The Battle for Equal Women’s Rights

UE has been leading the fight for equity for women workers since the 1940s. Women need unions more than ever, as they are the best way to ensure greater earnings, benefits, and protections from discrimination in the workplace. Until women have full and equal rights, all workers are held back. 

Working women face a persistent pay gap. Women earn only 82 cents for every dollar men earn, and this pay gap is worse for women of color. Black women make only 70 cents for every dollar white men bring home, Latinas only 65 cents, and Native American women only 51 cents.

Though the Civil Rights Act protects against discrimination based on sex at work, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission continues to receive many thousands of charges of sexual harassment each year. Even more cases of workplace sexual harassment go unreported. The vast majority of sexual harassment cases are filed by women. In 2022, the U.S. Congress took some initial steps to remove some of the hurdles women face when filing sexual harassment cases, passing legislation to ensure non-disclosure agreements are unenforceable in instances of sexual assault and harassment, and to stop mandatory arbitration proceedings from being used in cases involving sexual assault or harassment.

Workers who choose to become parents face additional discrimination at work. New federal laws, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) and the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections (PUMP) for Nursing Mothers Act in 2022, provide important new protections and accommodation requirements for pregnant or nursing working parents. 

Despite these advances, working women’s rights have been under attack elsewhere. In June 2022, the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson reversed Roe v. Wade’s protection of legal access to abortion. In the first half of 2023, 25 bills restricting abortion access were enacted, and abortion was completely banned in 13 states. As abortion bans exacerbate existing inequity in healthcare access and disproportionately harm women of color, we must fight to protect those at most risk from the harm caused by these policies.

The pandemic highlighted the challenges working women face at all times: juggling responsibilities related to children’s care and education as well as health needs across a family, all while being impacted by job losses across the economy, but particularly in sectors that disproportionately employ women. The Department of Labor noted that it took until late 2022 for mothers’ workforce participation rates to return to pre-pandemic levels, and Black mothers still lag behind slightly. They cite unreliable and expensive childcare as the major problem: “Childcare-related employment disruptions have increased since the start of the pandemic and … mothers are more likely to suffer employment disruptions compared with fathers.” 

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides eligible workers with 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year, but 44 percent of U.S. workers do not qualify for FMLA because of the size of their employer, the number of hours they work, or exhausting FMLA eligibility prior to giving birth. Workers of color are less likely to be eligible for FMLA, and many workers who qualify for FMLA cannot afford to take unpaid leave. The National Partnership for Women and Families estimated in 2022 that 10.9 million workers in the U.S. needed leave but did not take it. Relatedly, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends all parents welcoming new children into their homes should receive at least six weeks of paid parental leave, and the World Health Organization recommends at least 18 weeks of maternity leave with at least ⅔ pay. Yet the U.S. is one of six countries in the world without national paid maternity leave. Furthermore the U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate of any high-income country, with even worse outcomes for Black women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

UE members need to apply ever-greater pressure on politicians and bosses to advance and maintain women’s rights. This war on women’s rights needs to stop and we must remain leaders in this fight. 


  1. Calls on the union at all levels to: 
    1. Support locals in fighting legislation that negatively impacts women’s and families’ rights; 
    2. Demand and bargain for gender equality and to fight women’s oppression in the workplace, including in our own organization; 
    3. Demand pay equity, recognize the intersection of race and gender, acknowledge and address the urgent political and safety issues experienced by women regardless of gender at birth, and commit to address pay inequality at all levels;
    4. Create a consistent environment to educate and support women to assume positions of leadership within their locals, regions, and the national union, including a leadership development program for women or gender non-conforming members; 
    5. Educate members, officers, and staff on sexual harassment and programs to combat harassment, intimidation and sexist attitudes wherever found, through trainings and developed programs; 
    6. Continue the implementation of the anti-harassment policy for regional councils and national conventions, including continued training of ombuds as needed, at least one of whom will be a woman;
    7. Educate members, officers, and staff about, and encourage participation in, resources available to families who need assistance, particularly those with children with disabilities, such as 2-1-1, early-childhood intervention, and other local programs;
    8. In jobs primarily held by women, demand that employers file timely injury report forms for all worker injuries, as well as report such injuries to all appropriate state agencies, while creating strong health and safety language to be placed in collective bargaining agreements;
    9. Press for employer-paid training programs which allow women to upgrade their skills to enter jobs that have been traditionally reserved for men; 
    10. Renew the fight for employer-funded childcare and family leave policies, both through legislation and within the union; 
    11. Negotiate leave policies with employers to cover workers who are not eligible for FMLA;
    12. Support pro-labor candidates, particularly women, that openly support women’s choice and family planning;
    13. Provide dedicated time, space, and proper advanced notice for women’s caucuses at regional and national levels within UE; 
    14. Provide quality childcare for meetings and conferences to allow parents and guardians to participate in the activities of the union;
    15. Educate workers and employers on rights available to pregnant and nursing parents in the PWFA and PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act, including providing a safe, clean and private space for nursing parents;
  2. Supports the human right to decide whether and how to have children and raise families, regardless of economic status, by fighting internally and externally, through workplace policy and legislation to ensure:
    1. Access to free, confidential, and effective birth control and family planning services;
    2. Protection from forced sterilization;
    3. Protection from discrimination based on reproductive health issues or caregiving responsibilities;
  3. Demands Congress: 
    1. Pass the Women’s Health Protection Act (H.R. 12), which would establish federal legislative protections for women’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy;
    2. End all restrictions on reproductive health care, including repealing the Hyde Amendment;
    3. Improve and expand the Family Medical Leave Act and ensure all workers receive full benefits to care for any family member; 
    4. Enact: 
      1. A federal paid parental leave program and a high-quality federal day care program; 
      2. Legislation to improve maternal healthcare, such as the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, which would extend Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) eligibility in the postpartum and breastfeeding periods, provide funding to community-based organizations that are working to improve maternal health outcomes and promote equity, grow and diversify the perinatal workforce to ensure new parents receive health care and support from people they trust, and more;
    5. Create a subsidized system for child care which does not penalize individuals for providing homecare and which provides a living wage and quality care; 
    6. Enact a new federal law to reduce pay disparities by prohibiting employers from asking about pay history;
    7. Protect and expand the WIC program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and other programs that assist low-income families and children;
  4. Demands that, in states which restrict access to a woman’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy, the state legislature take immediate action to repeal such restrictions;
  5. Encourages UE members to engage with organizations fighting for women’s rights.