It’s State Legislative Session season! While we are working here in Washington to strengthen Protection Orders and secure paid sick and safe leave, others are dealing with something entirely different: Bills that codify discrimination. From Arizona to Georgia to Missouri, states are introducing legislation that would allow businesses and employees to refuse goods and services to those they feel live contrary to their religious beliefs.
My dear home state of Georgia is trying to pass a bill with one of the broadest scopes of any of its counterparts. It could not only mean state sanctioned discrimination for the LGBTQ community, but also that women would have a tougher time accessing contraceptives and other family planning services.
Growing up in the South, even 20 years after Jim Crow laws, the lasting effect of these laws was palpable. I can still see today how the rhetoric and treatment of African Americans during that time influences my parents (and many others). Wasn’t that a lesson learned, America? Can we take a moment to reflect on how discrimination breeds hate and violence, and then choose to not go there again?
But what about religious freedoms? After all, the justification behind most of these bills is an outcry about religious liberties being infringed upon. Freedom of religion is an extremely important value to protect. But I don’t buy the argument that it justifies denying someone else their rights or basic dignity. Rev. Emily C. Heath outlines how we can determine if our religious liberties are actually at stake.
To me, these bills feel like a call for superiority for a particular group—not freedom. The messages they send, if they become law, will seep into our communities. Harmful messages about LGBTQ individuals, women, and any other group that might face discrimination because of them. They will worm their way into our lives and our relationships eating away at love, respect, and understanding. It’s one (bad) thing when our lives are invalidated and demonized by individuals. It’s another (even worse) thing when our government says that they think that discriminatory behavior is totally cool.
Love, respect, understanding. These are the things that will strengthen our relationships and dissolve violence. Part of me becomes deflated when I think about these discriminatory bills, but a bigger part of me is actually hopeful. I think they are an indicator of change and are the growing pains that happen before something beautiful emerges.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW)* is currently in the middle of their collective bargaining efforts. Why should you care? Because the big name grocery stores are proposing to eliminate health benefits for part-time workers. Even worse, they are asking workers to waive their right to paid sick leave (if they work in Seattle) and any rights to paid sick leave that local or state government might pass in the future.
WHAT?!?—you rightfully exclaim, shocked that the folks who handle the food we eat wouldn’t be given access to healthcare to stay healthy, or paid sick leave so they don’t contaminate the lettuce.
But wait, what does this have to do with domestic violence?
I’m so glad you asked. Like I’ve said before, money (and jobs) have a lot to do with domestic violence. There are plenty of grocery store employees whose jobs are helping them survive violence in their relationships. Their jobs provide healthcare (even for part-time workers), a wage that they can live on, and for those who live in Seattle (and hopefully soon for everyone else), paid sick leave. Paid sick/safe leave in Seattle also allows workers to take time off to deal with domestic violence (like if they need to go to court, relocate, or go to support group). So you see, these benefits can play a critical role in the lives of those experiencing abuse. I recently heard a worker at a UFCW event share how her job was the thing that helped her get out of an abusive relationship. She said that without an income and health insurance for her kids she would never have made the decision to leave.
So what can you do about it? Excellent question.
Let the workers at your local union-represented grocery store know that you support their efforts to have healthcare and paid sick leave. Let the manager know that you are a regular customer and you expect their employees will have a contract that does just that. Get the word out that we need to support good jobs in our communities. Good jobs help survivors stay safe!
*WSCADV is a community partner with UFCW Local 21
I cried at work yesterday. I found myself overwhelmed, feeling like a failure. Turns out I’m not the only one who had this kind of day. I came across a post about Sheryl Sandberg—who says it’s OK to cry at work—and her new book Lean In. I haven’t read the book, but am so fascinated by the media blitz that I’ve been clicking from one article to the next. Some are hailing “Lean In Circles” as feminism, revitalized. It’s Girl Power, grown up.
But others say that she is blaming women for not being better at climbing the ladder. Sandberg responds that she is simply identifying behaviors that typically hold women back so that we can recognize and change not only the behaviors but the reasons why they exist. OK, that doesn’t sound so bad…
Maureen Dowd criticizes her for not knowing the difference between a social movement and a social marketing campaign. She claims Sandberg’s elitist approach is not going to reach those women workers who are in low wage jobs. CNN ran an article on how Sandberg’s framework completely disregards the working experiences of single mothers, who “couldn’t lean out if they wanted.” OK, also a lot of truth there.
There is little agreement on how to take Lean In. But I’m not sure the top is the only place we should set our gaze. I’d like to see a system that supports and honors women in all levels of employment by offering adequate paid family and sick leave. I’d like to see employers create good policies and protocol for supporting employees who are experiencing domestic violence. If “Lean In Circles” can contribute to that kind of change, that would be a success.