When Rush Limbaugh enraged women across the country with his hate-filled rants on birth control, calling one college student a "slut," the "war on women" took on mass proportions. Advertisers began to drop from Limbaugh's show en masse. Musicians, like Tom Morello, insisted Limbaugh cease using their music. Celebrities and politicians (Democrats) took to the airwaves to condemn the war on women. MoveOn.org initiated a campaign to stop the war, outlining the "Top 10 shocking attacks from the GOP's war on women, " including changing the definition of rape, cuts to public nutritional and educational programs for women and children, and of course the Republican's favorite target: abortion.
This war on women has significantly hurt them in the polls. Presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney is down by double digits to President Barack Obama among women voters.
Attempting to turn that around, Republicans are focusing on women and the economy, an issue seen as Obama's main vulnerability among voters. Romney claimed that more than 90% of the jobs lost since the president was elected were jobs held by women - a claim that was mostly false, according to PolitiFact.com.
Yet, there are disturbing trends regarding war on women and the workplace.
The currently ultra-conservative Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in March that has a negative impact on the rights of women, more specifically "pregnant workers." In the Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland case, the five said state workers do not have a right to enforce a "self-care" provision of the Family and Medical Leave Act (giving workers time off to care for their own serious health conditions, including pregnancy and childbirth) by suing their government employers.
The American Civil Liberties Union said the decision "effectively stripped many public employees - the majority of whom are women - of the right to job protection when they need to take time off while pregnant."
For the last two years, since the Republican victories in 2010, public workers, especially teachers, have been under fierce attack legislatively and vilified in the media.
Here in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel seems bent on vilifying teachers and pushing through a political agenda of an unfunded longer school day, about which parents have expressed deep concern. However, the fiercest attacks on teachers and other public workers - and therefore women - have come from Republican governors, most notably in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan.
The anti-woman content on these attacks on public sector workers and their unions have not been lost on women. Oxford University graduate student Alyssa Battistoni writes in her paper, "The Dirty Secret of Public Sector Union Busting," that "amid all the rightful outrage over Governor Scott Walker's proposal to do away with collective bargaining rights for public sector unions in Wisconsin one important point has been neglected: The demise of public sector unions would be most detrimental to women and African Americans who make up a disproportionate share of the public sector workforce."
Private sector industries with a predominant female workforce, such as hotel and hospitality, face special problems that many see as part of the war on women. The ongoing battles at the Hyatt, for example, have been characterized in that way. Looking to downsize its workforce and slash wages to protect their profit margin, Hyatt started the campaign targeting housekeepers, a job held mostly by women. Management fired about 100 housekeepers in the Boston-area several years ago and hired replacements (who the fired staff had trained) at half the wages!
They fired two sisters in Santa Clara, California, both 30-year veterans, because the women objected to a demeaning company bulletin board display of their heads superimposed over bikini-clad female bodies.
In San Francisco the Grand Hyatt threatened to fire a woman who could not return to work three days after a delivery by Caesarian section.
In Chicago, Hyatt cook Sonia Ordonez was fired for a minor infraction, after she had spoken out on continuing mistreatment by management. Ordonez says she's not the first woman at Hyatt to be terminated or disciplined after speaking out.
"I need this job, but I've come too far to take abuse from anyone. That's why I have raised my voice," she said in an email.
Because of this pattern, the National Organization for Women, the Feminist Majority and other groups have decided to show solidarity with the union women at the Hyatt hotels with a "Clothesline Project." The clotheslines outside the hotels bear messages and stories of the struggles women face at work.
One bright spot is the passage of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed into law by President Obama. The law was necessary because the Supreme Court, again, severely restricted a woman's right to sue for pay discrimination. Notably, when asked if he supported the pay equity law, Romney refused to answer.
Republicans and ultra-conservatives, women say, are leading the war on women. It extends to the workplace, and is multi-dimensional with political, economic and legal aspects.
Photo: John Bachtell/PW