When I started work at Gender Justice, a non-profit law firm dedicated to combating gender discrimination, I came in as the organization was riding a policy advocacy high. The Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA) had just passed in the legislature, and Governor Dayton had signed it into law on Mother’s Day, May 11, 2014.
Ever since the House indicated its intent to pass an economic justice package for women in the year 2014, Gender Justice was at the forefront of a coalition of women’s organizations working to make a change that could make Minnesota a leader in economic equality. The coalition synthesized decades of research and a mountain of ideas into a package of laws that aimed to broaden economic protection, and economic opportunity, for all women. Some of the provisions of WESA include:
• Raising the minimum wage to $9.50/hour by 2016
• Requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations (such as periods of sitting,
• Requiring employers to allow nursing mothers to take breaks to express milk
• Rewarding employers who recruit, prepare, place, and retain women in non-traditional limits to heavy lifting, food and water) for pregnant employees occupations and apprenticeships, especially low income and older women
• Requiring large state contractors to attest that its male and female workers receive equal
• Protecting an employee’s right to share his or her wage information with co-workers
• Expanding protections for employees with caregiver obligations
• Permitting employees to use accrued sick leave for safety leave associated with sexual pay for equal work assault, domestic violence, or stalking
WESA was a tremendous success, passing by a generous margin after a vigorous fight in committees. But after the Mother’s Day photo op on the steps of the Capitol, there was plenty of work yet to be done. Gender Justice wanted to be a part of the implementation of WESA as well.
A law is only as successful as its implementation, so policy advocacy cannot end when the bill becomes law. Gender Justice made itself a resource for the community, and especially for employers, who were responsible for bringing the protections of WESA to their employees. And by observing the implementation process, Gender Justice learned more about the way the legislature shapes real lives, making it a better advocacy organization in the process.
As a part of my work at Gender Justice, I fielded questions from employers striving to correctly incorporate WESA into their policies and practices. Employers asked questions like, “I have only nine Minnesota employees, am I subject to any WESA provisions?” and “How does leave under the Minnesota Parental Leave Act interact with leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act?” Using the resources provided by state offices like the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, I helped usher these employers towards effective application of the new laws. I began to see WESA as a long-term cooperation of government agencies, employers, and advocacy groups, rather than a discrete event that occurred on Mother’s Day of this year. And I have Gender Justice to thank for a deeper understanding of the legislative process and what follows it.
For more about the WESA campaign, visit http://www.mnwesa.org
For more about Gender Justice, visit http://www.genderjustice.us
The views expressed in this article represent those of the author and not necessarily those of the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center. As a forum for dialogue and education, and an acknowledgment of the contentious nature of human rights issues, some views expressed on this blog may not necessarily be those of the Human Rights Center as an institution.