Author Archives: Katie Onachila

It’s Time to Pass Federal Paid Sick Days Legislation

A stomach bug is going around our offices, a pretty aggressive, stick with you for days, stomach bug. Luckily, only three people in the office got sick. That’s because at WOW, we earn paid sick days. We have a culture – and a CEO that emphasizes it – that if we’re sick, it’s better for everyone if we take time to recuperate and return once we’re feeling better and not contagious. It’s better for our organization’s new mom that she doesn’t bring the germs home to her new – and painfully adorable – son. It’s better for the dad on our team who has two – so twice the adorable – kids with more energy than most parents can handle healthy, let alone with the flu. It’s better for our staff who take care of elderly parents—where if they catch the flu, it could be a death sentence for the senior family members. It’s better for our team members who work out of state and works out of our DC office regularly – I can’t even imagine the drive home to NJ with a stomach bug.  And it is better for our colleagues—no one wants us to attend meetings while coughing!


Our staff’s ability to earn and utilize paid sick leave is what has kept the rest of our team healthy, productive, and engaged.


Right now, I’m one of the privileged workers in our country. Nearly 40% of the workforce doesn’t earn paid sick days. The Healthy Families Act would rectify this absurd injustice. Yesterday, Senator Murray and Representative DeLauro reintroduced the Healthy Families Act (HFA). This version of the bill builds on previous versions, with some important additions that can even further help working families achieve and maintain economic security – even when sick.


Like previous versions, the HFA will allow workers to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave days a year. The bill contains provisions to ensure workers’ jobs are protected when they take this leave. The sick days are earned paid leave for workers in organizations with more than 15 employees. For smaller companies, the bill proposes earning seven unpaid days of leave – with the job protection provisions also included.


Notably for WOW’s work, this latest version of the bill includes a provision that allows victims of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault to use paid sick days for recovery or for seeking help around an instance of violence. According to WOW’s Economic Security for Survivors’ research, the average survivor of sexual assault misses 7 days of work a year.  Passage of the Healthy Families Act would ensure survivors won’t be fired or lose important wages for addressing issues that arise related to their sexual assault, domestic violence, or stalking.


In addition to HFA’s incredible potential to protect economic security for working families, the bill also ensures increased productivity due to reducing community contagion and reductions in health care costs.  And WOW’s original research with the Restaurant Opportunities Centers graphically demonstrated how important paid sick days are for the workers who serve us our food and drinks.  We found that 90 percent of the restaurant workers we surveyed had NO access to paid sick days. Perhaps, not surprisingly then,  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traced 53% of norovirus outbreaks, and possibly up to 82%, to infected and contagious food workers. Further, according to Institute for Women’s Policy Research, more than half of projected $1.1 billion (with a B!) savings from a reduction in emergency room visits would come in the form of savings to taxpayer-funded health insurance programming. So, not only do the folks getting sick maintain higher levels of economic security – even those lucky folks who claim they never get sick can benefit from this proposed legislation.


And the great thing about this legislation – we already know it works and that it’s something policy makers on both sides of the aisle can support. Cities and states across the country (California, Massachusetts, Connecticut , Seattle, WA, Tacoma, WA, just last week– Philadelphia, PA, just to name a few) have passed similar legislation with both business and bipartisan support.


It’s time to pass this important legislation for workers, our communities, and our country.


Budgeting for an Equity Agenda: Job Training and Apprenticeship Shine in President’s 2016 Budget

WOW’s National Center for Women’s Employment Equity offers research and technical assistance that demonstrates that providing opportunities for women to prepare for and enter nontraditional occupations are real routes to economic security. Our analysis of the President’s 2016 budget, which makes investments in job creation, apprenticeship, training, transportation and education, concludes that it offers great promise in this area.  We caution, however, that without a specific gender targeted and inclusive equity agenda, women can have a hard time finding the entry ramps to these good career pathways and job training opportunities and face barriers to moving forward and having success in nontraditional jobs.  The President’s proposals must address the issues women face in the workforce in order for this proposed budget to truly work to help women find economic security.


For instance, the budget emphasizes the importance of expanding programs, the passage and corresponding implementation of the bipartisan Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), support for policies to help all Americans have access to free two-year college education, expansion of apprenticeship and on-the-job training opportunities,  as well as investments to address the country’s dire need for infrastructure improvements and an unprecedented initiative to expand and elevate the American manufacturing industry.


The President’s budget includes the Administration’s goal to double the number of apprenticeships over the next five years. Apprenticeship and on the job training offer a sound pathway to economic security.  We’d love to see a corresponding goal to significantly increase women’s participation in apprenticeship – and we know that both goals and targeted resources can set the stage for meeting these goals.


