Posts Tagged ‘Public Policy’

Taking Steps toward Fair Pay

Obama SOTU 2013AAUW completely agrees with President Obama’s remark last night — equal pay needs to happen now, not later. In 2012, AAUW found that college-educated women already earn 7 percent less than men just one year out of college — even when women have the same major and occupation as their male counterparts. It doesn’t have to be this way. In addition to Congress passing the Paycheck Fairness Act this year (take action to urge your representative to co-sponsor!), AAUW strongly believes there are concrete actions that the Obama administration can take that would enable women to bring home the pay they have rightfully earned. Here are some of our ideas:

  • Issue an executive order forbidding federal contractors from retaliating against employees who ask questions about compensation. With federal contractors and subcontractors making up nearly a quarter of the federal civilian workforce, this order would protect millions of workers seeking equal pay for equal work.
  • Replace the Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs’ (OFCCP) current guidelines for investigating wage discrimination. OFCCP ensures that federal contractors and subcontractors (which employ millions of workers) provide equal employment opportunity through affirmative action and nondiscrimination. In January 2011, the OFCCP proposed recalling and replacing the two guidelines that shape how it conducts these investigations. The current guidelines obligate the OFCCP to follow an identical procedure for all compensation discrimination investigations “regardless of the facts of a particular case.” AAUW called on the OFCCP to rescind these antiquated guidelines back in 2011.
  • OFCCP should implement a much-needed compensation database. AAUW has long supported OFCCP conducting a survey of contractor employment data to target enforcement efforts and better understand why women and people of color continue to be paid less relative to their counterparts. OFCCP should ensure that the data collected can be used to conduct in-depth analyses of pay practices in various industries to identify the most problematic fields and provide industrywide guidance where there are systemic problems.
  • Ask the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to develop regulations directing employers to collect wage data including the race, sex, and national origin of employees. This information is not currently collected, making it difficult for the EEOC to investigate discrimination allegations.
  • Ensure adequate enforcement of all civil rights laws through sufficient funding and staffing of the EEOC, OFCCP, and various civil rights divisions. AAUW is worried that ongoing budget pressures will lead to reduced funding for these agencies, leaving millions of Americans without access to civil rights law enforcement.

The Obama administration has a real opportunity to further equal pay for equal work despite congressional gridlock. These and other administrative actions are available to the administration right now. We know the president is committed to equal pay for women. Let’s not make women wait any longer. Help us spread the word: Share this blog with your friends and participate in AAUW’s tweetstorm from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern today. Tweet #TalkPay and this blog to encourage the administration to take action on equal pay.

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Last week, the Obama administration proposed new regulations for determining which religiously affiliated employers and nonprofit organizations would have to provide no-cost contraceptive coverage in their insurance plans. Under the adjusted policy, churches and other houses of worship are still exempt from having to provide this coverage, and other religious entities (such as charities or universities) would not have to issue plans that directly provide birth control coverage. Employees at those organizations would instead, as the Washington Post put it, receive a “stand-alone, private insurance policy that would provide contraceptive coverage at no cost.”

This decision protects women’s ability to access contraception without co-pay. AAUW is pleased that the administration resisted efforts to exempt for-profit companies from providing this critical health insurance coverage. The decision will lead to real benefits, including fewer unintended pregnancies and a better quality of life for women. If you’d like to learn more about whether your insurance plan covers these services, a health advocacy group has prepared an easy-to-use tip sheet.

However, we are concerned that another regulation, also announced last week, could limit women’s ability to access this care. The proposal would exempt student health plans self-funded by colleges from benefits mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

This proposal would affect only about 30 institutions — mostly major private and public research universities — that self-fund their student health insurance plans, but this loophole could inspire other schools to begin self-funding their plans to remove contraceptive coverage, which AAUW would strongly oppose. As one consumer group put it, “Without federal protections and only minimal state oversight, self-funded plans are free to discriminate based on preexisting conditions, offer limited coverage with low annual limits on benefits, and commit a number of consumer abuses that the ACA was designed to eliminate.”

Although these are modifications to existing policies, they’ll have a big impact on women across the country. Subscribe to AAUW’s Washington Update to keep up to date on these developments and what they mean for women and girls.

