Under the Bus: How Working Women Are Being Run Over

  • July 1, 2015
    BookTalk
    Under The Bus
    How Working Women Are Being Run Over
    By: 
    Caroline Fredrickson

    by Caroline Fredrickson, President, American Constitution Society for Law & Policy

    When she was 18, my great-grandmother Mathilda Olafsson left Sweden to escape poverty, sailing alone in steerage to Boston where she was lucky to find a job as a maid. Like countless immigrant women, Mathilda was subject to sexual harassment, underpayment, and abusively long hours. As she endured backbreaking labor and meals consisting of her employers’ scraps, she hoarded her meager earnings, working toward a better life.

    Growing up, I found Mathilda’s story ‒ so far in the past, so different from today ‒ inspirational. But sadly, even after the enactment of various labor laws and worker protections, many working women are still enduring the abuses that my great-grandmother suffered. The truth is, domestic workers and workers in other undervalued, female-dominated professions have little more legal protection than Mathilda and her peers had.

    Americans tend to think working conditions aren't so bad today; the U.S. has prohibited discrimination against women, mandated equal pay for equal work, and adopted family leave legislation. But few Americans know that the progressive laws designed to improve wages and working conditions left out large portions of the working population. That’s because during the New Deal, President Franklin Roosevelt struck bargains with “Dixiecrats,” trading the rights of African American and female workers for votes in support of a minimum wage, overtime, and the right to join a union.

    As a result, certain workers – including nannies, housekeepers, farmworkers, small business employees, part-time workers, independent contractors, and temporary workers – have almost zero protection under U.S. law. Not coincidentally, these workers are disproportionately female and people of color.

  • May 15, 2015

    by Nanya Springer

    A week after its release, ACS President Caroline Fredrickson’s book, Under the Bus: How Working Women Are Being Run Over, is receiving accolades for its examination of the legal and cultural obstacles faced by women in the workplace, and it is resonating with women who cannot advance at work by simply “leaning in,” or “opting out.”

    Linda Tirado of Elle explains, “Someone once asked me what I thought about ‘lean-in feminism.’ I told her that it was meant for wealthy women, not for women like me. Work, as I've always understood it, isn't a gentle, swaying sort of thing. It's not full of opportunities for musing on work/life-balance. It's where you go, when they let you, to make whatever money they'll give you in exchange for your labor.” 

    These sentiments are echoed by Sheila Bapat at Feministing, who writes, “Fredrickson takes ownership of the problematic ‘lean in’ and ‘having it all’ frameworks and the class chasms they reveal,” adding that the book “applies both data and personal narratives to show that most women in the US are working in low-wage, unpredictable, insecure, and exploitative environments ― even though many women are the sole breadwinners for their families.”

    For more insight into the book and its analysis of how today’s labor laws exclude women workers, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and discrimination, take a look at the resources below.

    Financial Exploitation of Women in the Workplace Is the Canary in the Coal Mine, Truthout

    Congress’ Despicable War on Working Women: How Our Warped Laws Perpetuate Discrimination, Salon

    Book review, Sheila Bapat, Feministing

    Book review, Linda Tirado, Elle Magazine

    Book review, Samantha Michaels, Mother Jones

    Book review, Kirkus

    Lean In or Opt-Out? Or How About We Change the Law?, The WorkLife Hub (podcast)

    Interview, Uprising with Sonali (video)

    Interview, Thom Hartmann Program (video)

    Economic Policy Institute panel discussion, Are Working Women Leaning In or Being Run Over? (video)

    And visit the Under The Bus Facebook page to join in the discussion.

    [Image created by Elle]

     

  • April 23, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    At Talking Points Memo, Sahil Kaupr profiles ACS Board of Directors member Paul M. Smith, who “set the stage for nationwide marriage equality.”

    Samantha Michaels reviews ACS President Caroline Fredrickson’s new book, Under the Bus: How Working Women Are Being Run Over at Mother Jones.

    In Rolling Stone, Janet Reitman discusses a new GOP anti-abortion strategy that seeks to criminalize the use of drugs and alcohol among pregnant women.

    Noah Feldman explains at Bloomberg View how a recent Supreme Court decision may provide another hint as to the future of the Affordable Care Act.

    At Hamilton and Griffin on Rights, Leslie Shoebotham provides an overview on the recent Supreme Court ruling that searches by a drug-sniffing dog after a traffic stop cannot be conducted without reasonable suspicion.

    Elias Isquith of Salon revisits the importance of Proposition 8 to the larger fight against LGBT discrimination. 

  • April 21, 2015

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Sheryl Sandberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter have drawn much attention for their thoughts about the professional working lives of women.  But Sandberg and Slaughter have failed to recognize or willfully ignored the stations of the vast majority of working women – those women who do not have the luxury of “opting out” or “leaning in.”  The inadequacies of our workplace laws leave many working women behind and perpetually struggling to survive.

    American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS) President Caroline Fredrickson, a former labor lawyer and a longtime leader in the legal progressive community, declares a powerful response to “leaning in,” or “opting out,” which dominate discussion of inequalities facing women in the workforce.

    The discussion of workplace equality for women now focuses almost exclusively on white-collar professionals.  This discussion needs broadening.

    Fredrickson’s compelling book, Under the Bus: How Working Women Are Being Run Over, tells the stories of many women, who do not have the protection of our laws or the ability to stand up to their employers’ often illegal demands.  Indeed, for too long many employers have ignored or been exempted from laws meant to protect workers against corporate malfeasance.  Fredrickson also notes the inadequacy of our laws is ingrained in a history riven with racial and gender biases.  Time after time, Fredrickson notes that historical progressive movements to improve the lives of working Americans have left women behind.  If our nation fails to embrace collective solutions to collective problems, inequality will continue to fester in America while democracy suffers.