Your vote – it’s your right – not a privilege!

This Labor Day, your vote is critical to your future as never before. And for working women the results of the November 2014 election will determine much about your life on and off the job. If you have been disillusioned with this Congress (and who has not) and are thinking of sitting this election out – read on to find out why you must not.

The Coalition of Labor Union Women since 1974 has been on the forefront in advocating for equal pay and work/family benefits on the job, and many union contracts now include those provisions. One of our top priorities is to help organize women in to unions, as that is the best way for women to achieve equality.

However the numbers of people in unions in the U.S. is dismal. In 2013, the union membership rate – the percentage of wage and salary workers who were union members – was 11.3 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of workers belonging to unions is at 14.5 million.

So we know we have much to do to increase those numbers and must look beyond bargaining contracts to secure a better life for most Americans.

Much of CLUW’s work centers on advancing legislative priorities with our allies in the labor and women’s community that will benefit women who may not be fortunate enough to have the benefit of a union contract,

Let’s start with equal pay: Last summer we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, but we all know that law has brought us only so far…

In 1963 women made 59 cents for every man’s dollar. Today that number has grown to 77 cents. That translates into $11,608 less per year in median earnings, leaving women and their families shortchanged. The wage gap for women of color is even more alarming:

African American women make 64 cents, and Latina/Hispanic women make 54 cents for every dollar earned by their white, non-Hispanic counterparts.

Mothers are paid less than fathers. Mothers who work full time, year-round make $38,000, compared to $55,000 for full-time year-round employed fathers, meaning mothers only make 69 cents for every dollar paid to fathers.

Unions have been successful in helping to close the wage gap. In 2013, union women earned 33 percent more than nonunion women.

Not all workers, however, are fortunate enough to have a union contract and equal pay. We, therefore, continue to actively promote and support the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA), which gives the Equal Pay Act of 1963 teeth. PFA will update and strengthens that law to ensure that it will provide effective protection against sex-based pay discrimination.

We also support the Healthy Families Act, to allow workers to earn up to seven paid sick days a year to recover from short-term illnesses like the flu, access preventive care, care for a sick family member or seek assistance related to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. Many workers who are not represented by a union do not have paid sick days and are forced to make impossible choices when illness strikes: Stay home, lose pay and risk their jobs, or go to work sick, risk their health and spread disease to co-workers and communities.

Income inequality is on the rise in the U.S. One small step in the right direction is passage of the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which we strongly support, but failed in the current Congress. It calls for:

Increasing the minimum wage over three years from $7.25/hour to $10.10/ hour

Indexing future annual increases to inflation thereafter.

Raising the tipped minimum wage from $2.13/hour to $7.07/hour.

Another piece of legislation we are actively supporting is the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act that addresses problems many pregnant workers – who do not have a union – face on the job. The act requires employers to make the same types of accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions that they already make for disabilities.

A few weeks ago our Supreme Court delivered a decision that is especially detrimental to women workers and their families. When that decision, called Hobby Lobby – the company that sued-was announced, CLUW immediately issued a statement, saying CLUW “views this ruling as a dangerous precedent, as it permits for the first time for-profit corporations with nothing to do with religion to refuse to follow the law on religious grounds.”

The court said that a company that is family-owned – not publicly traded – could ignore the section of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requiring corporations to pay for insurance coverage for contraception. The majority of justices said it violated a federal law protecting religious freedom. The justices thus gave these employers the right to allow their religious beliefs to trump the health needs of their employees, making it harder for American families.

The only way Hobby Lobby stands even a chance of being overturned legislatively is if House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is forced to hand over the Speaker’s gavel to a Democrat. And that will only happen if the Democrats win a majority in the fall.

We reiterate the closing sentence of our statement when the Hobby Lobby decision was issued: We hope American voters remember these court decisions when it comes to voting in federal elections, as it is the president who appoints these justices and the Senate that confirms them.

None of the problems addressed by the legislation described above will pass until we elect a Congress that understands the needs of working families. You must VOTE-so women and their families do not continue to be at risk!!

Connie Leak is president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the AFL-CIO’s constituency group for woman workers. For further information, see

Photo: Fibonacci Blue CC 2.0