An Equal Pay Day protest—photo by the Australian Services Union.
We all know that women across the United States make less money than men. But on top of that, the industries that employ majority women are also the most likely industries to lack basic labor laws. Caroline Fredrickson tackles the subject new book Under the Bus: How Working Women Are Being Run Over, which comes out this month from The New Press.
Fredrickson is the president of the American Constitution Society and previously served as the director for the ACLU’s Washington legislative office and as general counsel and legal director for NARAL Pro-Choice America. Fredrickson’s legal background and experience with drafting labor reform bills results in an insightful book on the subject with an insider’s perspective into how the process works.
In the United States, women are working the majority of jobs that pay the lowest, give the fewest hours, provide no paid leave for illness or pregnancy, and refuse to offer employees health care. Plenty of laws have been passed to protect the labor force against such violations, but a large portion of workers are not afforded such rights because they work for employers exempt from such laws. In these low-paying and unstable jobs, the “lean in” argument given by Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg, which claims women aren’t being assertive enough in the workplace, has zero relevance.
The system is so screwed up that even women in a position to do something know they have a hard time making it right. Fredrickson herself kept women out of labor reform laws when she drafted the Genetic Nondiscrimination Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act, with both bills keeping the same exclusions from previous bills. She did so because if she hadn’t, she writes, “The lobbyists for business would come out of the woodwork and the pushback would have been fierce.” The hardest part for Fredrickson was that she didn’t fight the pushback. “I didn’t even think to try,” she writes. “That’s what disappoints me the most.”
Despite having to work inside a broken system for change, Fredrickson remains hopeful. As someone working to change politics for decades in Washington, she has valuable insight into how to effectively undo these wrongs against working women. Throughout the book I hoped for more exposition on the history of U.S. labor laws and more in-depth interviews with women thrown under the bus, instead Fredrickson repeats the same points as if she were delivering a speech rather than authoring a book. Still, Under the Bus is an important book for addressing the issue and offering plans of action that are practical and necessary to achieve real progress in labor law reform.
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