Workplace Policies Can Help Working Mothers ‘Have It All’ By Not ‘Losing It All’

Our guest blogger is Kimberly Ortiz, an organizer for the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union and a member of the Retail Action Project.

Two years ago, I sat in the ER with my two-year-old Aiden, who had a double ear infection. Though I’d been working as a manager at the Statue of Liberty gift shop for five years, we didn’t have health insurance, I only made $9.25 an hour, and I didn’t get a single paid sick day. Knowing I wasn’t “allowed” to be sick or have a sick child, I called my boss in a panic. I was told she couldn’t guarantee there would be no repercussions.

Aiden was sick for four days, crying in pain as his fever raged on. Back at work I was written up and “cautioned” even after submitting doctor’s notes. Those four days were all unpaid, so I had to borrow money from friends, family, and neighbors for diapers and food. As long as we have basic necessities, I know how to make do with nothing else.

Balancing childcare, rent, chronic conditions, and my job as a single mother living in the Bronx can be nearly impossible. As Ellen Bravo wrote in response to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “Why Women Can’t Have it All,” I worried about losing it all, not ‘having it all.’ While I identify with Ms. Slaughter’s insanely busy days, I disagree with her statement that “We may need to put a woman in the White House before we are able to change the conditions of the women working at Walmart.” I’m newer to the world of the politics of work-life balance, but I know that we can’t just rely on our elected officials to change the lives of women like me. Low-wage women workers need to have a greater voice in the conversation. There are far more women working hourly jobs facing issues of limited advancement than “top women leaders” like Anne Marie Slaughter. And we’re less worried about “having it all” than in achieving a job and schedule that can sustain a family. By providing sick leave, paid family leave, protections so caregivers have opportunities to advance, and scheduling with enough notice to arrange childcare, and by requiring part-time parity in health insurance benefits, we can prevent working caregivers from feeling like we could lose it all at any time. This Mother’s day, I found myself speaking on a Senate Congressional panel about my experiences and these solutions, because I’m committed to getting what I deserve for my children and other women like me. And I couldn’t have felt like a better mom.