in City Hall, Philadelphia as we engage in a roundtable discussion on equal pay for Black women in Pennsylvania co-hosted by Rep. Donna Bullock and the Women’s Law Project.

The roundtable will feature Rep. Donna Bullock, Rep. Tonyelle Cook-Artis, Rep. Brian Sims, and Brenda Shelton-Dunston of the Philadelphia Black Women’s Health Alliance.

What that means is that it is the day of the year that, on average, a Black woman must work in order to earn the amount a non-Hispanic white man earns in a similar job the year before. Advocates use this day to highlight the existence of simultaneous gender and racial pay gaps.

In other words, the double pay gap.

These pay gaps are a hazard to the economic security and health of families in Pennsylvania. As the number of American households where a woman is the sole or primary breadwinner continues to rise, Black women are more likely than their white counterparts to be breadwinners for their families.

Unequal pay is particularly severe problem in Pennsylvania. Without corrective policy intervention, Pennsylvania women are not on track to earn equal pay until 2072.

Some of the practices that perpetuate unequal pay are overt discrimination such as less pay for the same job, while other practices are more subtle, or systemic, such as:

Job segregation: Stereotypes lead to women being segregated into female-dominated, low-wage jobs and the minimum wage has been suppressed. In Pennsylvania, the minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, the lowest permitted by federal law. Women make up nearly 2/3 minimum wage workers. Bills to raise the minimum wage have been neglected in Harrisburg.

Retaliation against workers for discussing pay: Employers with policies preventing employees from sharing pay information keep women in the dark about pay differences, limiting their ability to negotiate for higher pay and to enforce their rights under the equal pay laws.

Pay reductions due to pregnancy and caregiving responsibilities: The United States is the only developed nation in the world that provides zero weeks of paid family leave. Pregnant women are all too often forced to choose between following their doctor’s orders to maintain a healthy pregnancy and earning a paycheck. Pennsylvania lacks basic statewide workplace protections for pregnant women. When women return to work after childbirth—often too quickly—they face challenges continuing to breastfeed because of inadequate accommodations for workers who need to pump milk.

Wage theft: Being paid less than the minimum wage, being shorted hours, being forced to work off the clock, not being paid overtime, and not being paid at all are pervasive practices across many industries.  Women, especially immigrant women in low-wage jobs, are often the hardest hit by wage theft.  Wage theft is rampant in Pennsylvania, costing low-wage workers $32 million in lost earnings weekly.

The Women’s Law Project is a proud member of both the Equal Pay Today campaign and the Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Stay up to date on issues and policy by  subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking us on Facebook

The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

 

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STATEMENT ON PENN STATE RAPE CASE INVOLVING NATE PARKER

 

Statement from Carol E. Tracy, Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project & Terry L. Fromson, Managing Attorney of the Women’s Law Project, on the Penn State Rape Case Involving Nate Parker 

In 2002, the Women’s Law Project represented a young woman in a complaint charging Penn State University with violating Title IX by failing to properly respond to the harassment to which she was subjected after she filed complaints to the police and the school alleging she was raped by PSU wrestlers Nate Parker and Jean Celestin. This woman’s family has eloquently conveyed the impact the experience and subsequent harassment to which she was subjected had on our client. As is now known, she tragically died in 2012. We chose to refrain from participating in the public dissection of the case out of respect for the privacy of our client who, throughout our representation, requested anonymity.

However, as advocates of improving responses of both the criminal justice and campus systems to sexual assault, we come forward to address our client’s objectives. Our client took the actions she did with the goal of protecting other women from sexual assault and harassment, and to do what she could to ensure justice for rape survivors. These objectives have not been achieved in either system, as has been well-documented.

First, we will address sexual assault laws. Our sex crime laws need to be updated and stripped of archaic notions about sexual assault such as those that impose, by word or practice, perpetual consent based on previous sexual relationships. The criminal justice system must free itself of pervasive bias and victim-blaming. The Department of Justice recently issued a guidance, Identifying and Preventing Gender Bias in Law Enforcement Response to Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence (2015). This document provides a good starting point for police to commence this work; prosecutors, juries, and judges must also self-police their attitudes.

Our college campuses, appropriately reminded of their obligations under Title IX by the Office for Civil Rights in 2011, need to comply in both word and practice with the law and strive to prevent sexual misconduct and harassment so students—all students–can fully benefit from their education.

Title IX, the civil law that prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions, is an important and necessary response to sexual assault on campus. Under this law, educational institutions must strive to keep their students and campuses safe by prohibiting sexual assault and harassment, and enforcing that prohibition. They also must do what they can to ameliorate the effects on the victim, which can be severe, as we have been so painfully reminded this week.

