AFSCME WOMEN'S EQUAL PARTNERS BREAKFAST
Thank you, Carol. Your work as chair of the National Women's Advisory Committee and as President of Local 704 in Connecticut has inspired many. Leadership and an ability to organize is central to the success of any union and your efforts on behalf of workers' rights have made a difference in the lives of all Americans.
I also want to thank you, Carol, for that wonderful introduction. I've noticed that people sometimes have a hard time introducing me. In fact, I've been introduced in quite a few ways --so many that I've started a list. Most people generally refer to me as the Second Lady. I have to tell you, though, I've never really liked that. It always makes me feel as if I should have just tried a little harder. I've also been called the Second First Lady, which I think is just way too confusing. And then there was the time I was referred to as the First Lady of Vice! I kind of like that one, but since it was a minister who introduced me that way, I'm not sure it is appropriate.
Since we are gathered this morning at the "Equal Partners" breakfast, celebrating the fact that women are equal partners in AFSCME and also celebrating the fact that today is Women's Equality Day, I'd like to propose that we shed titles altogether -- you can call me Tipper!
I want to particularly thank whoever decided to hold your 33rd biennial convention in Hawaii. I understand that this is the home of some 50,000 AFSCME members, which shows how smart they are! Al and I honeymooned in Hawaii and we spent our 25th anniversary here -- so Hawaii holds some special memories for us.
First, I would like to say to all of you here today--congratulations on the outstanding job you do at the real "grass roots" level of our society and our economy. You keep our state and local governments running along with the school districts, hospitals, universities and non-profit agencies that are so critical to the everyday life of all Americans.
I am reminded of an article that I read shortly after the horrific bombings of our Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The article noted that the American victims were the "nuts and bolts" employees who do the day to day administrative tasks that keep the Embassies functioning and without whom our diplomatic missions cannot operate.
Similarly, it is your efforts, usually behind the scenes and often without praise or adequate compensation, that have created the strongest economy in our nation's history. You are the people who Americans reach out to with their most basic concerns when they call on their state and local governments and institutions for assistance.
It comes as no surprise that AFSCME has been at the forefront of fighting for the rights and needs of working women and improving conditions in the workplace for all employees. Yourhard work is helping to fuel a resurging labor movement that is putting people first and valuing America's hard working families. Since their inception, our nation's unions have been instrumental in making the American dream possible for millions of workers throughout the country. The gains that have been made simply would not have happened were it not for the grit and determination of you and the thousands more like you who have joined unions to better the lives of working Americans.
And while we know it takes a strong union -- it also takes a government that is on your side.
Like you, this Administration understands the important principle of investing in people. President Clinton and my husband also understand that investing in people means protecting the rights of workers. We believe in the freedom of all workers to organize without employer interference. And we stand for the right of all workers to better their lives by joining unions.
Together, we have fought for equal pay, promotional opportunities, and work and family programs for all workers. And together we have fought against sexual harassment and all other forms of workplace discrimination and violence against women.
Hard-pressed and hard-working Americans should not have to raise families in poverty. That is why, with your help, this Administration fought for and won an increase in the minimum wage that gave over 10 million Americans a pay raise. And, contrary to the views of skeptics, not a single job was lost. And once again with your help, we must call on the Congress to pass an additional increase in the minimum wage so that more Americans can get a raise, support a family, and have their fair share of our nation's prosperity. And we know that it will take the efforts of AFSCME and other other unions to get Congress' attention on this matter.
Our economy is the strongest it's been in a generation, and there are many reasons for this. The work you do is a key part of economic strength, coupled with an Administration that has stood firm on a balanced budget. But I wonder if Americans realize that one of the key elements of our strong economy is the impact of women in the workplace? One in two workers in America are women and in more and more families, women are providing more than half the income. And this is even more remarkable when we realize that women still earn only 75 cents for every dollar men earn. One quarter of women who work full-time, year round, do not earn enough to move their families above the federal poverty threshold.
Patricia Sable Key-a-we-a-ma-hee, from Hawaii, wrote to say: "The wage scale for clerical positions are usually the lowest, even though they hold very diversified, responsible and demanding positions. The only way we can change this is for working women to unite; and together we will make a difference."
Jean Crews, a working mother from California, writes: "As a divorced mother of three, I work so hard for just $12.28 an hour. I am a senior office assistant with the county, working for three years. I've seen men come off the streets and be hired for higher paying jobs with lessexperience. The company just trained them. My son's medication costs $130 a month, something I can't afford to pay. I feel guilty that I can't provide more for my family."
