Jenny Ahn: Unionized women workers do better than unorganized; all working women need access to universal daycare.
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
As many of our viewers know, March is Women’s History Month. And here on The Real News, we’ll be bringing you a series of interviews about women’s issues. And here do discuss one women’s issue, specifically women’s workers rights, is Jenny Ahn.
Jenny Ahn is the Canadian Auto Workers union director of membership mobilization and political action. Her work focuses on promoting anti-racism, inclusion, and diversity. And she joins us now from Toronto.
Thank you for joining us, Jenny.
JENNY AHN, DIRECTOR OF MEMBERSHIP MOBILIZATION AND POLITICAL ACTION, CANADIAN AUTO WORKERS: Thank you for having me.
DESVARIEUX: So, Jenny, I want to talk about specifically how women are doing today compared to the past, specifically women in the workplace. What is the situation like for women in the workplace?
AHN: Well, unfortunately, today the situation hasn’t changed that drastically over the many, many decades for women inside the workplace. We do still see women who are not getting paid for work of equal value as their male counterparts. So we’re still fighting in a number of different areas for pay equity. But we’re also seeing that women not only are getting paid less for work of equal value, but just generally women still make less wages than men overall.
So what we are seeing, though, that women are smarter. They are joining unions more often than men. And when women do join a union and have a union representing them in their workplace, they make $7 to $14 more an hour. So that is some positive news.
DESVARIEUX: So, currently what is the gap in income between men and women in Canada?
AHN: It could be as high as a 30 percent difference between—the gap between men and women.
DESVARIEUX: Okay, 30 percent. And here in the United States, of course, there is the glass ceiling and there is this wage gap as well. And for women it’s very difficult for them often to even find work outside of the home when they have a child to take care of at home. And President Obama, in his State of the Union address, brought this up and said preschool education should be a requirement, and every American child should have the right to have preschool education. In Canada are you seeing a shift in more affordable childcare being available for families?
AHN: Unfortunately, it sounds like the situation is not much different here in Canada. We’re still fighting and struggling to have more affordable, more accessible, and publicly run childcare, to have childcare that is licensed and that is regulated so that our kids are safe when the parents are working.
There’s also about two-thirds of women who have kids under the age of three years old that are working outside of the home. And it’s still difficult to get good quality childcare for our kids. So we’re still in need of making some vast improvements to our own childcare system here in Canada.
DESVARIEUX: What sort of initiatives are you guys pushing for over there in Canada?
AHN: Well, we have a national campaign to talk to not only our members but also to the broader public to push for a national childcare program. So we’re asking our federal government that we need to ensure that our kids are looked after right from the get-go, that we need to have a national childcare program so that parents can afford and to have available to them childcare to have their kids looked after. So we have a national campaign on that front. Again, it’s not just in the workplace where we talk to our own union members, but it’s also engaging and educating the broader public around the importance of that.
DESVARIEUX: And do you find that it’s difficult for some of your female members to leave the home because they find that if they’re at a job that pays, let’s say, minimum wage, that because childcare is so expensive, it doesn’t really make sense for them to leave the home and earn a wage that can just barely take care of childcare for their children?
AHN: Well, that is often the case. But, unfortunately, what happens more often is that people will try to find any sort of childcare. So it may not be regulated or licensed. We don’t really know the background or the qualifications of those childcare providers. But parents will find any sort of childcare, because it’s very difficult unless that one parent who’s bringing in [incompr.] income makes a very good wage, that often it requires both parents to be working. And sometimes, you know, these parents are working more than one job to make ends meet.
And this is where we’re saying we’ve got to do better. In 2013, we’ve got to do better for workers overall, and not just women workers, but workers right across, to make a better wage, to have more full-time, permanent employment, that have benefits and have a good pension plan, all these sorts of things that can provide a much more stable family life when the parents are not as stressed out.
So what we’re seeing, though, is instead of saying, geez, you know, childcare’s not affordable or we can’t find it so one of us should stay home, unfortunately, they don’t have that option. They need to have both incomes coming in. So this is where you’ll see parents just finding childcare wherever they can. And this is also, unfortunately, where we have heard of accidents and different [incompr.] terrible things that are happening. And so this is also why we’re pushing to have a national childcare program and pushing our federal government to do that so it’s uniform, it’s available right across the country. And that way, our kids will be better looked after.
DESVARIEUX: Thank you for joining us, Jenny.
AHN: Thank you very much. And happy International Women’s Day.
DESVARIEUX: Same to you, Jenny.
And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network, where you’ll find more interviews like this on women’s issues.