My View: Thankful for equal pay, but must do more
For women as a whole, Equal Pay Day, the extra time it would take for an average woman to catch up to an average man's earnings, happens in April. A sobering fact. When we look at that number for Latina women, we have to push that date to Nov. 20 this year, highlighting the layered elements of race and gender that hold so many of us back.
As the granddaughter of a migrant farm worker from Texas who moved to Wisconsin to pick cherries in search of a better life, I come from a long lineage of those who work with their hands, and in some of the lowest paid jobs, compounding this divide.
As a Latina woman, I take this issue very personally. Latina women make just 54 cents for every dollar a white man makes. When I started my own business, I made equal treatment a cornerstone. But we need more support.
From a migrant's daughter to wine entrepreneur, I know how important opportunities to support small business owners are. While small businesses like mine are working to do our part to have good policies for our employees and fight economic inequality, the problem is larger than us. It means adopting policies, such as paid family and medical leave, that help people keep from having to choose between the wages they need and the family they love. These issues disproportionately impact women, since caregiving responsibilities more often fall to us.
I'm grateful. In Oregon, I will now be able to offer paid leave to my winery staff after the passage of the paid leave bill. But not everyone lives in Oregon, or California, which was the first state to implement a state paid leave program. It's time for a national program, like the FAMILY Act, that supports small businesses and family farmers across the country.
In 2014, I had my son. Due to complications during birth, I was on bedrest after he was born, with a broken tailbone. I could not move at all. There was no way I could have returned to work, let alone the physical work many in the farm industry undertake. Having the space to heal after a major medical procedure — I know personally what having that time meant for me and my business. I feel strongly that we must allow our employees to take paid time off for medical procedures, illness and to take care for newborns or family members in order to have a sustainable workforce.
But not just any paid leave: to address real lifelong gendered wage disparity, we can't have paid leave programs that ask women to leverage against their future tax returns or Social Security, a program where women already receive fewer benefits than men due to lifelong wage discrimination. In fact, lost wages mean that across the United States, women lose over $915 billion annually.
Equal Pay Day happens every year, but this year I hope we can look at the whole picture — wages, paid sick days and paid family and medical leave. If we can broaden our understanding of the problem, maybe we will come closer to finding real solutions and enact policies that will eliminate Equal Pay Day all together.
Cristina Gonzales is the founder of Gonzales Wine Co. and a member of the Main Street Alliance. She lives in Southwest Portland and previously worked at Rex Hill Winery.
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