But one of those targeted resources, the Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations (WANTO), is the only federal funding source dedicated to women’s access to high wage, high skill nontraditional careers and is zeroed out of the President’s budget. The corresponding DOL 2016 budget justification, however, commits to a continuation of WANTO’s goals throughout the application of DOL technical assistance to the workforce development system. This TA, if explicitly targeted to address gender, could be one mechanism for truly moving the needle on women’s stagnant (and abhorrently low – 2.6%!) participation in apprenticeship.



In addition to job creation, the President’s 2016 budget proposals would invest heavily in WIOA implementation and expansion of resources for American Job Centers. WOW’s Senior Scholar, Mary Gatta, wrote All I Want is a Job!,released this summer by Stanford University Press, detailing her experience undercover in the workforce development system. The passage of WIOA in 2014 and the President’s proposed $500 million increase in investment over 2014 levels for career counseling would help eradicate many of the barriers Mary describes in her harrowing exploration of overworked frontline staff, under resourced American Jobs Centers, and frustrated job seekers. Further investment proposed to double the number of workers trained for growing sectors by our workforce development system would revitalize our system and provide vital pathways to economic security for women and their families.


The workforce system is critical to helping people enter the labor market, and proposed educational investments can help further prepare this workforce.  The President’s proposal to make 2-year community college programs free to students maintaining certain eligibility and a $2 billion investment in the American Technical Training Fund within the Career and Technical Education program will open educational doors previously closed to many women across the country. Here again, setting aside specific targeted resources to expand women and girls’ career exposure, preparation and support is essential.


Finally, the President’s proposed investments in infrastructure are critical to expanding job opportunities for thousands of workers – including women. The proposed $478 billion six year surface transportation reauthorization would fund jobs like the one Ledaya Epps has as a laborer on the project to expand light rail from the LA Metro to Los Angeles International Airport. But for Ledaya, who was the First Lady’s guest at this year’s State of the Union, the route into the industry wasn’t easy. It was support and training she got at Women in Nontraditional Employment Role’s (WINTER) pre-apprenticeship program that made her a competitive candidate. WINTER, a WOW subgrantee on our Opportunities for Women in Nontraditional Employment Initiative, is one of 14 programs across the country NCWEE brings together in building strategic and targeted practices and policies for the recruitment, enrollment, placement and retention of women in non-traditional jobs. Ensuring that funding for this kind of training and support needs to be a vital part of infrastructure investments and will boost women’s participation in these high-wage, high-skill jobs.



We applaud the President’s commitment to our nation’s critical workforce development issues and support for women’s economic security, and coupled with the DOL’s 2016 budget, we are hopeful that 2016 will offer increased opportunities for women in the workforce.



Building our OWNE Path to Success

The National Center for Women’s Employment Equity (NCWEE) has had an exciting month. As a newly launched entity at WOW, NCWEE is expanding our work with our Opportunities for Women in Nontraditional Employment (OWNE) Initiative and intense technical assistance with 21 job training sites across the country, engaging national and state level policy makers on issues around women in nontraditional jobs, and working to bring together experts in the fields of recruiting and retaining women in high-skill, high-wage jobs and ending occupational segregation.

On Wednesday, September 17th, NCWEE Director Lauren Sugerman participated in a round table discussion hosted by the Transportation Learning Center (TLC). Lauren was featured on a panel discussing equity provisions for job training and apprenticeship programs in the public transit sector. Lauren contributed her technical assistance expertise in adding a gender lens to the full range of program activities, from recruitment to retention, with an emphasis on the importance of ensuring gender inclusivity and targeting in mentorship programs. WOW looks forward to partnering more with TLC in the near future.

On Friday, September 19th, WOW and National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity convened our sister organizations in a conversation with the Women’s Bureau’s Director, Latifa Lyles. The event featured representatives from DOL’s Office of Civil Rights, Office of Federal Contractor Compliance Programs, Employment and Training Administration, Office of Apprenticeship, and the Secretary’s office. The dialogue focused on the importance of nontraditional jobs and a focus on women being incorporated into DOL’s drafting of regulations for the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, WIOA, signed in to law earlier this summer.  WOW shared our vision for establishing a DOL commission that would guide and oversee WIOA in relation to redressing occupational segregation in the job training system and encouraged the DOL to set aside resources for providing technical assistance on gender equity. The next week brought NCWEE’s Director, Lauren Sugerman, back to Washington, D.C. from her home in Chicago to present on a panel for the National Dialogue on Career Pathways hosted by three federal agencies, DOL, DOE and HHS. Lauren discussed how road signs along the career pathway system can often discourage women from entering high-wage, high-skilled blue-collar occupations. Her comments are captured in her blog on WOW’s website!

