Editor’s Note: Amanda Posson is a member of the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union at Every Texan
Mama, let’s be honest, you need a union because no other organization will have your back right now. COVID-19 is pushing working mothers out of the workplace four times faster than men. If this trend continues, women’s projected income loss is estimated at $64.5 billion per year. We all know that these issues go beyond the pandemic because they’re intrinsic to our system that is designed to undermine mothers. The fact is the American workplace was never a friendly place for mothers. Our workplaces have a long, well documented history of systemic hostility and inflexibility towards mothers or what was, prior to COVID-19, one-third of our workforce.
Let’s take inventory on the systemic and comprehensive way in which the American workplace has made it near impossible for a mother to keep, let alone, thrive at her job. In the U.S. we do not have universal paid sick leave nor paid parental or family, medical leave. Our society has decided that sick mothers with sick children must lose their wages in order to care for themselves or their children. Pay inequity for women is well documented and Black, Indigenous, women of color are disproportionately impacted. Child care is expensive and largely inaccessible for many working mothers with the average family spending 23% of their net income on child care. The U.S. has only facilitated a national, public child care solution ONCE and that was during WWII. Don’t get me started on breastfeeding at the workplace. It’s a downright travesty that we’ve come to accept this systemic hostility towards mothers as normal.
Like you, I am angry. I’m livid inside at a cellular level. But, listen ladies, there is light and it’s in the union. Our collective solidarity is powerful. We cannot solve these systemic challenges with individual solutions. We need unions.
My union, Nonprofit Professional Employee Union – unit Every Texan United, is fighting for 24 weeks of paid parental and family medical leave in our first collective bargaining agreement. Our unit is adding additional office calendar days to better cover public school holidays. We’re increasing the base salary to address salary inequity and wage stagnation between the boomer and millennial generations. We’re working on family friendly working conditions where children can come to work with their parents and we have Fridays off during the summer months.
I’m so humbled by our unit mothers fighting to build policies for the mothers that follow us. I’m impressed and thankful to our unit members, who aren’t parents yet or may never be parents, but understand how critical these policies are to our nation’s just future.
During COVID-19, my unit went to bat for parents. We saw how much working from home while virtual schooling burdened our unit mothers. Our unit advocated for expanded paid caregiver leave (above and beyond the federal requirement under the CARES Act). Our unit also secured Fridays off for self and family care. This all translates to this: I haven’t gone to bed at night worrying that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with all my work demands or fearing that I’d lose my job. I know my unit will protect my work and the value I bring to the job. I also, very rarely, have had to work all night trying to compensate for lost work productivity due to the daily juggling act of school, work, meal preparation, and child care.
Unions make us human to our employers. It’s too easy for our employers, and especially nonprofit organizations, to sacrifice our humanity for the sake of the mission. The philanthropies funding our nonprofit work have a vision for our work – a vision that too frequently reflects the elite class they serve. A union brings the workers’ collective vision to the table. As a mother and a woman, you don’t have to pull up your own chair to the table, the union is doing it with you. The union has your back.
So, mama, don’t cry (but I see your tears) and don’t devalue yourself. You are enough. You have been asked to do too much at a systems level that requires a systemic response. Take your anger and organize a union. We are only going to get through this crisis and build a more equitable future if we support and implement humane, family friendly workplace policies. There are solutions for our nation’s greatest inequities and it begins with our unionized workplaces.