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Although great advances have been made in the last 40 years thanks to Title IX, the fight for women’s equality in athletics is far from over. The High School Athletics Accountability Act (House) and the High School Data Transparency Act (Senate) were reintroduced this week by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) to help further gender equality in school athletics. The bills specifically require that high schools report basic data on the numbers of female and male students in their athletic programs and the expenditures made for their sports teams.

See more of our cute, awkward, and awesome photos celebrating National Girls and Women in Sports Day on our Tumblr

Federal law already requires colleges to report this data, but the same standard is not required of secondary institutions. High schools currently collect this data; it is just not being publicly reported. This lack of transparency undermines the purpose of Title IX; without transparency, there can be no reform. As it stands, girls comprise half of the high school population but receive only 41 percent of all athletic participation opportunities — 1.3 million fewer female than male high school athletes — and sometimes receive inferior coaching, equipment, facilities, and scheduling. Further, offering girls equal opportunities in sports is about achieving more than equality; studies have shown that girls and women who participate in sports are less likely to get pregnant, drop out of school, do drugs, smoke, or develop mental illnesses.

In my own high school, I witnessed and experienced many inequities in our athletic program. Going to a “game” almost always implied a men’s competition, whether it was basketball, soccer, or swimming. Even female student athletes I knew frequently talked about watching men’s games — including attending as a team to root for their male counterparts. However, I don’t think I ever heard any male student athletes talk about returning the support for their female peers, and unsurprisingly when I did attend a women’s basketball game, the bleachers were nearly empty.


See more of our cute, awkward, and awesome photos celebrating National Girls and Women in Sports Day on our Tumblr.

This isn’t to say that I believe that the High School Athletics Accountability Act or the High School Data Transparency Act would necessarily change the reality: We have a long way to go to achieve equality in the minds of both women and men when it comes to sports. But these proposed laws take a step in the right direction. When the inequities are out in the open we can more readily act to resolve them. And in time, with more opportunities and resources, girls’ sports will come into more prominence, and maybe one day we will see the bleachers populated with male student athletes rooting for their female counterparts.

As we work toward this goal and honor the 27th annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day, please contact your legislators and ask them to co-sponsor the High School Athletics Accountability Act to help increase transparency and strengthen gender equality in high school athletics.

This blog post was written by AAUW Public Policy Intern Sarah Lazarus.

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Between 1861 and 1865, the United States fought a brutal war that divided the nation. By the war’s conclusion, the Union had been preserved and slavery officially ended. Yet more than 150 years later, the nation is still fighting slavery, albeit in a different form: human trafficking. AAUW strongly supports efforts to combat trafficking, a position formally adopted as part of our public policy agenda by AAUW members in 2011.

Human trafficking, which President Obama said “must be called by its true name — modern slavery,” is a criminal activity that forces individuals into prostitution or involuntary labor. On Wednesday, government officials, academic and business leaders, and an Academy Award-winning actress came together to discuss the fight against modern-day slavery.

Hosted by Georgetown University and Deloitte Consulting LLP, the Anti-Human Trafficking Symposium: Transforming the Coalition included keynote addresses from Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) John Morton and actress Mira Sorvino, who is a U.N. goodwill ambassador.

Actress Mira Sorvino, photo by United Nations Photos, Flickr Creative Commons

“It’s fitting for us to meet during National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month,” said Morton. “The grim reality is that human trafficking and sexual exploitation are a very real part of the modern world … To defeat human trafficking we must attack it relentlessly.”

According to a 2007 U.S. State Department report, 80 percent of transnational victims are women and girls. Because the majority of victims are female, Morton stressed the need to educate girls about the dangers of trafficking. Education can help at-risk girls become less vulnerable to offenders.

Morton also discussed ICE’s victim-centered investigation approach. Based on gaining victims’ trust and reducing intimidation from their offenders, the approach considers recovering victims to be as important as prosecuting offenders.

Sorvino echoed the importance of helping victims. She told the true story of a young boy and girl from the Philippines who were lured to the United States by the promise of work. The woman who recruited the children told them to take taekwondo classes for a month before leaving home so that they could come into the country on athletic visas. After securing visas at the border with their transporter (the taekwondo trainer), the children began work at an assisted living facility in Long Beach, California. They worked nearly nonstop without pay until a neighbor tipped off the FBI, who ultimately rescued the children from the woman’s control. Saving these and other children from sex slavery and forced labor motivates Sorvino to lobby Congress and state legislatures to pass laws preventing human trafficking within our borders.

