By Susan Feiner
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Right smack dab in the middle of Women's History Month we've been treated to the spectacle of Wisconsin's new GOP Gov. Scott Walker taking apart public-sector workers' bargaining rights and women's labor gains in the process.
Women's rights advocates have long held that women's freedom and self-determination depend on our ability to support ourselves and contribute to household well-being. In the United States this very often means public-sector employment.
Employees at the federal (43 percent female), state (53 percent female) and local (61 percent female) levels have been able to better resist the wage reductions, benefit cuts and mass lay-offs that giant multinational corporations have visited upon employees over the last decade.
This is especially important for women because public-sector employment offers the best opportunities to use one's education, forge a career and raise a family.
More than 20 percent of women employed by state and local governments hold jobs that require a college degree (these include K-12 and special education teachers, as well as social workers), according to the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Women's Policy Research.
Public-sector unionization has risen from 23 percent in 1973 to 34 percent today, according to The Economist, while declining in the private sector from 24 percent in 1973 to 7 percent today.
Another reason the public sector has been able to hang on to unions is because private sector firms have an incentive to off-shore and out source, while the vast majority of work done by the public sector--delivering meals on wheels, running public health clinics, staffing courts, repairing roads--can't be done elsewhere.
Claims that public sector workers earn too much, meanwhile, don't hold up.
A recent compensation study found that public-sector employees with college degrees earn $20,000 less per year than comparably educated workers in the private sector. Multiply those $20,000 dollars by all the women who taught you, who are teaching your kids, your grandchildren and your neighbors' kids.
How can Gov. Walker and other Republican governors ask them to give up more?
Why don't they ask captains of finance to pay instead?
Simple: They stand for bankers and corporations, not the hard-fought gains of women's history.
Susan F. Feiner is a professor of economics and of women and gender studies at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. Feiner's book, "Liberating Economics: feminist perspectives on families, work and education" is an indispensible guide to feminist economics. She is currently the principal investigator on a grant from Higher Education in Development working with faculty colleagues in the United Arab Emirates to increase instructional capacity in gender and women's studies.
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