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Protecting the Rights of Women and Working Families During an Economic Crisis

There's no doubt about it--these are tough times. As the headlines shout "recession!" state and local governments are reporting a budget crisis, employers are laying off workers, and privateers are pushing harder than ever for privatization.

But being in an economic downturn doesn't mean losing your civil rights and other rights in the workplace. It's more important than ever to make sure employers follow the law and your contract.

You're Still Protected by Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin or sex (including sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination), and prohibits reprisal or retaliation for civil rights activities; 
  • Equal Pay Act (EPA), which provides equal pay to women and men doing the same job for the same employer; 
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of age against individuals who are 40 years of age or older; 
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits employment discrimination against people with disabilities in state and local governments and in the private sector, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which provides the same protections to federal employees; and 
  • Many union contracts have anti-discrimination language that allows employees to enforce their legal rights through the grievance procedure. Employees may also have expanded rights through their contract, such as non-discrimination provisions for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender workers.

You're Still Entitled to Family and Medical Leave

  • The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave each year to care for yourself or your family. It also requires that group health benefits be maintained during the leave. 
  • The FMLA is a minimum national standard, and state laws or collective bargaining agreements may provide additional benefits. 

Something New for You--Contraceptive Equity!

  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) decided in late 2000 that employers may not discriminate against women in their health insurance plans by denying benefits for prescription contraceptives, if they provide benefits for drugs, devices and services used to prevent other medical conditions. 
  • All types of reversible prescription contraceptives available in the United States should be covered, including birth control pills, IUD's, diaphragms, implants, and injections. 
  • Take Action! Find out whether prescription contraceptives are covered by your employers' health plans. If not, assert your right to contraceptive equity—let your employer know that if they don't offer full coverage, they're vulnerable to a lawsuit. We can provide you with sample letters to request information and to assert your right to contraceptive coverage.

Keep up the Heat on Pay Equity

  • In 2000, despite the passage of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in the early 1960's, women workers earned an average of 73% of men's earnings. African-American women earned 64% of men's wages, and Hispanic women earned 52%. 
  • Part of this wage gap is due to the systematic underpayment of jobs that are filled mostly by women and people of color. The effects of this wage gap follow women throughout their lives and result in lower retirement income and high poverty rates among elderly women. 
  • Keep up the fight for pay equity! AFSCME has led the fight for pay equity for over 20 years, and thousands of AFSCME members have benefited from pay equity adjustments. Keep pushing for pay equity agreements at the bargaining table, in state and local legislatures, and through political action. If your employer says they don't have the money for pay equity adjustments in this economic climate, offer to phase in adjustments over several years. 

Stay Alert for Privatization Threats

  • In the wake of fiscal crises in many state and local governments, be alert for increased pressure to privatize government services. Women and people of color often bear the brunt of privatization because they work in many of the jobs most likely to be privatized. The Women's Rights Department can help you use data from your employer to show how women and people of color would be affected by proposed privatization. You can then use this information in your fight to stop privatization before it happens.

For more information, contact:

AFSCME Education & Leadership Training Department

1625 L Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 429-1250
Fax (202) 429-5088
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