By Harold C. Ford
“One woman can make a difference…We’re on the precipice of a big change.”
–Donna Motsinger, Bill Cosby accuser to National Public Radio, April 27, 2018
With the backdrop of a “Me Too”movement that hints at a sea change, last week five Flint panelists tackled the tough issues of gender inequity in the workplaces and political halls of our nation.
“#Us Too, Women’s Issues and the Upcoming Election” was the fourth and final public forum of the 2017-2018 program year presented by the Flint Area Public Affairs Forum. About 40 people, including 10 men, gathered at the Flint Public Library April 24 for the 90-minute discussion.
Panelists included: (from left) Brenda Clack, Second District Genesee County Commissioner; Peggy Kahn, David French Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the Universityof Michigan-Flint; Karen Church, ELGA Credit Union CEO; Linda Hoff, president of the League of Women Voters of the Flint Area; and Karen Aldridge-Eason, Governor’s Office of Foundations Liaison (Photo by Jan Worth-Nelson)
The moderator was Teddy Robertson, history professor emerita from the University of Michigan-Flint and a staff writer for East Village Magazine.
“I am a ‘Me Too’,” Hoff flatly declared in her opening remarks. “I can guarantee that a lot of you in this room are ‘me too’people. ‘Us Too’ means that all of us collectively are saying enough, enough; it is time to change.”
“We’re marching for our families, our neighbors, our friends, our loved ones,” Clack said. “We want to make a difference.”
“Public policy issues are women’s issues,” added Aldridge-Eason, “(including) health care, education, immigration, roads and bridges, tax issues.”
As reported by Bridge Magazine in a handout offered at the forum and referenced many times by the “Us Too” panelists as issues of great import to women, several initiatives are making their way toward the statewide ballot in November, 2018. They include:
- Michigan One Fair Wage:an effort to increase Michigan’s minimum wage to $10 in 2019 and to $12 by 2022, to include tipped workers who currently earn less than minimum wage.
- MI Time to Care:“a legislative effort to allow Michigan workers to accrue paid sick leave for themselves or to care for family members as well as for victims, or family members of victims, of domestic violence or sexual assault who miss work due to medical care, counseling appointments, legal proceedings or relocation.”
- Protecting Michigan Taxpayers:“a proposed repeal of Public Act 166 of 1965 which sets a prevailing wage—typically union-scale wages and benefits—for state-funded construction projects.”
Potential political power:
Several panelists pointed to the upcoming 2018 election cycle as a time for women to flex their political muscle at the ballot box. “Women are more registered than men,” observed Hoff. “Women make up more voters. Women already vote at a higher rate than men.”
Nonetheless, women remain a significant minority in legislative bodies. “Go to Lansing, go into the balcony,” suggested Clack. “Look down on that floor and see how many women are there. We are so few in government.”
“Why don’t we have more female representatives?” asked Hoff. “Why doesn’t our society think women are of value as a legislator?”
Critical health care:
Medicaid work requirement:
Kahn attacked the legislative effort to impose a minimum work requirement for receipt of Medicaid health benefits. “These state-imposed work requirements…are a threat to peoples’ health,” she contended. “They’re unnecessary and they may be unlawful.”
The legislation has passed through the Michigan Senate and is now lodged in committee in the Michigan House of Representatives. “Work requirements are a huge administrative burden that will create administrative barriers and suck up a lot of public money,” warned Kahn. Many people will, for one reason or another, lose coverage… There may be a reduction of 150,000 people from (Michigan’s Medicaid) rolls…Women are traditionally a high proportion of Medicaid recipients…”
Hoff warned about the penny-wise/pound-foolish nature of the proposal. “If they don’t have access to preventive care, they’re going to be in the (emergency room) when they’re sick,” she warned. “They’re going to cost us five, ten times more money…and we’re all picking that up.”
Church reasoned that adequate health care for employees is beneficial to employers as well. “I think most employers would find that if they invested more in the people that are working for them, their profitability would go up,” she said.
Genesee Health Plan:
Panelists urged support of a one-mill renewal for the Genesee Health Plan (GHP) which will appear on the county ballot in November 2018. GHP serves all Genesee County residents 19-years or older who are under 195 percent of the poverty line and have no other insurance coverage.
“It’s especially important that people who are concerned about access to health coverage pay attention to this millage renewal in the county,” cautioned Kahn. “Women are intensively served by the Genesee Health Plan. GHP provides (hundreds and hundreds) of breast cancer and cervical screenings a year.”
“It’s just crucial that we continue that renewal,” advised Hoff. “It’s not a new tax; it’s just a renewal of what we’ve been doing.”
Paid sick leave:
The “MI Time to Care” initiative drew support from panelists.
“Most comparable countries, wealthy democracies have national paid sick day systems,” observed Kahn. “This is a women’s issue, a family issue, a public health issue, a labor rights issue. Women are disproportionately working low wage, precarious jobs in food service, child care, and retail while trying to stay healthy and care for others.”
Disparity in pay:
Hoff attacked the continuing disparity in pay based on gender. “Working until Tuesday of next week to get the same pay as our male counterparts (for one week’s work that ends on the previous Friday), that’s just wrong,” she asserted.
Aldridge-Eason said she sees the pay gap playing out in female-dominated professions like teaching. “In Michigan our teachers are woefully under-supported and underpaid,” she said. “We need to be supportive of them.”
Kahn expressed support for the Michigan One Fair Wage initiative that hikes the minimum wage including tipped workers. She noted that women make up a majority of tipped and minimum wage earners.
“Us Too”and political power:
With the approaching centenary (1920-2020) of women gaining the right to vote, panelists predicted that 2018 will be a critical year for women’s issues. “The number of women who have lined up to run for political office has quadrupled,” said Clack. “A woman has to be at the table.”
“Let the politicians you come in contact with know how you feel about the issues,” advised Aldridge-Eason. “Educate others in your family and in your circle. Women used their voices to speak up in the water crisis. We need to teach our daughters to use their voices.”
“I believe this is going to be a massive year for women,” Clack declared.
EVM Staff Writer Harold C. Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.