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Pregnant Workers Need More Than Lip Service

Posted by Emily Martin, Vice President and General Counsel | Posted on: March 30, 2015 at 02:11 pm

First the good news: last Thursday night the Senate unanimously voted for providing pregnant workers with a right to workplace accommodations. Now the bad news: the measure is nonbinding and purely symbolic — unless the Senators who voted for it are held accountable for supporting the real thing.

The budget amendment, introduced by Senator Casey, Senator Shaheen, and Senator Murray, was the first opportunity for Senators to vote on accommodations for pregnant workers. And it was a big hit! Unanimous votes are not so typical in the Senate these days, even for nonbinding measures. In some ways, though, unanimous support for the measure isn't so surprising. After all, West Virginia, Illinois, and Delaware all unanimously passed bills requiring reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers in 2014, as did Philadelphia, D.C., Providence, and (the year before) New York City. Only one legislator voted against New Jersey's 2014 pregnancy accommodations law.

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Pregnant Workers Look to Congress to Strengthen Supreme Court Win

Posted by Emily Martin, Vice President and General Counsel | Posted on: March 27, 2015 at 05:27 pm

Cross-posted from ACSLaw's blog

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court delivered an important victory for pregnant workers [PDF] when in a 6-3 ruling it revived Peggy Young’s pregnancy discrimination case against UPS and sent it back to the lower courts for further proceedings. In so ruling, the Supreme Court declined UPS’s invitation to read a key piece of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act completely out of the statute books. This decision should put employers on notice that when they exclude pregnant workers with medical needs from accommodations that they make for workers with disabilities or injuries, they do so at their legal peril. Nevertheless, the Court’s decision also requires a somewhat unpredictable and fact-intensive analysis of these sorts of pregnancy discrimination claims. As a result, individual pregnant women may still face real uncertainty as to their workplace rights, and individual employers may choose to take their chances in litigation rather than promptly providing accommodations to women who need them. Congress should act now to affirm and strengthen this decision, to ensure that no pregnant woman is forced to choose between her job and the health of her pregnancy.

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Americans Want to Raise the Minimum Wage — And So Does Senator Murray

Posted by Julie Vogtman, Senior Counsel and Director of Income Support Policy | Posted on: March 27, 2015 at 01:59 pm

The passage of the program-slashing, millionaire-protecting budget measures in the House and Senate this week might have you convinced that no one in Congress is looking out for women and their families. But all is not lost! A number of our leaders in Washington do in fact care about families who are struggling to make ends meet. Here’s one example: reports have surfaced this week that Senator Murray (D-WA) is looking to introduce a bill that would raise the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. She’d also “like to see the separate tipped [minimum cash] wage abolished altogether,” and her proposal would include an indexing measure to ensure that the value of the minimum wage does not erode in the future.

This proposal stands in stark contrast to the Republican budget plans—and it is exactly the kind of measure we need to ensure that women and families across the country begin to experience a real economic recovery. Today, women are two-thirds of the workers making the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour—a wage that leaves a full-time working mom with two children thousands of dollars below the poverty line. Women are also two-thirds of tipped workers, for whom the federal minimum cash wage has been stuck at just $2.13 per hour for nearly 25 years. Nationwide, the poverty rate for tipped workers is about twice as high as the rate for the workforce as a whole.

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House and Senate Pass Budgets Slashing Programs for Struggling Families, Advance Tax Cuts for Multimillionaires

Bad news on the federal budget front continues this week: on Wednesday, a Republican majority in the House passed a budget plan that slashes trillions of dollars from programs for low-income families but shields tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and corporations. And in the wee hours this morning, the Senate wrapped up its budget debate and passed a similarly disastrous proposal along party lines. Though the House and Senate budget resolutions are blueprints—legislation making the changes they call for would still have to be enacted—they are an important statement of congressional priorities, and in the words of Senator Sanders (D-VT), the Republican budgets “say those people who are struggling, those people who are trying to feed their families, those people who are trying to send their kids to college, those are not the people that we should be helping. Rather, we’ve got to worry about the top 1 percent.”

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The Department of Labor’s New Rule: Changing the Definition of Spouse under the FMLA to Finally Include All Spouses

Posted by Abigail Bar-Lev, Fellow | Posted on: March 27, 2015 at 11:38 am

Until this month, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has entitled almost all eligible spouses to take job-protected, unpaid leave to care for family members, including a sick spouse or stepchild.  But it has not covered spouses who are married to same-sex partners. That means that even though you might be legally married to your spouse, you could still be denied the rights that opposite-sex spouses have to job-protected FMLA leave to care for your sick spouse – simply because of who you are, who you love, and who you married.

But now, thanks to the Department of Labor, same-sex spouses will have the same leave rights under the FMLA as spouses in heterosexual marriages. This month, the Department of Labor issued a new rule that becomes final today, defining “spouse” under the FMLA as being determined by where the celebration of marriage occurred, rather than the employee’s current state of residence.  In other words, under the “place of celebration” rule, an employee in a same-sex marriage will be deemed a spouse under the FMLA if her marriage took place in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage, even if she currently lives and works in a state that does not.

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Wisconsin Admitting Privileges Law Ruled Unconstitutional

Posted by Courtney Ross, Intern | Posted on: March 26, 2015 at 10:37 am

Last Friday, a federal judge issued a decision that protects women’s access to abortion, finding unconstitutional a Wisconsin law that would have shut down an abortion provider and seriously hindered access for thousands of women. The state law required all abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of the health center where the abortion was performed. These types of laws are medically unnecessary which is why major medical groups like American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and American Medical Association oppose these restrictions.

The law would have forced one clinic to shut its doors for good and the other three to absorb the patient load. With patients at these clinics already facing unusually long wait times (3-4 weeks) because of a lack of abortion providing physicians, it is unlikely the remaining three would have been able to serve all patients in need.

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Unconstitutional Ohio Bill Would Place Politics Above Women’s Health by Banning Abortions as Early as Six Weeks

Posted by Kelli Garcia, Senior Counsel | Posted on: March 25, 2015 at 03:15 pm

Once again, state politicians are seeking to insert themselves into women’s medical decisions and violate their constitutionally protected right to abortion. Ohio’s House of Representatives is scheduled to vote today on H.B. 69, a bill that would prohibit abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. This could be as early as six weeks, before many, if not most, women even know they are pregnant. Abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected would only be allowed in the most narrow and dire of circumstances. This is blatantly unconstitutional. Even supporters of the bill acknowledge that it violates the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade holding that abortions cannot be prohibited before viability. Similar abortion bans failed in the past two legislative sessions, in part, because anti-abortion legislators recognized that the bills were unconstitutional and would subject the state to years of litigation.  

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Supporting the Paycheck Fairness Act Means Closing the Wage Gap for Working Women

Posted by Abigail Bar-Lev, Fellow | Posted on: March 25, 2015 at 12:06 pm

The wage gap for working women in the United States has been stagnant over the last decade – women working fulltime, year round are paid just 78 cents for every dollar paid to men.   Not incidentally, congressional action on the Paycheck Fairness Act has also been stagnant over the last decade.  Congress has blocked action on the Paycheck Fairness Act four times, including twice in the Senate as recently as last September.  But now, Congress has another chance to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act and achieve economic security and equality for women.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, reintroduced today by Senator Mikulski and Representative DeLauro, achieves several important goals for working women by strengthening the tools that workers have to fight back against pay discrimination.  Specifically, the Act:

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