It seems apropos to post this photo here — in honor of both May Day and #tbt. It’s from a long time ago, but still represents how I feel about speaking out: if we don’t do it, who else will? I spoke on behalf of the United University Professional (UUP) Women’s Rights and Concerns Committee today at our May Day rally at SUNY New Paltz. Here’s what I had to say:
The most recent Census Bureau analysis showed that women—still, after several decades of organizing and awareness raising—make only 77% of what men make, or 77 cents to the man’s dollar. In 1955, nearly 60 years ago, women made roughly 65 cents for every dollar men made. Given the amount of information we have today about the disparities between men and women, I believe we can do much, much better. According to a study conducted by the UUP in 2009, male SUNY employees make roughly $11,000, on average, more than their female counterparts. That’s a little more than 20% of my current salary. And I’ll be honest, I could use that extra money every month, given how inflated food, gas, and housing costs are in this region. According to a pay disparity study conducted several years ago by the SUNY New Paltz UUP Women’s Rights and Concerns Committee, this pay disparity is alive and well right here on our campus. I’m here today to talk to you about why it’s not enough to be aware that men still make more than women—it’s time to take action so that we can close the gender gap in pay. After all, as my sign says, “everyone deserves to make a decent living wage.”
When I agreed to speak at today’s rally, most people were supportive. But, a few people raised the concern that maybe I shouldn’t speak because I’m only in my first year, and I don’t have tenure. I admit I got a little nervous. But then I thought, if we keep acting in fear of what might happen when we stick up for ourselves, raise our voices, and point out what’s not right, we just feed right back into the status quo that keeps it acceptable to think that the value of women’s work is lower than that of men’s.
Aside from the fact that women aren’t paid as much as men on our campus, there is something else that concerns me—both personally and philosophically. And that is our family leave policy. While we, like other institutions of employment throughout our country, operate under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, this legislation is not realistic.
Previous to the implementation of FMLA, families struggled to cobble together a patchwork quilt of care that often proved inconsistent, unreliable, and expensive. If loved ones got sick, became pregnant, or adopted a child prior to 1993, there was no legislation that protected their jobs or allowed them the necessary time to cope with the circumstances that come with caring for ailing family members or young children. But the thing that no one talks about is that this legislation guarantees employees up to 12 weeks—or 3 months—of unpaid leave. Unpaid. FMLA essentially punishes workers for having babies, getting sick, and being the primary caretakers for their loved ones. What kind of logic is that?
I’m going to be very honest with you right now. As a woman in her late 30s who has worked since she was old enough to get her working papers, and who has always wanted to have children, I’m terrified of getting pregnant, because I don’t know if I’ll be able to afford to take a leave without pay. And that brings me to the subject of maternity leave.
There is no clear policy on our campus for maternity leave—or paternity leave, for that matter. I’m told that if I were to become pregnant, I could borrow days from my sick bank. After working here for a full academic year, I will have accumulated about 12 sick days. That means that at this point, if I were to get pregnant, my paid maternity leave could be up to 12 days, or roughly two weeks. Anything after that would be unpaid. With a partner who can’t afford to pay for our expenses on his own, I’m not sure what to do about this lifelong dream I’ve had of having children. I feel incredibly lucky to have been hired in a full-time, tenure-track job, and I absolutely love coming to work every day, but the reality is, I’m not sure I can afford to have a child.
I use myself as an example not to make this all about me, but to say 1) we shouldn’t be afraid of talking about what is real, and 2) arguing for a fair family leave policy for our work should be the norm, not the exception.
I believe the policy should be that if you get sick, pregnant, adopt a child, or have to care for a sick loved one, you get a minimum of 12 weeks of leave and you get paid. They do that and more in other countries, and in one of the richest nations in the world, I think that’s the least we can do for our SUNY workers.