What Women Want This Mother’s Day: Opportunity

Alejandra Mejia is a single mother of three children. She has worked at McDonald’s since 2006 and proudly made manager two years ago, balancing job and family by working the morning shift so she could be home after school. But new management came in and changed her schedule, and when she needed to be home by 4, they said, “No problem,” and simply cancelled her shifts.

Now, Alejandra is working as little as eight hours a week at $12 an hour and trying to figure out her next move. She was already on food stamps, sharing one bedroom with her children in a house shared with five other adults. And working less than 20 hours a week, she’ll stop qualifying for her daughter’s child care program. She begs for more hours at work, but management tells her there is no more work available – and keeps hiring new employees.

Alejandra is left to figure out how to support a family of four on $100 a week.

Her constantly changing schedule prevents her from committing to a second job without losing the first. And if she did switch jobs, there’s no guarantee she’d be better off. A crisis of underemployment has hit San Jose, with part-time work up from 26 percent to 43 percent of the hourly workforce in just the last decade. Half of all female hourly workers are part-time, making them more vulnerable to the kind of instability that Alejandra faces. Women of color and immigrant women, especially Black and Vietnamese American women, are dramatically over-represented among part-time workers, forming nearly half of that workforce despite comprising less than a third of all workers. Add that to the fact that part-time jobs on average pay less and have fewer benefits than full-time, and a major factor behind the gender and racial pay gaps becomes clear.

Today we celebrate mothers, yet we are asking mothers like Alejandra to do the impossible. She is trying to work hard and play by the rules, but the rules are written so that she can’t win.

That’s when you know it’s time to change the rules. The National Women’s Political Caucus of Silicon Valley was one of the very first endorsers of the Opportunity to Work Initiative, which would help hourly workers in San Jose get access to enough hours so their paychecks cover the bills and put food on the table. Proposed for the November 2016 ballot, it would require large employers to offer additional work hours to their current qualified part-time workers before hiring new staff.

Alejandra does not know where her next rent payment is going to come from, but she knows that the power to make change will come from women like her. Already a leader in the Fight for $15, she is now fighting for fair hours. Two weeks ago, I stood with her as we turned in nearly 35,000 signatures of San Jose voters who want to see this initiative on the ballot.

Tenneva Jordan said, “A mother is a person who, seeing that there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.” Here in Silicon Valley, Alejandra and I think that it’s time for a bigger pie.

Angelica Ramos serves as President of the National Women’s Political Caucus, Silicon Valley.

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