WASHINGTON - At a press conference here today, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler announced that the labor federation is launching several measures to wipe out pay inequality based on gender and to guarantee that all workers have paid family and sick leave and fair scheduling.
"As a labor movement, our approach always begins with worker voice," Shuler said. "Millions of us will come together this year and bargain for a better life."
She added that the AFL-CIO will also redouble its efforts to organize workers.
"But I understand that unions are not available for everyone," Shuler said, so the new AFL-CIO program for working women will include training women who do not have a union to conduct "good old fashioned negotiating."
She continued: "Corporate culture demands [that CEOs] cut costs and increase the bottom line. But the burden of this system, which is driven by money, is being exclusively endured by workers."
Women workers bear the heaviest burden.
Shuler said, "Women in the workplace have gained a great deal: laws to protect women's rights, new freedoms, and career opportunities that were once thought unimaginable. ... But discrimination still exists."
Women overall make 79 cents for every dollar earned by men; black women earn 63 cents for every dollar earned by men, and Hispanic women 54 cents.
Women are more often than men denied promotions or are fired because they more often must take care of their families. They must stay home from work to care for their children when they get ill, take time off to meet with teachers, and attend to hundreds of other family-related matters.
"Advancing at work shouldn't mean surrendering the rest of your life," Shuler said.
Women workers who are not given regular schedules, or who receive last-minute orders to report to work, find it particularly hard to manage family responsibilities.
Moreover, the cost of child care often makes it impossible for working women to take home enough pay to support their families.
Then there's "clopening."
This practice forces workers to come in for back to back closing and opening shifts, with only seven or eight hours between. The result? Women workers are being left with less control over how much time they can spend with their families and when they can spend it.
Shuler said that despite all the discrimination, women "too often go along to get along."
This must change, she said. "We have to make quiet acceptance the enemy.
"We need to join together and speak out for good wages, great benefits, fair scheduling and equal pay for equal work. We need to demand paid sick leave, paid family leave and quality child care.
"These things are accessible and available to us if we stand together for them," Shuler said.
She announced that to help "galvanize the power of women," the AFL-CIO is launching "a comprehensive survey about the lives of working women. This survey will take the pulse of working women inside and outside the labor movement. It will be a baseline measure of working women's lives."
Further, the AFL-CIO is going to offer training to working women who do not have a union. "We want to pass on our experiences and our skills. We are going to train, cajole, encourage, support and inspire women to win better wages, standards and working conditions."
Shuler said the labor federation will help women without a union craft their demands, determine fair ground rules and negotiate with management.
Moreover, the AFL-CIO will redouble its efforts to pass pro-worker legislation.
"Passing an equal pay for equal work law would be a huge boost for the economy as a whole," Shuler said.
She also said that the AFL-CIO will also fight for passage of the Schedules that Work Act, the Healthy Families Act, and the WAGE Act, which would raise the nationwide minimum wage to $12 an hour over a period of four years.
"This legislation, Shuler said, "would help level the playing field and give working women the opportunity to live healthy, happy and productive lives."
Shuler is the first woman to be elected as AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer and the youngest officer to ever sit on the Executive Council.
She ended the press conference by saying. "... Forty-five years ago, U.S. Representative Shirley Chisholm said: 'Discrimination against women ... is so widespread, that it seems ... normal, natural and right.
"But women are a formidable force. Together ... [we can] build an America where all working women can sustain their families and realize their dreams. ... Tomorrow, if we do our job, this will seem 'normal, natural and right.'"
Photo: Female cashiers and baggers at a supermarket in Concord, New Hampshire. | AP