By Brenda Gutierrez
9to5 Colorado leader
You’re fearful of getting sick, one day suddenly you start with a cough and you think “Oh my god, I’m going to get sick and I won’t be able to work.” You are already thinking that you’ll need that money from the very first symptoms.
If you’re pregnant, employers do not give you the time off you need — or if they do, it’s unpaid. And you’re forced to leave your baby a month after giving birth and go back to work or quit and look for a job later on.
These are my experiences as a Latina working in service industries like restaurants and hotels. My labor is seen as less valuable because it’s “women’s work”, and so I watch as men at the same company make more than I do. My labor is also seen as less deserving because I am Latina. Although I’ve always lived in the U.S., people make assumptions about my immigration status, and try to claim that I don’t deserve to be paid fairly.
On average, Latinas who work full time, year round make only 54 cents to every dollar made by white, non-Hispanic men. I’m the sole provider for myself and my four kids. Why should I have to work two jobs just to earn what a man can bring in working one job?
It’s not simply the issue of wages. In addition to being underpaid, these industries do not provide the basic protections that working moms like me need, like paid sick days and paid family and medical leave.
When I had my boys I was able to stay with them until they were about three months old because I was living with the father of my children. But when I had my daughter, we had separated and I had to return to work when she was 15 days old. I was cleaning suites in a hotel at that time, and this is heavy work for a person who is pregnant — carrying the vacuum cleaner, bringing sheets, bringing the housekeeping cart, all that. I worked up until my delivery day, I had pain all day at work, but I did not pay attention because I was working. Then I left work and went home and rested for a while, and in the early morning I went to the hospital and my daughter was born. I only took those two weeks of maternity leave because I knew I needed to pay my bills and rent. So I left my 15-day-old child to go back to a job that had me so pressed for time I couldn’t even take time to pump breastmilk. And I had to do everything possible to be good at my job because I needed to keep it to support my four children, since I had no support from their father.
I work hard at my job to support my family. I also work hard in my community in Denver to win the changes that single moms need, that Latinas need, that I need. We need paid sick days and family-flexible workplace policies. We need affordable transit and housing. We need workplaces where our labor and our contributions are equally valued. That’s what I’m fighting for at 9to5.
Brenda is a core leader of 9to5 Colorado housing campaign. They’re currently fighting to save their mobile home park community from being displaced. Contact us 303-628-0925 to learn more and get involved!