Noting the ease with which the children in Sorvino’s story secured visas, the speakers also discussed the importance of comprehensive immigration reform. Morton said that current laws must be overhauled and rewritten to help protect illegal immigrants from exploitation. He and other symposium speakers agreed that in order to combat human trafficking, partnerships between federal and nongovernmental organizations, both in the United States and internationally, are vital.

“I think we will all agree that human trafficking provokes our justifiable and righteous anger,” said Morton. “Let’s bring our outrage to the offense.”

This post was written by AAUW Public Policy Intern Bethany Imondi.

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FMLA-01The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) is a shining example of what AAUW lobbying efforts can help accomplish. Passed after seven years of hard work by AAUW staff and the AAUW Action Fund Capitol Hill Lobby Corps, the legislation continues to be held up 20 years later as a lobbying success story.

“Often when I am telling folks about Lobby Corps I use FMLA as an example of our tenacity,” said Lobby Corps member Kitty Richardson. “It was definitely a case of here today, here tomorrow. We’re not going away, and we are supporting [the legislation] for the long term.”

The act, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on February 5, 1993, allows qualified employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year to care for a new baby or recently adopted child, tend to a seriously ill family member, or overcome their own serious health problems. About 62 percent of workers qualify for FMLA.

AAUW’s work on FMLA began in 1986 with an official endorsement of national family and medical leave legislation. AAUW delegates then adopted family and medical leave as an action priority at our 1987 National Convention. An AAUW brief from April 1998, Family Leave: A Solution to Work and Family Conflicts, told the story of a Delaware woman who lost her job because she needed time off to care for her ill son. The article said, “Women who have no parental leave face especially heavy income losses.”

In 1989, AAUW and other national women’s groups presented President George H.W. Bush and leaders of the 101st Congress with a “women’s agenda” focused on family, workplace, and health issues. The women’s agenda called for a family and medical leave act establishing a national policy of leave to enable working women and men to fulfill their family responsibilities without sacrificing job security.

AAUW Lobby Corps member Marcy Leverenz lobbied for AAUW on FMLA in the late 1980s. She said that when they started they had to make legislators understand the big picture — that people all over the United States needed the ability to take time off for caregiving.

“Through our lobbying efforts, this need became more of an empirical message rather than an anecdotal message,” Leverenz said. “It initially wasn’t looked on as a problem to be solved.”

Also in 1989, AAUW delegates again adopted family and medical leave as an action priority with thousands of AAUW members visiting the offices of nearly every senator and representative that June. And the results proved positive: The Outlook issue published after the lobby day said that the “coalition of national groups working for family leave … credited AAUW with greatly advancing the issue in Congress.”

The issue stayed at the top of AAUW’s policy agenda throughout the early 1990s. A February 1991 briefing said that AAUW “is fully committed to the establishment of a national family policy that helps American families balance work and family responsibilities.” When FMLA finally became law in 1993, Lobby Corps members said they reacted with joy — and relief.

“I really feel like without us out there nagging, it wouldn’t have gotten through,” said Lobby Corps member Nancy MacKenzie.

Part of the reason Lobby Corps had success was because they could provide personal stories to get legislators on board.

“We are effective because we aren’t paid to lobby,” MacKenzie said. “Therefore we only lobby on things that we personally believe in. It’s not a job to us. It’s something we care about.”

Since FMLA passed in 1993, AAUW has worked to expand the legislation to cover more of the nation’s workforce. Although those lobbying efforts have been unsuccessful overall, some Lobby Corps members have had the thrill of seeing their own families benefit from FMLA. “One thing that touched me was that at the time we started lobbying this bill, my son was rather young,” MacKenzie said. “In the meantime, he got married and had children and made use of FMLA when his wife was pregnant. And I thought, you know, I’m one of the ones who got it passed. And I let him know it, too.”

This post was written by AAUW Political Media Coordinator Elizabeth Owens.

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Laissez les bons temps rouler: Let the good times roll.

