2.11.2010

What do you mean I can't have my baby?

I'm currently sifting through The Shriver Report for information to use in speeches and other assorted places during the campaign. Thing is, it has me thinking about all sorts of things related to women and how we are still living in a very patriarchal society.

Currently I'm reading about how the Pregnancy Discrimination Act only protects women who already have access to paid time off (PTO), sick leave, etc., and are working for companies who have more than 15 employees. Why more than 15 employees, you ask. I'll happily tell you. Because unless a company has more than 15 employees, there is no stipulation that requires it to uphold the laws surrounding PTO contained in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This Act made it unlawful for employers to 'discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or priveleges of employment, because of such individual's ... sex.' That's all well and good, but what happens to those of us who work for companies with less than 15 employees?

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was pushed through in 1978 and it provided for equal benefits for all employees, despite their gender. Here's the catch - if the employer does not provide PTO or sick-leave or vacation, they are not required to offer these benefits to pregnant women. What? Really? For those of us who work part-time jobs that do not offer health insurance plans, PTO, sick-leave or vacation, we have to take the chance that if we get pregnant, we can keep our jobs. If somehow, depsite telling our bosses that we've gotten knocked up, we keep our job through most of the pregnancy, when we leave to have the baby there is no guarantee that we will still have a job. It is unlawful to target layoffs and firings based upon pregnancy, but it is not unlawful to fire someone who is pregnant.

So where do we go from here? The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 managed to secure at least 12 weeks of unpaid leave for qualified workers. This helps to secure their jobs; however, it is not a guarantee that their employer will agree. And 12 weeks without pay is a long time.

Much needs to be done in the area of family leave and PTO. Somehow we think that it is the person's responsibility to secure for themselves the necessary means to survive, but often it is not the case.

I would love to have a full-time job, with benefits, PTO and vacation. I do not have that. I pay out of pocket for my health insurance every month. I come into work when I'm sick so that I can pay the bills (and feed my cats). They say, the more education you have, the better the options you have for getting a better paid, with benefits, fancy schmancy job. This isn't always the case. I have a MA and I work two jobs (at minimum) because all the full-time jobs around me are unavailable for one reason or another. I'm either over-qualified (ha!) or I'm under-experienced in the field. You have to start at rock bottom to get anywhere, and when student loan companies are pounding on your door for payment, things can get a little scary.

I'm sure someday I'll have a big girl job with PTO and the like, but until then, I'll take my week of unpaid vacation time to do some good for the people in Mexico.

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