The organizers of the Women’s March on Washington have called on women across the country to strike from paid and unpaid labor on International Women’s Day, March 8th. The strikers aim to raise awareness about the ways women contribute to our economy and communities and to protest the inequality they still experience.
The strike has drawn criticism from those who say it is geared towards women of privilege – those workers who are most likely able to take a day off without their employer firing them. For low-wage workers, whose bosses might be able to easily replace them, striking poses a significantly greater risk.
While most women, low-wage or otherwise, will likely choose not to strike, some certainly will – forcing their employer to choose whether to permit the action or to fire them. Businesses, however, should not retaliate against women who strike on March 8th. They should give them a raise instead.
Women still earn just 80 cents to a man’s dollar. Women of color earn even less. While critics of equal pay like to point out that this difference in pay is largely due to women’s professional choices (ignoring the systemic discrimination behind these choices, such as a lack of affordable childcare and rampant gender bias in top earning fields), research shows that discrimination does account for a large portion of the gap. In fact, nearly one-third of the wage gap (six cents of that 20 cent difference) would be closed if women and men in the same occupations earned the same amount.
Across industries, women are paid less than men. Even in industries traditionally dominated by women – cosmetology, nursing, teaching – men make more, but women at the lower end of the economic spectrum suffer more. Women make up two-thirds of the 20 million workers earning less than $10.10 an hour. Mothers are overrepresented in this group, making up one-third of the total low-wage workforce. Fathers, on the other hand, are more likely to be working in higher wage jobs.
The organizers of the Women’s strike have recognized that some women might be fired, stating on their website: “It is possible that some women may be fired, as there were about a dozen instances of firings over the Day Without Immigrants strike. Nothing comes without a sacrifice…” The sacrifice of women working in inflexible, low-wage jobs will be much greater than those whose employer might simply be annoyed with them, or even cheer them on. It is unlikely that the strike will generate enough widespread support that businesses will be unable to fire the strikers and risk losing their entire workforce, as is the case in more concentrated demonstrations.
Nevertheless, businesses should refrain from taking retaliatory action on women who do not show up to work on March 8th. Female employees have worked for too little, for far too long. They have more than earned the right to take a day off.
Even just accounting for the six percent pay differential due solely to discrimination, women are only paid for roughly 244 of the 260 working days a year. If businesses don’t want to pay women more, then they should at least be giving them two extra weeks off. At the very least, they shouldn’t argue when they choose not to come into work this Wednesday.
Not showing up to work for labor that you are not being paid for should not be a punishable offense. Instead, it’s time for all workplaces to thoroughly review their pay practices in order to ensure that all their employees are receiving fair compensation. Most likely, doing so would result in millions of hard-working women across the country finally getting the raise they deserve.