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9 to 5: Worldviews, Activities, and Agendas

By John Perazzo
Discover The Networks

“9 to 5, National Association of Working Women” (henceforth, “9 to 5”) describes itself as “a national, grassroots membership organization that strengthens women’s ability to work for economic justice.” This Milwaukee-based group was founded in 1973 by Karen Nussbaum, who in 1993 would be nominated by President Bill Clinton as Director of the Women’s Bureau in the U.S. Department of Labor, a position she would hold for three years. A graduate of Goddard College, Nussbaum, who became President of the SEIU's Local 925 in 1975, was 9 to 5’s Executive Director from 1977 until her 1993 appointment to the Women’s Bureau. She is now the Director of the Working Women's Department of the AFL-CIO.  The current national co-director of 9 to 5 is Ellen Bravo, a well known trainer, public speaker, and author who believes that women face severe economic and professional discrimination in the workplace. 

In addition to its national headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 9 to 5 also has local chapters in California (San Jose and Rialto); Colorado (Denver); Georgia (Atlanta and Savannah); New Jersey (Englewood); and Ohio (Cincinnati, Akron, and Warren). A tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit group, 9 to 5 is currently the largest membership organization of working women in the United States, with activist members in all 50 states. 9 to 5’s current stature stands in marked contrast to what the organization describes as its humble origins: “In 1973 a group of office workers in Boston got together to talk about issues which had no name—sexual harassment, work/family challenges, and pay equity. From this beginning 9 to 5 emerged as the national organization dedicated to putting working women’s issues on the public agenda.” 9 to 5 identifies its constituents as “low-wage women, women in traditionally female jobs, and those who’ve experienced any form of discrimination.” The organization’s declared mission is “to strengthen women’s ability to win economic justice.”

With staff members who U.S. policymakers have often invited to provide expert testimony on workplace issues, 9 to 5 wields considerable political influence; 9 to 5 staffers have served on the Governor’s Task Force on Sexual Harassment in New York, the Legislative Council on Sexual Harassment in Wisconsin, and the Mayor’s Task Force on Sexual Harassment in Atlanta.

9 to 5’s mission is founded on the axiom that discrimination and injustice against women permeate the workplace, from the mailrooms to the boardrooms; and that women are an oppressed class of workers who male superiors are ever-eager to exploit, harass, and underpay. Implicit in this view is the notion that American society is male-dominated and sexist to its core.

To drive home the point of the alleged inequities that working women face, and the many social and economic hurdles they must clear, 9 to 5, a member organization of the National Committee on Pay Equity, has produced fact sheets containing such items as these:

  • Over a lifetime, the average 25 year-old women who works until age 65 will earn $523,000 less than the average working male.
  • In 2004, women earned 76 cents of every dollar that men earned.
  • 60% of working women earn less than $25,000 each year.
  • 60% of minimum wage workers are women.
  • Nearly 70% of those who hold 2 or more part-time jobs are women. Part-time work pays about 40% less per hour than a full-time job
  • Of all discriminations charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission in 2004 . . . 30.5% dealt with sexual discrimination.
  • In 1979, a single mother working full time at the minimum wage earned enough to lift a family of three (herself and two children) above the poverty line. In 2003, the same family would be 27% below the poverty line
  • In 2000, 31.1% of women earned poverty-level wages or less, significantly more than the share of men (19.5%)
  • Women have less in pensions and savings for retirement and therefore rely on Social Security for retirement income to a far greater degree than men.
  • Only 30 percent of all older women get a pension, compared with 47 percent of men.
  • Women primarily work in lifetime low-wage jobs with few benefits, and are more likely than men to be in temporary or part-time jobs, and more likely to interrupt their careers to care for children and elderly parents.

Notably, the foregoing points ignore a large body of research demonstrating that men as a whole earn more than women not because of discrimination, but because as a group they tend to work longer hours, take less time away from their careers to follow other pursuits (such as raising children), take on more dangerous and disagreeable occupations, more readily accept night shifts, more often take entrepreneurial risks, and earn advanced degrees in fields that pay more money than the fields women have traditionally pursued. As Warren Farrell explains in his book Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap, men and women with equal experience and qualifications, doing the same job and working the same number of hours under the same conditions, are paid equally.

