Speaking of Women's Rights: 05/11

Friday, May 27, 2011

Serving up some theories on the
paid sick days discussion

The current debate over whether or not workers should have a minimum standard of paid sick days is not a new one. A national bill, The Healthy Families Act, was proposed in 2009 and a handful of cities and states have followed suit with similar proposals.

What baffles me in the current debate over a paid sick days proposal in Seattle is the absence of voices from those this policy is meant to protect: Those who are truly affected by a lack of sick days seem to be silent, and with plenty of folks willing to speak for them. Doesn’t this make sense though? When your boss is out there hollering about the negative impact of a minimum standard of sick and safe days, wouldn’t fear of retaliation keep you from speaking out in favor?

Dave Meinert, owner of Big Mario’s Pizza and The Five Point Café claims that his employees don’t want paid sick days. Having worked in the service industry for over 10 years, my immediate feeling was that this can’t be true. Just to be sure I wasn’t off base, I decided to call my friend who has put in a similar number of years to the industry. It just so happens that she had to work her shift as a server at a local restaurant the other day with a 102 degree fever. Not only does she disagree with Meinert’s assessment, she told me that everyone at her restaurant feels the same way. The only problem? None of them are about to risk their jobs in order to make a point.

Opponents in the restaurant industry claim that there’s no need for paid sick days because workers can simply swap shifts when they’re ill. This makes me wonder if the folks who believe this have ever sat by the phone, feeling like death and running down the entire list of your coworkers, wondering if you’re going to have to work while running to the bathroom to throw up. Also worth pointing out is that this policy will not stop the practice of shift swapping. It’s simply a minimum standard that helps those for whom shift swapping is not a possibility (in the restaurant industry and outside of it).

There are a lot of numbers being thrown out there in this debate. Washington Restaurant Association president Anthony Anton says offering paid sick days could cost restaurants up to $175,000 a year. He fails to mention that for most restaurants, the cost would be much less. He also claims that “for every $1,000 increase in the cost of doing business, a restaurant needs an additional $20,000 in sales just to break even.” In math class, we were taught to show our work; I don’t know how on earth these numbers could make any sense, but I would love for Mr. Anton to show us.

Regardless of what the numbers say, however, I think that Meinert and others opposed to a paid sick days policy are missing a very important part of the bottom line: When you treat your workers well, they are more productive, dedicated, and loyal. When they are healthy, they are more productive dedicated and loyal. It’s just common sense that when a worker is able to stay home from work, they get better much faster. There are also studies that talk about lost revenue as a result of workers going to work when they’re ill.

All of this said, what’s really perplexing to me is why, while the restaurant industry employs roughly 28,000 out of 370,000 in our city, it’s the only workplace we’re talking about. All of the recent articles that have come out around paid sick days inevitably devolve into a discussion of their effect on small restaurants. It’s fine to have this discussion, but let’s remember that we’re talking about a need that exists for a lot of people, over a wide array of industries.

I think that protecting workers by requiring employers to offer a minimum number of paid sick days is the way to go. I understand that not everyone feels the same way, but this is what I ask: That we step back for a moment and look at the big picture. That we step away from our ideas about our own restaurant; our own profit-margin; and our own experiences. That we stop speaking for other people and start listening.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why I’m Going To See Bridesmaids…Eventually

Have you seen the movie Bridesmaids yet? My partner and I were planning to go on Saturday night, but we spent the day on spring housecleaning and were so exhausted that we fell asleep on the couch by 9:00 pm. I know this says something very sad about both of us, but let’s put that issue aside for now.

Anyhow, I wanted to see Bridesmaids not only because I laughed out loud at the trailers, but also because of the buzz it’s received as a groundbreaking movie for women. Some have even suggested that it’s nothing less than a social responsibility to see the movie. Why? To send a loud and clear message to Hollywood executives that women-driven films – particularly comedies centered on women – can score at the box office.
Thankfully, my failure to get off the couch on Saturday hasn’t hurt the film’s success so far. Bridesmaids has received positive reviews from nearly all critics and has performed well at the box office, leading some to hail the film as a triumph for women. Others are more skeptical of film’s impact and the hype. As one commentator put it, “Bridesmaids is apparently a big deal. If we don’t all go see it, there will never be another movie made about women again. Or something like that.”

