American workers and families deserve fair wages and treatment at the workplace
By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist
My family and I have some exciting news to share this holiday season—I am expecting twins in February.
As the Register reported earlier this month, our happy news has prompted some equally exciting changes in the union I have had the privilege of leading during these past years. I am resigning at the end of the year to focus on figuring out motherhood, while leaving the Orange County Employees Association in the incredibly capable hands of Charles Barfield, our current assistant general manager.
I’m writing about our organization’s transition because my decision to step away from work illuminates one small slice of the condition of women today. We have protections and rights my mother and grandmother’s generations fought to secure, but we still have so much more to achieve in the pursuit of true fairness and equality.
To start, I know the choice I am making is simply not an option for most working families. Earlier this year, as Disney workers organized to fight for a basic living wage in Anaheim, I met a young married couple who each worked full time in the park but who couldn’t afford a place to live so they slept in their cars. They want children desperately—they see happy families every day at work—but they feel their low wages make it impossible to raise one of their own.
No one person should work full time and live in poverty—that is a basic human value.
But a real American dream would provide fair wages that offer families choices—the choice for one parent to stay home and raise children, or for both parents to pursue their professional dreams. We have so far to go.
The rules of the workplace were not written by women, and they weren’t written with working families in mind. For example, a 9-5 work day makes it incredibly difficult for working moms and dads to attend school-time performances or volunteer in classrooms.
So more workplaces should focus on structural changes to truly support working families and to support each parent equally. More flexibility in scheduling—both regular work hours and also group meetings—is one step in the right direction and often a very easy change to make.
Or how about eliminating the gender pay gap so that the value of the time working women spend away from their families is the same as men and children of working women aren’t left further behind?
The County of Orange is on the precipice of being able to lead the way on another important workplace advancement. The county’s Civic Center in downtown Santa Ana is currently undergoing a massive makeover to accommodate the thousands of workers and members of the public who need to do business there.
The elected Board of Supervisors has an opportunity to include a childcare center for working families in their plans, but so far, it has refused to commit to it.
A recent statewide audit of county governments found Orange County has the largest pay gap of any other county surveyed. Providing working moms with a safe and affordable child care option where they work—a place where they could nurse their babies or visit their toddlers during lunch or avoid huge day care penalty fees because a meeting ran a couple minutes late—this is one way the county should work to eliminate the pay gap and provide women an opportunity to come back to work sooner after starting a family.
My husband and I are expecting a girl and a boy.
While I won’t be in the official workforce for a while, I have the most important work of my lifetime ahead of me. I plan to do all I can inside our home and through continued community activism to ensure our babies live in a more fair, more just world. That they have the same opportunities as each other—my girl and my boy—and that their friends of all races and sexes and socioeconomic backgrounds have the same opportunities as they do.
Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.
Publication Date: December 15, 2018