Author Archives: Mary Gatta, Ph.D.

Thank you!

After 5 amazing years at Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) and 15 wonderful years teaching in the Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations at Rutgers University, I now find myself writing a new chapter of my life.  This Friday I will be leaving WOW and—after teaching my final Women and Work class this summer semester—I will be leaving Rutgers.   I have accepted an appointment as an Associate Professor of Sociology at Guttman College, a new community college in the City University of New York (CUNY) system starting in August.

The past decade and a half have been just incredible.  I am so grateful to the Rutgers Department of Labor Studies for providing me with a learning space that I shared with smart and dedicated students and faculty who were committed to social justice.  In my 15 years at Rutgers I was fortunate to teach both graduate and undergraduate students; teach on the community college campuses throughout New Jersey; engage students in research projects; and learn various instructional formats (from in-person to fully online).  I have grown so much as a teacher and am honored to have been part of the Labor Studies faculty for so long.

My five years at WOW have been more than I could have wished. WOW allowed me to reach a goal of mine—to be part of an organization that is research and advocacy based in Washington DC.  My wonderful colleagues at WOW are amongst the hardest working and most passionate in DC!  I am so grateful to WOW for giving me incredible opportunities to lead research that led to advocacy and policy change.  There were so many wonderful experiences over the past years– way too many to mention. Some highlights included: working with the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC) to issue the first research on Jersey Shore restaurant workers post-hurricane Sandy; releasing my book All I Want is a Job and the incredible opportunities to share that research with the US Department of Labor and other organizations; leading research with Social Dynamics for the White House Workplace Flexibility forums that helped demonstrate the need for workplace flexibility and schedule control for low wage workers;  providing technical assistance on national workforce programs that had as the goal recruiting and retaining women in nontraditional high-wage careers fields; conducting focus groups with LGBT senior citizens in Boston which lead to a research brief on the challenges of economic security and aging for LBGT seniors; and being part of a team that, just last week, helped to pass legislation in New Jersey that will help seniors better age with economic security in the state.

And I am so thankful to WOW for having a progressive workplace flexibility policy—allowing me to work in DC but still live in New Jersey. I am also appreciative of the many people I met through my work.  There is a wonderful community of progressive, dedicated and tireless advocates in DC and throughout this country.   Mostly, though, I am most grateful that I can earn a living following my passion for democratizing access to education and jobs that offer pathways to economic security for women and their families.

I look forward to joining the CUNY-Guttman faculty this summer.  This new community college in the CUNY system provides me with the opportunity to be part of a new and emerging team that is founded on best practices and innovative teaching models that nurture student success at an urban public college.  The experiential model of teaching that Guttman is founded on, aligns so much with my teaching and research philosophies, that I am very much welcoming the work ahead!

My WOW email address will still be active, as I am fortunate to be able to maintain an affiliation with WOW even after I am gone.

If you need to reach WOW on one of my current projects, please contact Shawn McMahon at

Thanks for everything and stay in touch,



Another Mother’s Day and So Little Has Changed: Isn’t It Time for Public Policies that Support Working Mothers?

On Mother’s Day in 2015, so many working mothers are struggling to support themselves and their families. And unfortunately they can find very little support in federal legislation.  Today there are only three federal laws that protect mothers in the workforce: the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which provides 12 weeks of unpaid job protected leave to new or expectant parents, and a provision of the 2010 health care reform that expands the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act to protect mothers who are breastfeeding in the workplace.

And these laws aren’t even protecting all working mothers. For instance, FMLA is job protected family leave that is only available to workers who met certain criteria.  Workers must have worked for their employer for at least 12 months; performed at least 1,250 hours of service for the employer during the 12 month period immediately preceding the leave; and worked at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles.  And, even more important, is this leave is UNPAID.  So if a worker cannot afford to take time off without pay, they simply cannot take FMLA without facing serious financial consequences.