As we prepare to descend upon New Orleans for the AAUW National Convention in June, I hope we all take that Mardi Gras motto to heart. I know I certainly will. As the new associate director of field operations here at AAUW, I couldn’t be more excited about bringing the “public policy good times” to the Big Easy.

Yes, you read that right — public policy good times. From a panel on pay equity to workshops that explore advocacy techniques and insider intel on how Washington, D.C., really works, “good times” is definitely the best description for what the Public Policy and Government Relations Department will offer at the AAUW National Convention.

Throughout my first couple of weeks here, I have heard nothing but amazing things about you — our thousands of AAUW members and supporters. And I’m looking forward to the opportunity to meet you when we descend on New Orleans for this exciting convention. And besides the local cuisine, I’m looking forward even more to delivering to you some public policy good times.

Want to influence key decision makers in new and better ways? Interested in moving along fair pay legislation in your state legislature? Looking to increase the number of members taking action on issues you’re working on? That is exactly how the AAUW policy team plans on letting the good times roll.

Will you join us in New Orleans? Here’s hoping I get to share some good times with you!

This post was written by AAUW Associate Director of Field Operations Samantha Galing.

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This week, so-called National School Choice Week, many pro-voucher groups are trying to argue that vouchers are good for our schools. This “school choice” language promises parents improved results while failing to mention the serious civil rights problems with vouchers. I have seen this firsthand in Michigan and know that we can have success fighting back against voucher schemes if we remain vigilant.

In September 2011, I testified before the Michigan Senate Education Committee in Lansing on a package of education reform bills. One of the bills, S. 621, would have weakened Michigan’s public schools by creating a private school voucher system. This would have diverted public funds to private and religious schools and away from the public schools that desperately need those resources. In my testimony, I told the committee why I opposed the voucher proposal.

I said that requiring financially stressed districts to bear the burden of educating private school students, taking desperately needed funds away from the public schools, would be bad public policy and would hurt students. School voucher programs also funnel taxpayer money to private schools that do not have to follow civil rights laws such as Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs that receive federal funding. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my tax dollars going to a school that doesn’t have to obey Title IX.

I had the honor of testifying alongside several education experts, whom I was then able to recruit for AAUW of Michigan’s efforts to educate people about this bad legislation. Although we were able to modify the proposed voucher legislation, there are still threats to Michigan’s public schools.

AAUW believes a strong, free public education system is the foundation of a democratic society, and we have long opposed diverting public funds to private or religious elementary and secondary schools. As long ago as 1937, the AAUW legislative program called for “free public instruction of high quality available to all, since popular education is the basis for freedom and justice” and in 1955 stated that “universal education is basic to the preservation of our form of government and to the well-being of our society.”

AAUW of Michigan is working with coalition partners all over the state to oppose these voucher proposals. The fight to protect our children’s right to a quality public education is far from over.

This post was written by AAUW of Michigan Public Policy Director Barbara Bonsignore.

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When we talk about mentoring, I think we have a tendency to assume that mentors are for people who are young and new to their careers; we make the mistake of thinking that eventually you “outgrow” the need for a mentor. But one thing I’ve learned from my time in Washington, D.C., is that the people I look up to have mentors of their own — and political leaders are no exception.


Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) frequently talks about outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom Gillibrand replaced as New York’s junior senator, as one of her mentors (Gillibrand made the relationship Twitter-official on Clinton’s most recent birthday). Gillibrand is now one of 20 female U.S. senators — a record number. And on both sides of the political aisle, they all clearly value mentoring. When the women senators sat down for a group interview with Diane Sawyer earlier this month, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) talked about how retired Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) volunteered to be Klobuchar’s “Republican mentor” when she first came to the Senate. Now Klobuchar is returning the favor by mentoring newly elected Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE).

At a time when bipartisanship seems rare, what strikes me is that women legislators in both parties acknowledge the need for mentors throughout their careers and encourage other women to become mentors as they advance. The same is true in the House of Representatives. In Secrets of Powerful Women: Leading Change for a New Generation, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) is clear on this point: “Be a mentor. Find a mentor. Get out there and make a difference,” she declares. Later in the same book, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) defines a mentor as “somebody who commits to walk with you and help you become the very best person you can be. … Someone does this for you, and you do it for the next person.”