The inequality that Patricia and Jean describe not only deprives working women from earning a fair living, it also denies our children adequate health care, it keeps thousands of young kids from going to college, and it impacts the quality of life of many families across our nation.
This Administration is the first in 35 years to declare firmly and unequivocably that we will not allow that inequality to continue. Our nation was founded on the principle that all Americans deserve equal pay for equal work and we are determined to see that promise through.
I know that AFSCME understands that women are "equal partners" in this economy. As far back as 1981 you brought this issue to the forefront of our national agenda when you waged the first successful pay equity strike in San Jose, California. Since that historic victory, your work at the bargaining table and in the Halls of Congress has brought about pay adjustments totalling more than a half billion dollars for workers all across this nation.
Together, we must continue to find innovative ways to fight for equal pay for equal work. Earlier this year, my husband announced the Administration's support for legislation that would improve enforcement of wage discrimination against women and strengthen the law that allows compensation for those who have been discriminated against.
Too many of our workplace concepts and pay structures are tilted to the time when men bore the burden of breadwinning and women alone bore the the burdens of child-rearing. Now millions of women bear both burdens. They face the pressure of balancing the demands of work and home. Women are our country's traditional care givers and continue to struggle with the basic questions of family and community. I have heard from many women today who feel as if they are members of the sandwich generation -- squeezed between caring for young children and elder parents. Each of us here today -- man or woman -- could probably tell a personal story about the struggle to find balance in our lives between work and home.
In 1993, with your help and hard work, this Administration took the first step in helping working parents by passing the Family and Medical Leave Act -- the very first bill that the President signed -- which ensured that millions of people don't have to choose between being good parents and good workers.
Now, we must all work together to improve the quality of American health care and call on this Congress to pass a Patients' Bill of Rights so that crucial medical decisions are made by doctors and health care workers like you, not bookkeepers and accountants.
And, I know I speak for many Americans when I say that access to affordable mental health care is equally important. For too long, people suffering from mental illness have had to fight against discrimination, stigma, a lack of parity in insurance coverage, and inadequate services. Wesimply cannot afford to ignore the needs of individuals with mental illness, as we saw so tragically in the wake of the shootings on Capitol Hill last month.
Child care is another issue of concern that this Administration shares with AFSCME and its members. AFSCME is once again leading the way in educating Americans that our child care workers and teachers need to be adequately compensated for taking care of our most precious national treasure -- our children. And we are counting on your support for the President's child care initiative, which will invest in the child care system nationwide, as well as improve the safety and quality of child care and expand access to safe after-school care for all children.
I think all of you here at AFSCME have known intuitively what our nation is beginning to understand -- that issues like equal pay for equal work, balancing home and work, health care, and child care are not just "women's issues"-- they are America's issues. They impact all working families.
As we carry that message across this nation, it means continuing to make sure that women are fairly and equally represented in positions of leadership across the board as they are here in AFSCME's leadership -- and that includes business and industry, the non-profit and service sector, education, health care and government.
I want to say a word about how important it is that we all become an active part of the political process, particularly women. As more women become a part of the political landscape, they will bring many things to the process, not the least of which is a sense of civility. Politics as usual has become too much partisan bickering, too much negative advertising and too much finger pointing. All of which results in increased cynicism. This causes people to tune out and drop out. And it is precisely these thoughtful, sensitive and caring people that are desperately needed in politics because they can serve as agents for change.
We must all work together to help elevate the level of discourse and inject language that unites rather than divides.
As we continue to encourage women and men to become involved in the political process, our strongest argument is to point to the concrete results already achieved by women. Women helped elect Bill Clinton and Al Gore in 1992. They helped re-elect them in 1996. And I'd like to point out the stark contrast that occurred in `94 when 48 million women did not vote. We simply must be a part of the process if we hope to affect real and lasting change. If we want to continue to build on pro-family policies like equal pay for equal work, like affordable health care and child care for America's workers, like the promise of an education that will help us compete in a global economy, we must make our presence felt at the polls -- we must vote our interests!
Each of you is creating a legacy for our children and the men and women who will follow. Your jobs as public servants and the role you play as active union members put you in a position of creating a society more sensitive to the demands of working families--a society that holds thepromise of a future where everyone can share in the effort to help families grow and prosper.
I want to thank you for your long-standing and continued support of this Administration. And to all of you who work so hard on behalf of our families and our future -- thank you and God speed.