I have to admit that I was slipping into the skeptics’ camp after reading the initial hype. First, let’s be honest: The movie looks like a pretty straightforward comedy, and kind of a gross-out comedy at that. Not exactly a film that promotes social change.

I also thought about how many of my comedy heroes since childhood have been women: Carol Burnett, Mary Tyler Moore, Lily Tomlin, Bette Midler, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtain, Joan Rivers, Goldie Hawn, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O’Donnell, Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho, Ellen DeGeneres, Sarah Silverman, Kathy Griffin, Tina Fey, Chelsea Handler – just to name a few. It didn’t seem like women’s comic voices were being silenced by Hollywood.

But then I realized how few of these women have been featured in major studio films in recent years. I also went back and looked at box office receipts for the top 100 movies of 2010. I only saw two movies on the list that seemed to be fair to characterize as women-centered comedies: The roundly-panned “Sex & the City 2” at #33, and the much funnier “Easy A” at #59.

And then I read a recent New Yorker profile about actress Anna Faris, which included the observation that “studio executives believe that male moviegoers would rather prep for a colonscopy than experience a woman’s point of view, particularly if that woman drinks or swears or has a great job or an orgasm.”


So yes, I’m going to make sure I see Bridesmaids while it’s still in the theatres – not just because it sounds like fun, but also to vote with my (gay male) dollars for more films featuring and celebrating funny women. There aren’t many better deals than getting a laugh while making a statement, even if it means staying up past 9:00 pm on a Saturday night.

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Friday, May 13, 2011

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Lives On - In Professional Sports

by David Ward

Earlier this week, pro hockey player
Sean Avery appeared in a video supporting marriage equality for LGBT couples. Avery, who is straight, isn’t well-known outside the hockey world. But his statement received national attention because it was such a rarity: A professional male athlete speaking out for LGBT rights.

We’ve come a long way in combating homophobia in this country. After years of effort, Congress finally passed legislation to bring an end to the military’s infamous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on openly gay servicemembers. But in the world of professional sports, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” remains an unwritten rule for gay and lesbian athletes.

Consider this: There has
never been an openly gay player on any professional men’s sports team in the United States. Even after retiring from the game, only a handful of male athletes have come out of the closet.

The record is only marginally better in professional women’s sports. True, there have been some outstanding openly lesbian athletes, including tennis greats
Martina Navritolova and Billie Jean King and basketball star Sheryl Swoopes. But few others have followed their courageous leads, and homophobia in women’s sports remains a problem.

So what’s it going to take for LGBT athletes to feel safe to come out of the closet?

Of course, it’s an important step for straight athletes like Sean Avery to show public support for LGBT rights and players. Avery joins a handful of male athletes from major pro sports teams who have recently spoken out for LGBT rights, including
Grant Hill and Jared Dudley of basketball’s Phoenix Suns and Brendon Ayanbadejo of football’s Baltimore Ravens. Let’s hope that more straight athletes join this movement.

But it’s going to take more than support from teammates. League officials, team owners, and major sponsors have to step up to the plate. They need to make it clear that openly gay athletes will be welcomed, supported, and protected from discrimination.

So far, those at the top have done little if anything to encourage LGBT athletes to come out. David Stern, the Commissioner of the National Basketball Association, was recently asked about why there has never been an openly gay player in the NBA. His response: “
I don't want to become a social crusader on this issue but I think sports, male sports, has traditionally not been an inviting environment for gay men to identify themselves.” While Stern predicted that “eventually... we will get to a place where it is not an issue in sports," he acknowledged that “it’s going to be hard” for the first player to come out – without offering any support or encouragement for a player to make that difficult decision.