The United States stands with only one other country in the world–  Papua New Guinea—that does not have a law that requires PAID family leave for new mothers and other caregivers.  In addition, the US lags behind most countries in regard to other workplace protections for parents.   The US does not have paid sick days law—forcing working mothers to work sick or come to work while their child is sick. In fact a mother can be fired for calling out of work if she or her child is sick. Working mothers also have no right to schedule control—meaning they are at the mercy of their employer to schedule their work shifts in ways that allow them to try to manage their family demands.  Childcare continues to be unaffordable and inaccessible to many mothers.  And of course, working mothers continue to face a pay gap in the workplace. Importantly since women are now breadwinners for 40% of US families with children under the age of 18, this is not just a working mother issue, this is a working families crisis.  While a handful of states have passed laws that provide paid leave, paid sick days and/or schedule control, the vast majority of working mothers are left without any protections.

Not surprisingly then, on this Mother’s Day, working mothers’ economic insecurity results, in part, from a lack of strong public policies that support working families. Working mothers are forced to address the conflicts of work and family labor on their own– often having to make hard and sometimes life-threatening choices.  And for single mothers, their situation is significantly worse. In 2013 the poverty rate for female-headed families with children was 39.6 percent, compared to 19.7 percent for male-headed families with children, and 7.6 percent for families with children headed by a married couple. In fact, nearly 522,000 single women with children (12.0 percent) who worked full time, year round in 2013 lived in poverty.  What is perhaps even more troubling is that years out of the recession single working mothers are actually MORE economically insecure. Between 2007 and 2012, the share of female-headed working families that are low-income increased from 54 percent to 58 percent, according to a Population Reference Bureau (PRB) analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.  Quite simply the individualistic approach to addressing work and family is just not working.

So on this Mother’s Day perhaps it is finally the time for “ Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves” for far too long to have to have workplace protections and public policies that can actually support the economic security of mothers and their families.

Photo Source:

Photo Source:



WOW Has Been Advocating for Workplace Flexibility for 50 Years!

As we kick off Women’s History Month this week, it is interesting to look back on WOW’s own history, and how at many points we were quite a bit ahead of our time!  One interesting find I came across is a book that WOW’s founders published in 1967. Washington Opportunities for Women: A Guide to Part-time Work and Study, emerged from discussions that women in Washington DC were having – the  challenges of integrating work and family; how to return to the labor market after time off to raise children; finding ways to complete or achieve further education; and creating workplace practices that can help women succeed. The findings in the book were based a survey completed by 3,000 women in Washington, DC and covered industries from law, government, teaching to science and technology.  And it ended with a concluding chapter on “new skills”—including computer programming! Quite innovative and forward thinking for the 1960’s.

As a researcher dedicated to these issues it was quite amazing to see that, while not using the word “workplace flexibility,” our founders’ book was actually all about workplace flexibility.  The authors wrote that workplace practices must be adapted so that women can integrate work, family and education.   While the authors looked to part-time work opportunities as one significant solution to these challenges—they stressed the importance high quality jobs, and how even in the male dominated fields of science and engineering, women cannot only make a significant contribution, but the workplace can be organized in ways to encourage women to enter these jobs and stay in them.

Close to 50 years after the publication of this groundbreaking book, WOW continues to support policy and workplace practices that offer real flexibility so that women can be both productive workers and family members.  And while advances have been made to improve opportunities for women, many women—particularly those in low wage hospitality and retail jobs—finds that workplace flexibility eludes them.

In fact, for low wage hospitality and retail workers, flexibility often means having control over one’s schedule.  In 2011 WOW partnered with Social Dynamics to produce a series of literature reviews for the US Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau, on workplace flexibility in several different low-wage industries.   In my research on restaurant workers  I found that much of their workday is characterized by “just-in-time scheduling”.  This means that many service industries, including retail and hospitality, attempt to keep costs down and profits high by achieving a tight fit between labor supply and labor demand. This scheduling practice means that both the number of hours and timing of those hours can change day to day, week to week, and season to season at the discretion of management.