Along the same lines, Linda Chavez writes: “
Although most mothers now work outside the home, they are still more likely than fathers to take extended time off when their children are born. These interruptions, which can amount from a few weeks to several years, have consequences, which are reflected in the lower average earnings of women. But the decision to have children doesn’t just reduce the number of consecutive years of work experience for most working mothers, it also influences the types of jobs women choose in the first place. Most mothers reject jobs that require very long or unpredictable hours or extensive travel, even though they may be higher paying.” These same factors also account for women’s smaller pensions and retirement savings, which 9 to 5 ascribes entirely to discrimination.

9 to 5 is very selective about the research it cites and the statistics it publicizes, generally choosing to spotlight only those studies and figures – however invalid – that seem to cast America as a nation where female workers are routinely exploited, harassed, and otherwise victimized by men. A case in point occurred when 9 to 5 founder Karen Nussbaum designed a deeply flawed 1994 study titled “Working Women Count! A Report to the Nation.” On October 14, 1994, Nussbaum joined Labor Secretary Robert Reich and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in a White House press conference announcing the results of her research, which painted a bleak picture of the conditions under which American women work. Nussbaum, who is neither an economist nor a statistician, based her findings entirely on responses to a questionnaire she had created and distributed to some ten million women nationwide. Two percent of those who received the questionnaire actually completed it and returned it to Nussbaum. Based upon their responses, Nussbaum concluded that most American women felt they were “not getting a fair deal” on the job; she reported that nearly half of women felt they were underpaid for the work they were doing, and that 60 percent of all women experienced work-related stress.

But as Christina Hoff Sommers explains, the results of Nussbaum’s survey were statistically meaningless, because all the women who returned their questionnaires were what pollsters call “self-selected” respondents – which virtually insure biased perspectives and thus are shunned by all responsible researchers. The meaninglessness of the study was further compounded by the fact that it questioned only women, even though much of the reported worker dissatisfaction (about pay and stress, for example) was by no means gender-specific. Because no men were surveyed, Nussbaum’s “study” could not compare the responses of women with those of men. This was a clear case of a researcher setting out to “prove” what she had already concluded prior to even beginning her “research.”

None of these fatal methodological flaws, however, precluded either Mr. Reich, Mrs. Clinton, or the media from trumpeting the purportedly significant results of this study. Said Reich, “The portrait of American women that has emerged is compelling, vibrant, diverse, but shows us how much work we have to do to remove hurdles from women's paths.” Said Clinton, “This is not the run-of-the-mill survey. This is the experts themselves -- working women -- telling us what we need to do.” The Associated Press reported that Nussbaum’s study found women to be “underpaid and angry”; the Atlanta Constitution reported that “women [are] not given tools to make it”; and The New York Times reported that “[m]any women still feel that they are not getting the pay, benefits, or recognition they deserve.”

To remedy what it deems the widespread discrimination suffered by American working women, 9 to 5 has initiated a number of activist campaigns. One of these is the “Support Paid Sick Days” initiative, which 9 to 5 characterizes as a “women’s issue” on grounds that unpaid sick days allegedly affect women more than men (because the former tend to earn lower wages than the latter). Says 9 to 5: “Workers shouldn’t have to choose between their family and a paycheck. Yet the majority of middle-income workers cannot rely on paid leave, and 3 out of 4 low-wage workers have no paid sick leave. Senator Kennedy and Representative Rose DeLauro introduced legislation that would require employers to provide a minimum of seven paid sick days a year.” 9 to 5 encourages its members to support this legislation by making their wishes known to their Senators and Congressional Representatives.

Another 9 to 5 campaign is to “Stop Family Medical Leave Cuts.” 9 to 5 supports a policy that would allow all workers to take a 12-week leave from their jobs for medical reasons – whether to attend to their own health-related issues or those of their family members. Because women are very often caretakers for ailing relatives, 9 to 5 deems this a women’s issue as well. Current law permits 12-week leaves-of-absence only for employees of firms with 50 or more workers, and only for those who worked at least 1,250 hours during the preceding year. 