And in the Women’s National Basketball Association, a league that depends greatly on support from LGBT fans, Washington Mystics owner Sheila Johnson took the incredible step of banning the use of “kiss cams” at home games. The “kiss cam” is a staple of pro sports, where the camera picks out a couple in the crowd and projects their image on a Jumbotron, while other crowd members cheer for them to kiss. Johnson said it would be “
inappropriate” to have kiss cams at Mystics’ games – apparently because it may show lesbian couples kissing. As LGBT sports expert Pat Griffin put it, this decision sent the message that “lesbians in the stands and on the court are expected to be ‘appropriate’ which, of course means shut up, sit down and make yourself as invisible as possible.”

Everyone knows there are LGBT athletes in professional sports. We also know that there are legions of LGBT sports fans and that LGBT teens could benefit greatly by having more gay athletes as role models. Sports officials, team owners, and sponsors need to stop ignoring those facts and take steps to assure LGBT athletes that they will be welcomed and supported if they come out. Some athletes are starting to lead the way. It’s time for the leaders to follow.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Of Mothers, Hallmark Holidays, and Fairness

MOTHER’S DAY. Did reading that make you wince, or beam? Both? You are not alone. Most people bounce back and forth between despising the “Hallmark Holiday”, feeling obliged to buy into the hype, and acknowledging that they don’t really honor their mother all year round, so a special day does serve some purpose.

And let’s face it, the holiday is not going away. The market for cards, brunches and orchids is just too big for businesses to permit its disappearance. So we might as well take the opportunity for reflection.

That reflection doesn’t have to be morbid, even for those of us who have lost our mothers. (May I pause for a moment and point out that my mother isn’t actually “lost”? It sounds like she went astray on the highway and refused to ask for directions.) We can take the opportunity to laugh, to think about happy times, or to thank our lucky stars we didn’t have the really scary one, like those Amy Wilson identifies as psycho moms in literature’.

Or we can look outward, as suggested by Nicholas Kristof in this article about mothers in Somaliland and the woman striving heroically to better their lives. Indeed, if you care to turn philanthropic about Mother’s Day, you will find a plethora of charities beseeching you to give in honor of your mother. Which is a fine idea, but is starting to feel a little Hallmark-ish, at least to me.

Personally, I couldn’t help being most struck by the recent finding that the United States has the highest rate of households headed by single parents in the developed world. Twenty-five percent of all households have only one parent in the home, and most (but by no means all) of those parents are women. They are poorer than other households, even though they have a higher rate of employment than the country as a whole. It’s simply not well-paid employment, and it rarely includes benefits like health care coverage or paid leave. That’s one of the reasons Legal Voice is working in coalition to get the Seattle City Council to pass a Paid Sick and Safe Days ordinance. We believe all employees within the city are entitled to a modest number of days off to care for sick family members, to get well themselves, and to take steps to escape from domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. It’s a fundamental public health issue, as well as one about economic justice.

But that wasn’t my first response to the article. Instead, I immediately thought of my own mother (that's her in the sign I'm leaning on, which I carried at the 2004 March for Women’s Lives). She was a single mother who worked full-time and raised three kids. She taught me many things, and one of them was to stand up for what’s right. I mean left. What is just and fair.

She also taught me, though by example rather than explicitly, that we need to fight the stigma about single-parent families, We do not come from ‘broken homes’: our homes usually have four walls and a roof. Our families are not ‘less than’, we should not be scorned or pitied or ‘fixed’, and we certainly shouldn't be scapegoated for all the ills of society. I do not minimize the challenges single-parents and their children face every day; indeed I understand them better than most. Nonetheless, we are families deserving of as much respect and appreciation as any other. Our families may struggle more economically, daily logistics may be a challenge, we may face obstacles two-parent families escape, but don’t you DARE look down on us. Or else my mother is likely to come back and haunt you, and you really don’t want that. I guarantee you, wherever she is, she can kick your a**.