This creates unpredictability for workers, as they may have to work different hours and different days each week with no set time off. Working hours at these nonstandard times creates stress for workers and their families. Often child care options are not available, forcing workers to find alternative arrangements, such as informal childcare with friends and family. While this option may always be difficult given the last-minute nature of the request, friends’ and families’ own busier schedules may make it impossible when workers need informal networks the most. This system of scheduling also complicates the ability for workers to plan for anything other than work—be it a doctor’s appointment, child care or a family dinner.  And when working hours differ from children’s school times, it drastically reduces the amount of time families can spend together eating meals or helping with homework. These volatile scheduling practices are a result of employers establishing work schedules based primarily on their concerns for fluctuating customer traffic.  These “just-in-time” management practices have placed the costs of inconsistent customer demand on retail’s lowest paid and most vulnerable workers.

Congress is currently considering The Schedules that Work Act that seeks to address these problems by giving employees the ability to request changes to their work schedules without fear of retaliation. As well, it seeks to give workers in certain industries known to have erratic scheduling practices more predictable and stable schedules

Some of the important provisions for workers include –

  • Employers must provide employees with their schedules at least two weeks in advance.
  • Once the schedule has been posted two weeks in advance, an employer must provide one extra hour of pay for each shift that is changed with less than 24 hours notice to the worker. If the reason for a shift change is the unexpected unavailability of an employee scheduled to work (e.g. another worker takes a sick day), the employer does not have to pay the extra hour.
  • If any employee reports to work for a scheduled shift but is sent home before the end of the shift, s/he must receive a minimum of four hours of pay at the employee’s regular rate, or pay for the entire shift if it is less than four hours.
  • If an employee is required to call-in for a shift but is not given any work, s/he must receive at least one hour of pay.
  • An employee must receive an extra hour of pay for each split shift s/he is required to work.

Schedule control and workplace flexibility are important aspects of economic security that WOW advocates—and clearly has been advocating for during the past 50 years.  Perhaps 2015 will be the year when our founders’ vision will be closer to being realized, and all workers will have Schedules that Work.

Check out WOW"s first book in 1967

Check out WOW”s first book in 1967



Raise The Wage For Women’s Economic Security and Workplace Safety

On this Valentine’s Eve, Wider Opportunities for Women and our partner organizations mark yet another year where tipped restaurant workers have NOT had a raise in the $2.13 subminimum wage — a wage that was legislated back in 1991.  Living off tips not only contributes to high levels of economic insecurity for workers and their families; it also makes all workers, and in particular women, vulnerable to a great deal of inappropriate behavior from customers, co-workers, and management. Last year in collaboration with the Restaurant Opportunities CenterForward Together, and several other organizations, Wider Opportunities for Women released the report The Glass Floor: Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry.  This report dramatically detailed how sexual harassment is endemic to the restaurant industry.  One of the most important findings is that the tipping structure – where workers are paid a sub-minimum wage of $2.13 an hour—creates an environment and a dynamic that actually fosters sexual harassment as part of the work environment.

Among some of the more powerful stats we found:  Two-thirds of female workers and over half of male workers had experienced some form of sexual harassment from management; nearly 80% of women and 70% of men experienced some form of sexual harassment from co-workers; and nearly 80% of women and 55% of men experienced some form of sexual harassment from customers.  And ALL restaurant workers in states that have a sub-minimum wage of $2.13 an hour, report higher rates of sexual harassment, than workers in states that pay a higher minimum wage.  These workers are solely dependent on tips for their income- and therefore more vulnerable to abusive behaviors from managers, co-workers and customers. This striking finding highlights the importance of raising the minimum wage to address in order to violent and abusive behaviors in the restaurant workplaces.

Clearly the subminimum wage places all women restaurant workers in precarious positions in the workplace.  But for one group of workers—women who are survivors of domestic violence—this insecurity is particularly heightened.  For survivors, the ability to work is essential for their safety and independence; however, their work environment may not always be safe. While it is well known that abusers interfere with a survivor’s ability to work and can bring violence to the workplace, sexual harassment within the workplace also creates a hostile environment and can further traumatize survivors.

