Women have long been on the front lines of the labor movement. On Mother’s Day, we need to think not only of the matriarchs of the fight for worker rights, but also of the women who play a key role in our working families each day.
We also must recognize that so many of our working mothers are trying to survive and support families with little pay or support on the job. Women still must be on the front lines to affect the company policy and legislative changes needed to ensure a good future for working families.
As a steward at the Smithfield Farmland plant in Tar Heel, I represent many mothers who work day after day to help provide for their families. I’ve worked there 11 years, and I also stood on the line with many women in 2008 to fight for better working conditions for all. Ever since I became part of the union, the working conditions have improved. Now that we have a union, we have people who support us and the work that we do. But much more needs to be done.
The numbers tell the true story of what life is like in the counties my workers live and work in. Unemployment numbers are still higher than the national average, and those who do work are in a largely non-unionized private sector. The median household incomes range between $29,000 and $45,000. In Robeson County alone, nearly 32 percent of our families are below the poverty line. While women and girls make up more than 50 percent of the population in Robeson and Bladen counties, we are also among the poorest due to lack of jobs and worker rights.
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Unfortunately, our counties are not alone in this issue. Statewide, according to an Institute of Women’s Policy Research report, families headed by single women with children have the lowest median annual income of all North Carolina family types. Contrary to public opinion, a lot of these families also do not receive any public assistance.
Nationally, according to a National Women’s Law Center study, the poverty rate of women-led households with children was nearly 40 percent compared with only 20 percent of male-headed households with children in 2013. The same year, Working Poor Families reported 10.6 million low-income working families in America. Of those, nearly 522,000 single mothers who worked full-time, year-round, lived in poverty. When you break the numbers down by race, the disparities are even more prevalent. Nearly half of all black, Hispanic, foreign-born and Native American women-led households with children were poor. In 2015, full-time working women still only make 78 cents for every dollar earned by men, and that gap only widens in certain occupations.
This is compounded by low-wage work, lack of paid family leave
and little to no paid sick days. What’s more, numerous studies show that a lack of affordable child care and early childhood options are barriers to finding steady employment.
That is slowly changing state by state and, in some cases, county by county. Mothers and allies have pushed for that change. Now that an election year is around the corner, workers’ rights and issues like family leave are front and center. We will keep it there.
Many working mothers of UFCW Local 1208 are still on the front lines to expand the rights of workers and ensure workers in the surrounding area can also benefit from quality jobs. We know that the future of our families is in peril without policies guaranteeing livable wages, paid parental leave, paid sick time and worker safety.
As a working mom, I know what it is like to have a family to support. As a union member, I know what it is like to have a voice on the job. While many of us have benefited from the advocacy of women and allies who have come before us, we must continue the charge. My children encourage me to lead, but through me they also know why it is so important to fight for rights and respect on the job. It is not just about our daughters and future working women. It is about the future of our families and all future workers in this country.
María Elena Segura works at Smithfield Farmland and is a member of UFCW Local 1208 in Tar Heel.