While Lauren presented in DC, NCWEE’s Manager, Katie Onachila, kicked off a fantastic site visit to our partner in our Opportunities for Women in Nontraditional Employment (OWNE) Initiative, Goodwill of North Georgia (GNG). The OWNE initiative is helping GNG ramp up programming to get women into highway construction, building maintenance and transportation warehouse and logistics jobs. Almost 50 women are enrolled and 30 of those women have been hired into nontraditional jobs. One woman called during our training session to report that she had just been hired by a local apartment maintenance company at a starting rate of $14 an hour. We toured their facilities, met their committed and expert staff and some enthusiastic clients, and conducted an interactive training for a lively and engaged group of partners from the workforce system and community agencies on recruiting and assessing women in nontraditional jobs and training programs. WOW facilitated an animated roundtable with a group of employers to explore policy and practices that create opportunities for women to enter and succeed in traditionally male-dominated fields.

We also visited our OWNE partners in Vermont at Vermont works for Women. Lauren participated in strategic planning and an employer roundtable with the organization’s top employer partners in the state. The roundtable covered strategic approaches to hiring, retaining and advancing women, best practices for gender inclusion and sensitivity in employer policies and practices and building cultural and gender competency among existing and new employees. Lauren was also able to participate in Vermont Works for Women’s Women Can Do Conference. This conference brings together over 400 high school girls from around the state to expose them to and engage them around nontraditional careers for women.

Operations Industrialized Centers of America (OICA) is also an OWNE partner, and WOW Senior Scholar Mary Gatta and NCWEE Program Manager Katie Onachila convened a training with four OICA affiliates with whom we’re partnering in our Initiative. The sites included OIC of South Florida, OIC of Asheville, Tri-County OIC, and OIC of Rhode Island. Participants from each of these programs came together at OICA in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania over three days to engaged in detailed strategic planning and resource development to help expand OIC’s already sophisticated job training practices to more deeply incorporate a gender lens.

NCWEE was also featured on a Women’s Bureau webinar on women in construction. Director Lauren Sugerman addressed the over 1,000 attendees along with representatives from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, National Women’s Law Center, and Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc. The panelists described barriers women face to entry into skilled trades construction jobs and strategies to increase women’s access to and success in these fields. WOW shared practical suggestions for women’s recruitment, preparatory training, placement and retention from our Pink-to-Green toolkit. We also described how customized technical assistance for the workforce development system, community based organizations and industry partners can help to change the policy and practices that contribute to patterns of occupational segregation that still persist construction industry.

In addition to our current work, NCWEE is also thrilled to be partnering with the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO on a project with the Clinton Global Initiative. The project will create opportunity hubs for employment in the construction industry. Focusing on preparing 125 young adults in DC, Northern VA, and MD, the project builds on the Clinton Global Initiative and the Building Trades and Construction Department’s commitment to expand opportunities in apprenticeship–specifically opportunities for women.


Encourage your Senator to Support the Paycheck Fairness Act! In the Meantime, Join a Union.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was the first bill President Obama signed into law. Today, the Senate took a significant step towards building on the Fair Pay Act by voting (73-25) to open debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act. This vital legislation would work to fight pay discrimination and help women collect the pay they’ve earned.

The wage gap impacts women of every race, disproportionately impacting Black and Hispanic women who earn 64 and 53 cents for every dollar earned by black men. It impacts women in every occupation, from traditionally female jobs like teachers to those in nontraditional jobs (particularly non-unionized positions). It exists in every state, from Washington, DC where women earn on average 80% of what men make, to Louisiana and Wyoming where women earn just 67 and 64 cents, respectively, for each dollar earned by men in those states. The wage gap impacts women at every level of education and it compounds over women’s lifetimes to produce significant gaps in economic security between men and women in retirement.

According to WOW’s Basic Economic Security Tables, the wage gap leads to 60% of single adult women lacking basic economic security as compared to only 45% of single men. Recent analysis by WOW finds, however, that closing the gender wage gap between a full-time employed woman and man would increase that women’s economic security by 22%. A woman working full time at the current wage gap making median wages will make over $320,000 less over the course of her career. Persistently lower wages throughout a woman’s working years result in a diminished capacity for saving and increased economic insecurity.

Between the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and today’s Senate momentum around the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Administration has also continued helping to prevent wage inequity. President Obama signed Executive Action preventing federal contractors from retaliating against employees for their discussion of wages and pay. The President also signed an Order requiring federal contractors to track and release compensation data, broken out by sex and race.