Recognizing the challenges survivors face in the workplace, it is necessary to empower survivors with the knowledge they need to identify when sexual harassment occurs and what their options are to address harassment.  To this purpose WOW will be hosting a webinar on February 25th at 2pm EST to share information about sexual harassment and survivors, including the experiences of restaurant workers. Spaces are still available to participate in this webinar, and I encourage you to RSVP here.

So on this Valentine’s Eve, we hope  you to support of the tipped workers in the US by advocating to raise the wage, address sexual harassment in the workplace and help ensure all women have the opportunity to achieve economic security.

Source: ROC, 2014

Source: ROC, 2014


Women Veterans Are Still Fighting For Economic Security

We celebrate Veteran’s Day by honoring the sacrifices the men and women of our military have made.  Yet it is equally important to honor their service by ensuring that they have routes to economic security when they return from their service.  However, this latter celebration is still not a reality for all veterans.

Recently released US Bureau of Labor Statistics data highlights some significant challenges that women veterans face upon their return.  While the good news is that the overall unemployment rate fell for male and female veterans over the past year, the bad news is that the unemployment rate for Gulf-War era II veterans remained strikingly high. And even more troubling is that within that group the unemployment rate for women is almost double that of male veterans (6.2 percent for men and 11.2 percent for women).

Source: US BLS, 2014

Source: US BLS, 2014

This data is quite alarming.  Younger female veterans are returning from their service only to find themselves without jobs and far from economic security.  This is unacceptable. We need to invest in employment and training programs, along with supportive services, that provide routes for female veterans to transition to career pathways.  One such route is access to nontraditional occupations (NTO)—such as those in the sciences, building trades, and technology. Women continue to be underrepresented in these fields, and these are industries that offer economic opportunities. Women veterans are particularly poised to succeed in these training programs and jobs.  Many of the technical expertises they mastered while in military service could transfer to work in NTO.  In addition, women veterans have also gained important skills navigating a traditionally male workplace, and prepare them for NTO.

So yes, we should celebrate our veterans’ accomplishments today, but tomorrow we need to fight for their economic security on the home front. The new unemployment data—with its clear gender disparities—must be a call to action for all of us to work to ensure that on Veterans Day in 2015 we will have lowered veteran’s unemployment rates and closed the significant gender unemployment rate gap.  The best celebration will be that of true economic security for the women who have sacrificed so much.


Photo Credit: Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs

Photo Credit: Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs


Struggling to Get By: Economic Insecurity and LGBT Seniors in Massachusetts

Massachusetts’ seniors face some of the highest living costs in the nation, and do so with incomes that have not kept pace with increases in the costs of basic needs such as housing, health care and food.  These economic challenges are experienced across demographic groups.  In collaboration with the Massachusetts Association of Older Americans (MAOA), our Elder Economic Security state partner, we conducted a series of focus groups with a group of seniors whose experiences are often marginalized—LGBT seniors.   Our new report, Struggling to Get By: Economic Insecurity and LGBT Seniors in Massachusetts, presents a snapshot of lived experiences of this group of seniors “struggling to get by” in the current economic climate, illuminating individuals’ challenges and the ways they make ends meet. In addition we explore perceptions, knowledge and experiences of the potential economic benefits to LGBT couples as a result of Windsor v United States. The end of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) made previously denied economic protections and responsibilities–including Social Security survivor benefits, family and medical leave, and the ability to pool resources as a family without unfair taxation–available to married same-sex couples.  Finally we conclude with both research and policy recommendations aimed at improving the economic security of LGBT seniors in the state.