As has been widely reported, our client received a small monetary payment as part of the settlement with Penn State. Most important to her, the settlement included the appointment of an independent panel to review PSU’s policies, practices, and procedures. The panel reviewed written policies and heard from numerous witnesses, including our client. (Read Carol Tracy’s 2003 statement here.)

The panel issued a final report with recommendations, which we supported.

In 2012, following new revelations of sexual assault on Penn State’s campus, the Women’s Law Project and nine other organizations requested the Office for Civil Rights review Penn State’s response to student allegations of sexual misconduct with a focus on PSU’s response when athletes or other athletic department personnel are involved.

In 2014, the OCR independently opened a compliance review, which is still active. We look forward to their findings and recommendations.

“A victim should not have to worry about harassment, safety, classes, and finances after she has experienced and reported a heinous crime,” our client said in 2004. “If victims feel protected, more will come forward, and perpetrators will learn that their behavior will not be tolerated.”

Contact Associate Director of Strategic Communications Tara Murtha at tmurtha@womenslawproject.org.

Founded in 1974, the Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

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In Memory of John Timoney

The Women’s Law Project would like to express condolences to the family and friends of former Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney, and to lift his legacy by highlighting his vital role in reforming police response to victims of sexual assault in Philadelphia.

Terry Fromson, Carol Tracy and former Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney about re-opened rape case files in 2002.

Every year the Women’s Law Project engages in an unprecedented review of rape and sexual assault complaints at the Philadelphia Police Department’s Special Victims Unit. With our colleagues from Women Organized Against Rape, Support Center for Child Advocates, and Philadelphia Children’s Alliance, we spend several days reviewing hundreds of SVU files, including all unfounded rape complaints and a random sample of open cases, assessing the thoroughness and outcome of the investigation, raising questions, and providing feedback.

We created this citizen and advocate case review, a national best practice now known as the Philadelphia Model, at the invitation of John Timoney, an old-school Irish city cop who one would not think would be especially receptive to having a cadre of feminist attorneys coming in to the station to comb through police records and analyze interrogation transcripts.

The truth is, despite whatever reservations he may have had, Timoney called us asking for help because he knew the public had lost trust in the police department in the wake of an expose that revealed the Philadelphia Police Department had been burying rape complaints. Given the long history of police failure to respond adequately to rape victims, Timoney’s actions showed remarkable insight. Along with the advocate case review, Commissioner Timoney listened respectfully and instituted our recommendations, including a full internal audit of miscoded cases still within the statute of limitations. Although he did not expect to find rapes among the miscoded cases, he did, publicly acknowledged finding them, and offered a public apology for the Department’s mishandling of these cases.

Commissioner Timoney leaves a legacy of promoting proper police practice, accountability, transparency, and community engagement in investigating sex crimes.

We honor his memory.

 

 

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Webinar Invite: Advocating for Breastfeeding Workers in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, many moms are forced to choose between breastfeeding babies and earning a paycheck when their employers prevent them from expressing milk in the workplace.

pump

It is a basic biological fact that a woman who recently gave birth simply can’t go without expressing breast milk eight hours, five days a week, or perform even longer shift work, and still maintain her milk supply. Medical experts recommend breastfeeding exclusively for six months and up to a year, if it is mutually desired by mother and baby.

The webinar will be hosted by the Women’s Law Project on Monday, August 22 at 3 PM.

Nevertheless, Pennsylvania has failed to enact statewide workplace protections that would enable more new mothers to continue breastfeeding after returning to work. Perhaps this speaks to the priorities of a General Assembly that is 82% male.

We invite you to learn more about this women’s health problem in Pennsylvania and the proposed legislative solution, the Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act. The Act, HB1100, would help women not covered by the Affordable Care Act and require their employers to provide reasonable break time and a private, sanitary space to express breast milk. The bill has been stalled in the legislature since May, 2015.

This webinar is free, but you must RSVP.

 

On the webinar, we will discuss:

  • Health benefits of breastfeeding & challenges new mothers face while trying to maintain a milk supply after returning to work
  • Current rights of employees who express milk in the workplace & the need for better legal protections in Pennsylvania
  • How this issue fits into the PA Campaign for Women’s Health
  • How you can support this campaign to improve the health & economic status of women in Pennsylvania

 

Who should attend?

  • Pennsylvania residents
  • Advocates for workplace equality for women
  • Breastfeeding advocates
  • Legislators
  • Anyone interested in the rights of nursing workers
  • Anyone interested in learning how to improve women’s health and economic security in Pennsylvania

 

The webinar will be hosted by:

  • Amal Bass, Esq, Women’s Law Project
  • Katja Pigur, M.Ed, CLC, Maternity Care Coalition
  • Rosemarie Halt, R.Ph, MPH, Maternity Care Coalition
  • Colleen Krajewski, MD, MPH

Join the webinar to learn how to help working women in Pennsylvania.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Stay up to date on issues and policy by  subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking us on Facebook

The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

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