Honoring Ginsburg’s Legacy Requires Real Reform for Working Women and Their Families
By Dina Bakst
On October 26, the Senate approved Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court. Given the clear bias of Judge Barrett against the rights of women and all those without access to power in this country, her nomination is an insult to the legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who spent her career using the law to break down gender barriers, consistently fighting to make the promise of equal rights under our Constitution and laws a reality.
Judge Barrett’s appointment also serves as a painful reminder that millions of women can’t balance their way out of this crisis, no matter how hard they try. There is a stark contrast to Judge Barrett’s personal and professional success compared to the vast majority of Americans. The contrast is especially telling for women of color, who are disproportionately being forced to choose between their own health and the health of a loved one and a paycheck. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ jobs report, about 865,000 women dropped out of the workforce in September compared to 216,000 men.
Women like Dreama, a McDonald’s employee in Georgia, who was recently told by her manager that “this isn’t a daycare” when she asked out of desperation whether her 11-year old could come to work with her and do virtual school in the lobby of the fast food restaurant. Georgia’s Department of Human Services’ guidelines indicate that children under the age of 13 should not stay home alone for prolonged periods. She could risk state intervention and losing her child if she leaves him home alone all day — a risk that higher earning parents, like Barrett, do not have to consider.
Far too often ignored is also the responsibility of providing care for elderly parents or loved ones, a burden that also applies overwhelmingly to women. Up to 106 million workers are carved out of the emergency paid leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which has helped some mothers, and fathers, hang on to their jobs by providing partial paid time off due, in part, to childcare center or school closures. Those falling between the gaps in the law continue to have zero access to sick time or paid leave for when a health emergency strikes.
And millions of pregnant workers, especially those in low-wage and physically demanding jobs, are being forced to show up to work and risk their health in order to provide for their families and retain their health insurance. The late Justice Ginsburg herself lost her job as a typist when she got pregnant and couldn’t get a job in a law firm because she was a woman, and a mother (and Jewish). Though she went on to spend her lifetime trying to break down those barriers, decades later, pregnant workers are still being treated like second-class citizens. According to a recent report by A Better Balance, two-thirds of pregnant workers in need of a temporary accommodation are losing their Pregnancy Discrimination Act cases in court.
While the Senate was successful in forcing Barrett’s confirmation through, there are ways we can and must honor Justice Ginsburg’s legacy immediately. One of those is by passing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act in the Senate, which would provide an explicit right to reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers in America absent undue hardship — the same standard in place for workers with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The bill passed with strong bipartisan support (including from 103 Republicans) in the House last month, but the Senate has yet to take it up.
We can also honor Justice Ginsburg’s in a pandemic, and beyond, by ensuring all parents can access safe, affordable child care and by passing both emergency and permanent paid family leave and paid sick days legislation so all workers can provide care for loved ones without risking their economic security.
These reforms, and others like them, would help stop the astounding number of mothers forced to exit the workforce, and ensure the success of working mothers — not just the most privileged like Barrett.
The work-family crisis can no longer be treated as a private matter. Now more than ever, we must bend the arc of justice for millions of working mothers and caregivers in America.