Among our findings we found both commonalities and differences between LGBT seniors and other seniors; along with differences within the LGBT senior demographic.  Not surprisingly, economic insecurity exists within the LGBT community; and some of the challenge is not unique to LGBT subpopulation. In our focus groups, LGBT participants identified housing, health care and food costs, along with having inadequate savings, as key barriers to economic security in Massachusetts.  These economic concerns cross many demographic groups in the state.

However participants did express some concerns specific to the LGBT community that exacerbated their economic insecurity, and also raised concerns about aging. Specifically they reported that discrimination against LGBT individuals during their working years (particularly access to promotions) impacted the amount of retirement savings they could accumulate and the Social Security payments they later received. In addition, the prevalent stereotype that members of the LGBT community, and particularly gay men, are rich, impacts their ability to communicate their economic insecurity. They also reported that in regard to the overturning of DOMA, many participants expressed uncertainty about newly available public benefits and how to access them. Other significant concerns were raised about the dignity in the aging process as an LGBT senior.  Participants raised concerns about having to go “back in the closet” if they need to be placed into a nursing home because of perceived homophobia among staff.  Finally, participants also reported they were not as likely to have children (although they did feel future LGBT generations will be more likely to have children); so there is concern about who is going to care for them as they age.

There is much work that needs to be done in order to ensure that LGBT seniors can age in place with economic security and dignity in Massachusetts and throughout the country.  While our research is intended to provide a snapshot of the experiences of LGBT seniors dealing with economic security and insecurity as they age in Massachusetts, we highlighted several issues that demand more in-depth research and other issues that require policy and programmatic change, particularly concerning public benefits and dignity in health care facilities.

You can access the full report on our website:  Struggling to Get By: Economic Insecurity and LGBT Seniors in Massachusetts


All I Want is A Job – Our Labor Market and the Search for Economic Security

Welcome to the re-employment seminar; you are all required to be in this seminar because the unemployment office thinks you will have a really hard time finding a job in this economy.”

Imagine hearing those words right after you were laid off in one of the US’s deepest recessions.  Well that is exactly what WOW’s Senior Scholar, Mary Gatta, heard when she went undercover as an unemployed worker in an American Jobs Center (formerly known as One Stop Centers) at the height of the recent recession. Mary chronicles her experiences as an undercover waitress and adjunct professor in her new book, All I Want is A Job: Unemployed Women Navigating the Public Workforce System, released this summer by Stanford University Press.

In the past week Mary has been on the road listening to job seekers and workforce professional’s in the field, and sharing the findings of her book. She spoke to Rutgers University sociology faculty and students; along with jobseekers at the Jersey Shore at a Jobs Help Center at the Middletown Township Public Library. She then headed up the New Jersey Turnpike to the New Jersey Institute of Technology to speak at an UpskillNJ career fair—a program that offers specialized information technology and science training to unemployed professionals and veterans in New Jersey to help them upgrade their skills to compete jobs. And then continued on 95 North to Jobs for the Future to meet with workforce officials, career services professionals, and researchers. Both audiences —job seekers and workforce development professionals—while at different points in their work lives–expressed concern for their futures. As the job market may be improving, there is a general anxiety not only that there are just not enough jobs, but that the jobs that are available do not offer pathways to economic security.

And the worries that workers expressed to Mary at her New Jersey talks this week, are backed up by the data. Although we are officially no longer in a recession, many American workers and their families are struggling to secure employment, and especially jobs that offer opportunities for economic security.  Paul Krugman’s recent New York Times piece paints a stark picture for workers today, who continue to find themselves out of work.There are still almost 3 million Americans who have been out of work for more than six months, which is the usual maximum duration of unemployment insurance. This is a number that is three times the pre-recession total. And coupled with long-term unemployment is that the extended benefits have been eliminated — and in some states the length of benefits has been cut even further. And in this economic recovery, men continue to outpace women in job gains—with the unemployment rate falling half as quickly for women as for men.