9 to 5 opposes the privatization of Social Security, which it says would create “huge benefit cuts and less security for working families.” The 9 to 5 website has posted a Reuters article stating: “While the government is already phasing in an increase in the normal retirement age to 67 from 65, retirees can claim reduced benefits at 62. . . . Because women live longer, on average, than men, any discussion of retirement age becomes a women’s issue.”

9 to 5 also has launched a “Count Every Vote” campaign, founded on the premise that the Florida recount scandal in the 2000 U.S. presidential race resulted in George W. Bush winning the election undeservedly, and that such injustices must be avoided at all costs in the future. The stated purpose of Count Every Vote is to:

  • Require that all voting systems produce a paper record that can be verified by the individual voter and that would constitute the official record for any recount;
  • Require a mandatory recount of voter-verified paper records in 2 percent of all polling places or precincts in each state;
  • Set minimum standards for the number of voting systems and poll workers at each precinct, and require that every precinct have at least one machine that can provide audio and pictorial verification and that is accessible to language minority voters;
  • Establish new security standards for voting equipment manufacturers, including a ban on using undisclosed software and wireless communications devices in voting systems.

Count Every Vote would also “require states to allow ex-felons who have completed their prison, parole and probation terms to register and vote in federal elections.” Moreover, it would “allow voters to register and cast a ballot on election day; require states to provide in-person early voting opportunities before Election Day; prohibit states from demanding excuses from voters who request absentee ballots; give voters more options for proving their identity to election officials; [and] prohibit election officials from rejecting voter registration applications that are missing information which has no effect on the specific voter's eligibility.”

Along with hundreds of other leftwing organizations, 9 to 5 endorsed the National Organization for Women’s 1996 “Fight the Right” campaign, whose stated mission was to prevent “religious, political extremists” of “the radical right wing” from taking away the rights and liberties of Americans. Fight the Right’s chief concerns were to maintain race and gender preferences (a.k.a. “affirmative action”) in employment and education, and to affirm every woman’s right to taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand (a.k.a. “reproductive rights”). Fight the Right also impugned conservatives as being prone to racism, anti-immigrant hatred, homophobia, misogyny, and exploitation of the poor.

Viewing the U.S. as a nation infested with discrimination of every kind, 9 to 5 laments what it perceives as the anti-Muslim backlash that occurred after 9/11: “Since 9/11/2001, more than 3,000 people (mostly Arab, Muslim, and South Asian) have been detained, often without cause and without access to an attorney. Many were charged with only minor immigration violations and then brought in front of an immigration judge in secret trials. Many of them have been deported. Many of the families who have lost their loved ones have also lost needed income and were forced to return to their country of origin or send their children back. The targeting of these populations has also been evident in workplaces. . . . The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) has written, ‘Anger at those responsible for the tragic events of September 11th should not be misdirected against innocent individuals because of their religion, ethnicity or country of origin.’” 9 to 5 advises people seeking “information on immigrant rights, legal resources, and community support” to contact the following organizations: DRUM-Desis Rising Up and Moving; the ACLU Immigrant Rights Project, the Arab American Family Support Center, and the Islamic Circle of North America.

9 to 5 invites its members to participate in its “Speak Out” program, which provides women a forum in which they may publicize any negative experiences they have had in the workplace. “What we learn from you will help us make a case for the changes working women need,” says 9 to 5. “We are especially looking for stories to help make family-friendly policies more available to more working women. . . . Please share any job-related story, but especially if you:

  • Have been unable to take family leave because the reason you need time off (routine school or medical function) is not covered or if the person you need to care for is not including (sic) under FMLA [Family Medical Leave Act].
  • Needed time off to care for the routine illness of a child or self but had no paid sick leave and therefore faced both lost wages and possible discipline if you took the time
  • Are not covered by FMLA because you work for an employer with fewer than 50 workers, or because you don’t work enough hours for one employer
  • You are/were eligible for leave but couldn’t afford to take unpaid time off
  • You have been able to take family leave and what it meant for you.”

