Tanya knows she’ll be cold no matter what she wears, but she does what she can: she pulls on two pairs of pants and two pairs of socks, then layers on two hoodie sweatshirts.
At the warehouse, she buttons up a white lab coat over all of this, winds a scarf around her neck, and covers her head with both a knit hat and a hairnet. Next come plastic sleeves, a mouth mask, an apron, and two pairs of plastic gloves. Finally ready, Tanya braces herself against the frigidity of 35-degree air, and opens the door to the assembly line room.
She takes her place along the line, where she and her coworkers combine chopped lettuce, croutons, and parmesan for Caesar salads and tuck chicken into tortilla wraps. They work for hours, mostly in silence, arms and hands moving with mechanic repetition as they create the grab’n’go foods destined for display cases in Starbucks, Costco, and Wal-Mart.
Unstable Scheduling Leads to a Chaotic Life
Tanya never knows much in advance which days she’ll work, which hours, or how long her shift will last. Sometimes she’s scheduled for an eight-hour shift, but works just four because her assembly line’s order is completed early. Other times, she stands for twelve hours on her aching feet and heads home late at night. The unpredictability of her schedule makes it impossible to go back to school, since she can’t commit to any class schedule. She can’t plan a budget for rent, food, or transportation since she never knows how much money she’ll make.
Tanya’s heart sinks as she removes her mask and gloves for the day: it’s only been five hours, but her line has finished their order. As she’s punching out, her supervisor says, “We don’t need
Volatile schedules are a fact of life for millions of low-wage workers like Tanya, but this is an issue that is not well understood by the public. Women Employed is bringing attention to this problem. Find out how »
Did you know a full-time worker earning minimum wage earns just $17,000 a year? This year, we provided input to a mayoral minimum wage working group that recommended a significant increase. In December, the Chicago City Council voted to raise the wage from $8.25 to $13 an hour over the next 5 years. We're also working to raise Illinois' state minimum wage. Learn how »
It’s the last thing Tanya wants to hear. She only worked 25 hours last week and needs more hours to be able to pay this month’s rent. Tanya earns just $9.25 per hour.
Even though her job at the warehouse is temporary, Tanya’s situation is anything but. Since her first job as a cashier at Wendy’s, she’s spent nearly three decades in low-wage jobs. While raising her son as a single mother, she worked as a banquet waiter for a catering company, serving guests at fancy downtown hotels. She whisked away half-eaten salads and steaks during her shifts, but had to rely on food stamps to buy groceries to feed herself and her son. Unfortunately, Tanya’s situation is not unique. It’s a daily reality for millions. Nearly two-thirds of low-wage workers in the U.S. are women, 80 percent are adults, and the majority are primary or co-breadwinners for their families.
Caring for Her Father Inspires Tanya to Change Her Life
Today, instead of heading home after her shift at the warehouse is over, Tanya goes to see her father. Because Tanya’s mother died when she was just a baby, her father raised Tanya and her four older siblings on his own. Now, the roles have been reversed: Tanya does everything she can to help care for him. He’s 84 and is battling prostate cancer.
Low-wage working women like Tanya, who can't afford to take time off while pregnant, can no longer be fired for requesting reasonable accommodations at work. Women Employed advocated for—and won—passage of a pregnancy fairness law in Illinois. Learn more »
In Chicago, 461,000 workers like Tanya don't receive a single paid sick day for their own illness or to care for a sick family member. Women Employed is leading the Earned Sick Time Chicago coalition to pass legislation guaranteeing a minimum amount of earned sick time for all workers. Read about our proposed ordinance »
Since she doesn’t earn paid sick days—like 80 percent of low-wage workers—she has had to forgo work to take her dad to his doctor’s appointments, something she can ill afford to do. But Tanya’s father was there when she needed him, and she won’t let him down now. Tanya knows she’s good at taking care of him, and it’s inspired her to change her life. She wants to break out of the food industry by training to become a certified nursing assistant, and then go on to become a licensed practical nurse.
For Tanya and millions of women like her, a good job—with a living wage, paid sick days, a stable schedule, and opportunities to advance—is a distant dream. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Women working in jobs that we all depend on deserve fair working conditions and wages. Women Employed’s fight for workplace practices and public policies that “raise the floor” for low-paid workers is part of a growing movement for change—one inspired by the hard work and dreams of women like Tanya.