These actions by the Legislature and the Administration are important steps in the right direction. We urge both branches to continue their push to help women earn the wages they deserve and move women and their families into more economic security.

While these efforts continue, one way to increase women’s economic security and pay equity is to expand high-wage, high-skill jobs to women – following the President’s vision to expand apprenticeship to different locations, sectors, and populations. A recent CEPR report details the ways in which women in Unions in nontraditional fields experience virtually universal pay equity. The report details that women in unions earn higher wages than those not in unions, more than five dollars more an hour on average. This is true particularly for low wage jobs, such as office cleaners – whose wages were 30% higher with union membership. The report explains that being part of a union positively impacts low- and mid-wage earners more than high wage earners. As women are generally concentrated in low wage jobs, this inequality means women’s wages more closely reflect men’s. Next, the report credits the collective bargaining process – with managers making fewer decisions on individual workers’ wage levels and required transparency – with removing the pay secrecy and bias or discrimination that may play into wage levels.

Now it’s time to continue the momentum – keep pressuring your Senator to support the Paycheck Fairness Act, help expand collective bargaining and unionization,  and open paths to high-wage, high-skill occupations for women.

For more information on the gender wage gap and the Paycheck Fairness Act, see WOW’s website.


Women in Nontraditional Jobs: When Women Succeed, America Succeeds

In this year’s State of the Union, President Obama emphasized the need for workplace policies to adequately reflect 21st century realities. These realities include the fact that women currently make up almost half of the workforce. As the president noted, however, women also hold a majority of low-wage jobs, and we are a long way from pay equity. According to a 2011 study by the Department of Labor, women made up 49% of the workforce, but represented 59% of low-wage workers. One reason for women’s overrepresentation among low-wage workers is the industries in which they work. In fact, half of all working women are employed in only 28 of the 534 U.S. Department of Labor job categories. With the exception of teaching and nursing, low-paying jobs dominate these categories.

Women do not, however, make up large portions of the burgeoning occupations the President drew attention to in his Address Tuesday night. The President stressed the importance of putting as many construction workers on the job as fast as possible. Currently, women are only 2.7% of all construction laborers. The president also highlighted the importance of beating out other countries in, “the race for the next wave of high-tech manufacturing jobs.” Women are only 2.9% of millwrights, 5.4% of all machinists, 12.3% of all metalworkers, 4% of welding, soldering, and brazing workers, and 3.5% of all industrial and refractory machinery mechanics – all roles vital to high-tech manufacturing. [i]

The small numbers of women who are in these nontraditional occupations typically earn 20-30% more than women in traditional occupations. Increasing women’s participation in nontraditional occupations means women’s increased economic security, and that means more economically secure children, families, and communities. And a diverse and equitable workforce means industry is more competitive as it benefits from the talents, experience and expertise of all its citizenry. To ensure a truly strong state of our union, programs and resources directed at ending occupational segregation by gender – a root cause of the gender wage gap – should go hand in hand with our evolving workforce development and workplace policies.

The transportation bill the President encouraged Congress to finish by this summer is one legislative avenue to increase women’s representation in nontraditional jobs. This bill, which provides federal funding for surface transportation programs, needs stronger provisions to ensure the utilization and success of the On-the-Job Training and Supportive Services Program (OJT/SS). OJT/SS was established to ensure the increased participation of minority groups and disadvantaged persons and women in all phases of the highway construction industry.

Other Federal legislation can also support the goal of increasing women’s employment in nontraditional occupations. WANTO, the Women in Apprenticeable and Non-Traditional Occupations Act, currently authorizes only a meager $1 million annually to fund competitive grants to community-based organizations for providing technical assistance to employers and labor unions to help them recruit, train and retain women for non-traditional, high-wage, high-demand jobs. WOW has partnered with congressmembers to introduce the Women WIN act, which authorizes up to $100 million for recruiting, training, placing and retaining women in high-demand, high-wage nontraditional occupations and providing funding for innovative partnerships in each and every state.

Women WIN also calls for a bipartisan National Commission on the Status of Women in High-demand, High-skill Nontraditional Occupations – this could function in the same way the Glass Ceiling Commission worked to highlight barriers to advancement and equity for women in white-collar professions.

As the President reported on the Vice-President’s reform of America’s training programs, he described a singular mission of the reform: to train Americans with the skills needed by employers that will allow individuals to get good jobs. It is imperative to the success of this mission that women are included in those skilled Americans, because “when women succeed, America succeeds.”



[i] US Department of Labor. Nontraditional Occupations for Women in 2009. 2010.