9 to 5 provides a Job Survival Hotline where women may call or email a “trained staff” about issues of concern to them – most commonly “sexual harassment, family leave, and pregnancy discrimination.” 9 to 5 reports that some 15,000 women make use of this hotline each year. To address some of these same issues in a written format, the organization produces such publications as:

  • Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment, whose message is consistent with 9 to 5’s efforts “to eliminate sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination in the workplace through its training programs and public policy initiatives.”
  • The Job Family Challenge: Not for Women Only, which offers “straight-talking guidance to everyone from managers and employees to union leaders and members and anyone--woman or man--being harassed.” (The socialist and former Sixties radical Barabara Ehrenreich calls this publication “the ultimate, clear, crisply packaged, state-of-the-art guide to survival on the job.”)
  • The 9 to 5 Newsline, a newsletter that is published five times per year and contains “information for today’s working women [pertaining to] discrimination, non-standard work, pay equity, family leave policies and more.”
  • What Do I Do if I’m Experiencing Race Discrimination?, a publication that gives women and minorities step-by-step instructions for filing discrimination lawsuits with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (9 to 5 also provides a referral service for complainants seeking an attorney to handle their case.)

Consistent with its strong bias in favor of big government and a bloated welfare state, 9 to 5 opposes welfare reform initiatives – in particular the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, which moved large numbers of people off the welfare rolls and into jobs. According to 9 to 5, the 1996 Act was emblematic of “punitive approaches to welfare” that ought to be avoided. This ideologically driven assessment is impervious to the rivers of empirical data demonstrating that the bill has been quite successful in helping the poor: After the bill was enacted, America’s welfare rolls declined by more than 50 percent, as millions of formerly dependent people were moved successfully into jobs where they were able to earn their own way instead of being the wards of American taxpayers. In 2000, the Clinton administration’s Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala stated, “After four years, we have strong evidence that welfare reform is working.” By May 2002, there were 2.3 million fewer children living in poverty than there had been in 1996.

A member of the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO), 9 to 5 shares the legislative agendas of its fellow NCWO members: expanded government regulations and restrictions on private businesses. For example, 9 to 5 supports the Fair Pay Act which would establish “comparable worth wage scales” to regulate worker wages. This Act is rooted in the premise that “[d]iscrimination in hiring and promotion has played a role in maintaining a segregated work force” and that, as a result, “[m]any women and people of color work in occupations dominated by individuals of their same sex, race, and national origin.” Noting that General Accounting Office analyses of wage rates in civil service jobs have found that women tend to be disproportionately in jobs that pay lower-than-average wages, the Fair Pay Act proposes the imposition of “a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production” – where third-party bureaucrats, and not the free market, would determine the relative values of various occupations.

To help disseminate its message of female exploitation, 9 to 5 has assembled a Speakers’ Bureau of several "Experts on Working Women's Issues", who not only give public presentations but also host "diversity training" workshops and seminars for corporate employees. Some of the topics addressed in these seminars are:

  • Stopping Sexual Harassment
  • How to Have a Job and a Life
  • Creating a Woman-Friendly Workplace
  • Don't Just Break the Glass Ceiling: Redesign the Building
  • Leadership Development: Building from the Bottom Up
  • Scrapping the Superwoman Syndrome
  • Internal Change in a Social Change Organization
  • Preparing for the Real World of Work
  • Confronting Internalized Oppression

Among the corporations to have made use of 9 to 5’s Speakers Bureau and training services are: Blue Cross/Blue Shield (Maryland); Colle & McVoy (Minnesota); Japan Airlines (New York); Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District (Wisconsin); Police Academy (Wisconsin); South Oaks Hospital (New York); The Atlanta Journal Constitution (Georgia); the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; the Kansas City Fire Department (Missouri); the United States Bureau of Prisons (Georgia); and Winnebago Bingo and Casino Halls (Wisconsin).

To fund its many organizational activities and projects,
9 to 5 solicits private donations from its members and the general public. Membership in 9 to 5 costs $25 per year for an individual. The Capital Research Center reports that in the years 1998, 1999, and 2000, 9 to 5’s respective annual revenues were $779,046; $457,908; and $894,684. As of 2000, the group’s net assets totaled $837,147. Foundation donors in recent years have included the Ford Foundation ($600,000 between 1997-2000); the Ms. Foundation for Women ($73,000 between 1998-2000); the David and Lucile Packard Foundation ($35,000 in 2000); and the Rockefeller Family Fund ($70,000 between 1996 and 2000).

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