And as Mary stresses in her book–  our labor market is changing.  In fact, the backstory has been that the employment gains during the recovery have been highest in low-wage occupations. Jobs such as retail sales, food preparation, waiters and waitresses, and personal and home care aides grew 2.7 times as fast as mid-wage and higher-wage occupations. Overall, employment has grown by 8.7 percent in low-wage occupations compared with only 6.6 percent in high-wage occupations, and mid-wage occupations have actually fallen by 7.3 percent. This uneven jobs recovery means that the “good job” deficit is greater than it was during the early 2000s.

Further, the proliferation of low-wage work is compounded by decades of wage stagnation. Over thirty years, the median wage for households has remained nearly the same. Indeed, the past decade actually saw a decrease in the inflation-adjusted average income for households as available wages and compensation for most workers remains far below what would be expected given productivity gains and what families require to keep up with increases in the cost of health care, housing, and education.

So if the jobs that are projected to grow are low quality jobs, there needs to be a concerted effort to improve these jobs. Workforce development policy is certainly an important and critical part of this response, but for it to be an effective policy it cannot exist on its own. For this to occur, there needs to be collaboration between both private sector changes and public sector supports. For example, we need to highlight high-road management practices—practices that engage front-line workers in problem-solving and decision-making and provide them with the training and skills to do this well—to improve the quality of service jobs and the quality of services provided. And workers need benefits and supports as they to move toward economic security. The absence of comprehensive social insurance or governmental protections results in a vastly unequal labor market, in which workers who fill low-wage jobs face many compounding issues. Millions of Americans who work full-time cannot pay their basic living expenses, let alone have enough money to make investments in their future. These harsh realities demonstrate the need for reinforcing and expanding the safety net for working families facing hard times and supporting programs and policies that contribute to moving families to economic security.


WOW's Senior Scholar Mary Gatta speaking to an audience of students and job seekers.  Photo: The Daily Targum, Rutgers University

WOW’s Senior Scholar Mary Gatta speaking to an audience of students and job seekers. Photo: The Daily Targum, Rutgers University



I’m “Not on the Menu”: Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry

Living off tips not only contributes to high levels of economic insecurity for workers and their families; it also makes all workers, and in particular women, vulnerable to a great deal of inappropriate behavior from customers, co-workers, and management. In collaboration with the Restaurant Opportunities Center, Forward Together, and several other organizations, Wider Opportunities for Women today released the report The Glass Floor: Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry.  This report dramatically details how sexual harassment is endemic to the restaurant industry.  One of the most powerful findings is that the tipping structure – where workers are paid a sub-minimum wage of $2.13 an hour—creates an environment and a dynamic that actually fosters sexual harassment as part of the work environment.

Surveying workers throughout the country, it is staggering to learn that two-thirds of female workers and over half of male workers had experienced some form of sexual harassment from management; nearly 80% of women and 70% of men experienced some form of sexual harassment from co-workers; and nearly 80% of women and 55% of men experienced some form of sexual harassment from customers.  And ALL restaurant workers in states that have a sub-minimum wage of $2.13 an hour, report higher rates of sexual harassment, than workers in states that pay a higher minimum wage.

Why is the tipping structure so important to this? Since restaurant workers living off tips are forced to rely on customers for their income rather than their employer, these workers must often tolerate inappropriate behavior from customers, co-workers, and management. Not surprisingly then, the restaurant industry is the single largest source of sexual harassment claims in the U.S.  While seven percent of American women work in the restaurant industry, more than a third of all sexual harassment claims to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) come from the restaurant industry. What is even more disturbing is that the high levels of complaints to the EEOC may actually underreport the industry’s rate of sexual harassment. Restaurant  workers reported that sexual  harassment is “kitchen talk,” a “normalized” part of the work environment.  And many restaurant workers are reluctant to publicly acknowledge  their experiences with sexual harassment.  This is the everyday work life for the 11 million restaurant workers in the United States.

