“The Real 9to5”
Written by Wendy Bowman
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
To view the orginal, click here: http://www.womenetics.com/Gender-Equality/linda-meric-9to5-equality-for-working-women
Snapshot: Linda Meric, Executive Director, 9to5, National Association of Working Women
In 1973, a group of female office workers in Boston who were fed up with being powerless and undervalued in the workplace mobilized to change the way they were treated and paid. They got together and organized 9to5 to address work grievances ranging from sexual harassment to lack of pay equity and family leave.
“Those were terms that didn’t yet exist,” says Linda Meric, executive director of the national membership organization that that helps women in low-wage jobs achieve workplace and public policy change on work-family, fair pay and equal opportunity issues.
The group went on to inspire the popular movie and song “9 to 5,” which helped make more people aware of the issues that women who worked in offices and who were performing other types of low-wage work were facing.
“Our vision is an economically just world where poverty and discrimination have been eliminated, and contributions of women are recognized and valued, and where all women and their families thrive,” says Meric, 58, who helped found the Colorado chapter of 9to5 in 1996 and was named executive director of the national nonprofit, nonpartisan organization in 2004.
9to5 is turning 40!
On Sept. 25 (9/25), 9to5 will celebrate its 40th anniversary with events in Atlanta, Milwaukee and Denver. The social events will both celebrate 9to5’s victories and present keynote speakers discussing the progress women have made and the work that still lies ahead in achieving equality in the workplace.
With a long history of labor and community organizing, the Colorado resident became the first woman elected as the principle executive officer of a Teamsters local union in the Rocky Mountain region in 1984.
A graduate of Duke University, Meric also spent seven years as an organizer and representative for the Service Employees International Union, working mostly with women janitorial workers in downtown Denver, the Denver Tech Center and Denver airports.
She is married and has an adult son, stepson and four grandchildren.
Womenetics: How does 9to5 work?
Linda Meric: For 40 years, our members and activists have been organizing for change on the matters that affect their daily lives – important issues like paid sick days, good jobs with decent wages, a secure safety net, quality child care and equal opportunities. We involve members in public-policy campaigns and elections; provide various trainings; stage a national toll-free job survival help line (1-800-522-0925) to provide information to callers who have problems on their jobs; and use mainstream and social media to engage the public and share our members’ stories.
Today we are 20,000 strong, and that includes members, donors and activists. Our core constituency is women in low-wage jobs because we know that changes we win for low-wage women will benefit everyone – men and women who are in the workforce. But low-wage women have never had the opportunity to be part of an organization before and especially not in a position of leadership. We focus on our core constituency, low-wage members, but are open to all women in all income levels and men.
Womenetics: How has the organization changed since it was started?
Meric: We definitely have grown. We have chapters and offices now that are based in five cities: Atlanta, Denver, Milwaukee, San Jose and Los Angeles.
We have chapters forming in several cities and have our action network with members in all 50 states.
Through the years, we’ve changed from an organization of clerical workers to an organization of women in all low-wage jobs recognizing the issues they face are the same. Our members work in all different types of low wage jobs – they provide care for our children and elderly, cook and serve our food, and clean our homes and our offices.
We also, over the years, have adopted a clear commitment to being a diverse, multiracial organization that is committed to fighting all forms of discrimination and oppression.
Womenetics: How ahead of its time was 9to5 when it began in Boston 40 years ago?
Meric: In 1973, the organization was reacting in real-time to the issues facing women in the workplace. We’ve since made a lot of progress on family leave and all those issues, but we still have a long way to go. Both issues and solutions we’re working for come from our members who are directly impacted. We’re often among the first to articulate the need for new policies like paid sick days, protection for workers who share pay information with each other, and expanding the accessibility and affordability of family medical leave because those are things 9to5 members are experiencing every day. It helps us understand what the solutions are that we need to work toward.
Womenetics: What changes has 9to5 been able to bring about?