We also see this theme of passing the torch among female legislators at the state level. At a recent event celebrating New Hampshire’s all-female congressional delegation, Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who previously served as New Hampshire’s first female governor, talked about one of her mentors, a female Republican state senator — now Shaheen mentors the woman’s daughter, newly elected Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH).

At AAUW, I am fortunate to work for one of my own mentors, AAUW Director of Public Policy and Government Relations Lisa Maatz, who also shares her story in Secrets of Powerful Women. And I am proud that through Elect Her–Campus Women Win, AAUW and Running Start connect college women who are thinking about running for student government with role models in their communities, whether they are women who have run for local office, communications experts, or current members of the college student government. As National Mentoring Month wraps up, I encourage you to take inspiration from this proud tradition of women mentoring women in politics and think about the ways you can find and become a mentor. If members of Congress can do it, so can we!

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Take action for fair pay. Join the AAUW Action Network: http://bit.ly/TwoMinuteActivist

Take action for fair pay. Join the AAUW Action Network: http://bit.ly/TwoMinuteActivist

On the fourth anniversary of the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law, I am focused on unfinished business. We — women, families, this nation — need Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. When President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law on January 29, 2009 — the first law he signed after taking office — I never dreamed that four years later we’d still be without the Paycheck Fairness Act. I’m ready to bring back the euphoria of 2009. And we have the opportunity to do so right now.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) have reintroduced the Paycheck Fairness Act this Congress. The bill has the support of the president, and we have strong advocates in my friends at AAUW and in you. AAUW was critical to the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009 and is already working hard again to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

The fair pay issue is on the nation’s radar once again, thanks to President Obama’s inaugural address. I had the great privilege of hearing him in person as he called for equal pay for equal efforts, and I was overjoyed to hear the crowd give that line the most applause. I know the president cares deeply about this issue, and I hope he will consider issuing an executive order that would ban federal contractors from retaliating against employees who ask questions about compensation. This is a critical piece of the Paycheck Fairness Act that the president can address while we wait for and urge Congress to act.

I’m looking to Congress not only for the Paycheck Fairness Act but also for the Fair Pay Act, a bill led by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC). This bill addresses the gender pay gap between traditionally female-dominated occupations and male-dominated occupations, which continue to pay more despite requiring the same levels of skill and education. I want a society that values women’s and men’s work equally, and I know we can get there together.

You see, this fight for fair pay started out to right a personal wrong, but my fight is now about women nationwide and their families. The pay gap affects whether families can buy food, pay the mortgage, and stay healthy. Do we really want, as AAUW research showed, to continue to allow our female graduates to be paid 7 percent less than male graduates despite working in the same fields and with the same college majors? I won’t rest until that is no longer the case.

Here’s what I ask of you: Stand up for yourselves, stay informed, and take action with the folks at AAUW. And remember, my journey in the fight for pay equity is for you. I hope you’ll stand with me.

AAUW will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act at our 2013 National Convention in New Orleans. On the afternoon of June 10, join us for an anniversary panel featuring Lilly Ledbetter and AAUW Director of Public Policy and Government Relations Lisa Maatz. Register today so you don’t miss out!

This post was written by fair pay advocate and friend of AAUW Lilly Ledbetter.

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Obama Inauguration speech 2013We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still. Just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall. Just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone, to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.                        

—    President Barack Obama, January 21, 2013

The chills I felt while hearing these words during President Obama’s inaugural address had nothing to do with the Washington, D.C., weather and everything to do with hope and pride in being an American. I went to the Mall with my parents and my 7-year-old daughter, and we waited for hours in the cold to see the president. But it was completely worth it.

It was worth it to hear the president unite the civil rights struggles of the last century into one sweeping idea — that we are fighting for the rights of every person to be treated and valued equally. It was worth it to hear him say that being born a woman or African American or gay makes you no less equal in the eyes of others and no less deserving of the full protection of our laws. It was worth it to hear him say that women should receive equal pay for equal work, something I’ve dedicated my own life to fighting for. It was worth it to hear the word “gay” said aloud for the first time in an inaugural address — a small word but a big step forward. It was worth the cold and the wait and the crowds to hear these words.

I attended the inauguration with my parents, who lived through the Jim Crow era and remember the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment, and my daughter, who doesn’t remember life before the United States had an African American president. To see the impact of history on my own family — is it any wonder I got the chills?

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