Close to 20 years ago, when I conducted my own ethnographic research on restaurant workers, tipped workers earned the same sub-minimum wage of $2.13 an hour that workers today are paid.  And the restaurant workers I spoke with, almost two decades ago, talked about the ways that sexual harassment and sexual behaviors were institutionalized into the work environment.  So despite the passing of 20 years, some things have just remained the same. Tipped workers continue to remain vulnerable—both in terms of their economic security and the prevalence of sexual harassment–in America’s restaurants.  Isn’t it about time we do something about this?  Not only is it time to raise the minimum wage and eliminate the tipped sub-minimum wage so that workers can earn enough to support themselves and their families, but we need to improve the working conditions for the people who serve our food and mix our drinks.





President’s Budget Proposal Would Eliminate the Only Workforce Program Dedicated to Expanding Women’s Access to High-Wage Jobs

Women are increasingly their families’ primary breadwinners, yet continue to earn less than their male counterparts, are segregated into the lowest wage occupations, and lack the supports necessary to balance work and family obligations. WOW’s research finds that single mothers and their children disproportionately face economic insecurity: 69% of white single mothers, 80% of black single mothers and 85% of Hispanic single mothers lack the incomes needed to afford the cost of basic expenses. In his State of the Union address in January, President Obama stressed how critical women’s economic security is to their families’, communities’, and our nation’s well being. In fact, the president agreed that “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds

Despite these commitments, the president’s proposed 2015 budget proposes eliminating the ONLY workforce program that is dedicated to providing opportunities for women to prepare for and enter high-wage, nontraditional jobs. Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations, or WANTO, supports community-based organizations that provide training to women in pre-apprenticeship programs and technical assistance to employers and labor unions.

WANTO is critical federal workforce program because it addresses one of the principal sources of women’s economic insecurity: occupational segregation. The majority of US women do not work in jobs where they have an opportunity to get by, let alone get ahead. Today, fifty percent of women are concentrated in just 26 occupational categories, or only five percent of the 504 occupations tracked by Bureau of Labor Statistics, and over two-thirds of women are concentrated in just 51 occupations. Today, as was true 60 years ago, ‘secretary’ ranks as the top occupational category for women. Other leading occupations include cashiers, retail salespersons, home health aides, and jobs in the hospitality sectors, such as waitresses and housekeepers at hotels. Many of these jobs are our economy’s fastest-growing and the lowest-paying. With average wages of between $8 and $12, these jobs do not enable women to afford the basics, let alone care for their families. Men, on the other hand, with similar levels of education are much more likely than women to access training in the trades or STEM fields, which generally offer higher pay and better career prospects.

Gender stereotypes and women’s lack of knowledge and awareness of these jobs and their entry paths are significant obstacles to increasing their representation in these fields. Women may also lack the preparatory skills to be competitive in the selection process, and selection requirements and procedures still have a disparate and unfair impact on women’s acceptance into apprenticeship programs. Still worse, women who overcome these barriers and enter these field often find discriminatory practices ranging from minimal support, inequitable training, hostile work conditions and job opportunities limited by employer hiring bias.  Programs that support women throughout this process, which is the work offered by many of the groups funded by WANTO, can help women succeed in these jobs – a real pathway out of poverty for these women and their families.

Overcoming the historical and cultural obstacles that prevent women from accessing these higher wage nontraditional careers is challenging and requires direct interventions. Targeted, effective workforce programs, such as WANTO, are critical to the success of individuals and communities facing these significant barriers to employment. WANTO provides the needed specialized technical assistance to address these barriers, which other WIA and workforce programs cannot and do not offer.

And despite its modest funding level, WANTO has consistently produced outsized impact. In a recent grant year, trainees enjoyed a job placement rate after their WANTO participation of nearly 90 percent.  An independent study has shown that when programs funded by one of the two federal grant initiatives that supported nontraditional training for women, (the Nontraditional Employment for Women Act and WANTO), was implemented in an area, local women were 25% more likely to hold a nontraditional job, and that even in years after the policy intervention, women were still more likely to hold nontraditional jobs.  For example, in 2006 alone, Chicago Women in Trades (CWIT) provided 4,525 women with information about high-skill, high-wage nontraditional careers. CWIT’s WANTO-funded programming enabled 66 women to enroll in CWIT’s Technical Opportunities Program and 88 women to enroll in apprenticeship programs. These women earned average wages of $14.28 an hour – more than 25 percent higher than the national median hourly earnings for women that same year.