Meric: We’ve made some really huge bold strides. We helped lead work in federal victories like the Family and Medical Leave Act, The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, The Civil Rights Act of 1991 and Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, as well as increases in the minimum wage and greater investments for child care for working families.
9to5 is Currently Supporting:
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
This act strengthens the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and requires employers to provide pregnant women with reasonable accommodations while on the job.
The Paycheck Fairness Act
This legislation prohibits employers from paying a man more than a woman for performing the same job. It also prohibits penalizing employees who challenge pay disparities.
The Healthy Families Act
This bill would allow Americans to earn paid sick days in order to address their own health needs or to care for those of their family.
We’ve also been able to win victories in the same policy issues on the state and local level , including higher wages, income and work support, civil rights, paid sick days, parental leave and policies that support wage equity.
As far as local victories in just this last year, 9to5 led the Ban the Box campaign that took the question about past criminal convictions off the City of Atlanta employment application, and we worked to support ally organizations in successful campaigns in New York City and Portland, Ore., to help millions of workers gain access to paid sick days.
We feel like we’ve really put the inequities of low-paid women on the national agenda and been successful in winning important policy victories that have improved the lives of men and women in the workplace.
Womenetics: Can you talk a little about the work that still lies ahead?
Meric: This is our 40th anniversary of winning justice for working women. Women still experience pay gaps compared to men, so we need to take steps to close that pay gap. Women are over-represented and undervalued in low-paid jobs, so there are a number of things that need to be done to close that pay gap.
We need to protect workers who share wage information with each other; provide women training and opportunities for higher pay jobs; and raise the minimum wage because women are two-third of the minimum-wage workers. We also need to establish basic standards of paid sick days and paid family leave for workers and increase access to affordable, quality child care as well. Child care can be a huge expense for women workers and a huge obstacle to getting in and staying in the work force.
Too many women, especially women in low-wage jobs, are penalized when they need to take time off to care for their own health or that of a family member because of the lack of access to basic policies like paid sick days and paid family medical leave.
Womenetics: Did your group really inspire the movie “9 to 5”?
Meric: We absolutely did. Jane Fonda was a friend of our first director, Karen Nussbaum, and she met with about 40 of our members and heard their stories of unequal pay, sexual harassment, lack of work-family policies, child-care challenges and bad bosses and then used those stories to inform the movie script. Both the comedy and hit song by Dolly Parton helped educate the general public about the very real issues that were confronting women in the workplace. It helped move the discussions forward about issues like unequal pay and lack of work-family policies on the job for women.
Womenetics: What can we learn about women working collectively?
Meric: There is strength in numbers, and women can work together and see that they’re not alone – that the issues that they face are faced by many others. Sometimes, when you’re in a situation in the workplace and experience a problem like sexual harassment or unequal pay, or you’re struggling to get the time off to care for a sick family member, it can make you feel isolated and alone. But the reality is these issues are faced by many, many people in the workplace.
So, women can both recognize that fact and join together to be part of making change in the workplace and in the laws that provide the floor for the basic standards for the workplace.
Womenetics: What is the proudest you’ve felt during your time with 9to5?
Meric: I have to say that I feel so fortunate to be able to work every day in a position where I feel like I’m really making a difference. And I am proud every day when I see women speak out and take action for real change on issues that directly affect them – women who often have never had the opportunity to participate in and lead an organization; women who didn’t previously think of themselves as leaders or agents of social change. It’s also exciting when we win the campaigns that improve millions of lives for workers and build momentum for even bigger and bolder change.
Womenetics: Do you have a piece of advice you would like to leave us with?
Meric: It’s really important to recognize that you’re not alone, that your issues are the same issues that other women are facing. And it’s important to know your rights and to take action to protect, enforce and expand those rights. I encourage women to join an organization like 9to5 that serves as a vehicle for women to come together, to take collective action and make change on issues that impact you and your family every day.