Addressing the challenges that women face in today’s labor market is a key strategy for restoring security and opportunity to America’s families and workers. WOW strongly encourages President Obama to reconsider his proposed elimination of WANTO. This lone and effective program dedicated to promoting opportunities for women in nontraditional jobs is is a critical strategy for building women’s economic security, promoting diversity in our future workforce and ensuring America’s success.


Chickie’s & Pete’s: What it Teaches Us about the Economic Security of Tipped Workers

Last week the US Department of Labor announced that a popular sports bar—Chickie’s & Pete’s —had agreed to pay $6.8 million in back wages and damages to its tipped restaurant workers.   Among the wage violations cited was that restaurant mangers forced servers to contribute a portion of their tips to an improper “tip pool,” or tip-sharing arrangement, which comprised about 2 to 4 percent of a server’s daily tables.  Restaurant owners then retained about 60 percent of the tip pool in what was referred to as “Pete’s Tax.”  The servers were required to pay “Pete’s Tax”   to the restaurant’s manager in cash at the end of each shift, even if the server received his or her tips through credit cards.

The Labor Department also found that Chickie’s & Pete’s restaurant management: did not follow the tip credit regulation to ensure  wages were at the full minimum wage; did not always pay the initial $2.13 an hour tipped minimum wage, and often did not pay time and a half when employees worked more than 40 hours a week. Under federal law, restaurant owners are required to pay a minimum of $2.13 an hour toward a server’s wages as long as customers’ tips lift the waiter’s pay to the $7.25 federal minimum wage. But if the tips are too small to reach the minimum wage, the restaurant is legally required to top off the waiter’s pay as a tip credit.

Chickie’s &Pete’s case was one of the largest ever brought against an employer for violating the law on tipped wages, and highlights the extreme economic insecurity that tipped workers in the US often find themselves.  In fact the federal tipped minimum wage of $2.13 has not changed in over twenty years, and many workers find themselves in analogous situations to those of the servers and bartenders at Chickie’s & Pete’s. While federal law states that employers must ensure that tips make up the difference between $2.13 and $7.25, survey data gathered by ROC United indicate that employers frequently ignore this requirement.  Nationally, 19% of restaurant workers report earning a wage less than the federal minimum wage.

And in our recent WOW research report of 100 Jersey Shore restaurant workers we found that 82% of tipped workers reported earning a base wage less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25. The majority of surveyed workers reported earning a base wage of less than $3.50 per hour, and 39% earned exactly the tipped minimum wage of $2.13 per hour.  Even more distressing is that tips often did not make up the economic security gap the workers faced on a daily basis. Even at the height of the busy summer season, over one-third of surveyed tipped workers reported earning weekly tips of $450 or less. Sixty percent of tipped workers reported earning $600 or less.  And similar to Chickie’s & Pete’s workers, seventy percent of our survey respondents reported that they did not receive due overtime pay.

Low minimum wages and wage violations spell economic catastrophe for the thousands of workers throughout the country that serve us our food and drinks.  It is clearly time to raise the tipped minimum wage.  In fact several state lawmakers have amended their state’s minimum wage law to pay a higher tipped minimum wage than the federal $2.13 an hour. And seven states have eliminated the tipped credit completely, requiring that traditionally tipped workers earn the standard hourly minimum wage.

At the federal level, Sen. Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Miller (D-CA) have introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act which would increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10, gradually increase the tipped minimum wage to equal 70% of the federal minimum wage, and peg future increases to inflation. This is an important step in the right direction in order to ensure economic security for restaurant workers.

Chickie's & Pete's Source:

Chickie’s & Pete’s Source: