Working women air problems of child care, pay, health care

Lieutenant governor, AFL-CIO president hear their complaints

Legislation pushed


May 25, 1999|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

Trying to juggle a full-time job that often requires overtime and two kids and housework, sometimes Chanel Morris is so tired that when she reads to her sons she falls asleep before hitting the "the" in "Winnie the Pooh."

Morris was one of eight women who met yesterday with AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and other labor officials to discuss issues facing working women.

Topics raised included better and more affordable child care, better health care coverage, job flexibility and equal pay. A 1996 study by the AFL-CIO found that women are paid 76 cents for every dollar earned by men, and the union group is pushing legislation, introduced last month by Sen. Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, that would strengthen women's ability to sue employers over unequal pay.

Morris, 30, typically leaves her job as a Bell Atlantic Corp. repair clerk at 4: 25 p.m. then rides the bus for 15 to 20 minutes to pick up her sons, Sean, 7, and Charles, 6, at school by 5 p.m. when day care closes.

But Morris is frequently required to stay on the job until 5: 30 -- and she has to persuade a supervisor to bend the rules and allow her to use the phone to arrange for someone to pick up her children. Sometimes her husband, Charles, is able to leave his job as a barber and pick them up, and sometimes Morris' mother is available, but it's a gamble.

"I really have to hustle," she said.

She likes her job, but wishes the company would offer day care at the job site or nearby so she could spend more time with her children.

"My kids used to say I was the greatest mom in the world," she said, "but now they say, `You're OK,' and it breaks my heart."

Another worker, Janet Hale, said she's had to quit many jobs to take care of her three children. She said employers and co-workers are frequently not accommodating when she needs time off to take a child to a doctor's appointment. Even making the appointment poses challenges.

Hale, who works in telemarketing, has to complete all her personal calls during a 15-minute break. She's often left on hold the entire time and isn't able to arrange the appointments she needs.

Her problem struck a chord with Townsend, who said she hadn't thought of the issue before, because she is free to make calls whenever she wants. After the meeting at the Baltimore Teachers Union headquarters, Townsend suggested that the state look into the matter of regulating how long people are kept on hold.

"Good companies that don't have a monopoly are not going to keep you on hold, so where will you see it? With government agencies, or by people who know you don't have a choice, and they are usually regulated by the government," she said.

Townsend said that although the Glendening administration has increased spending for after-school programs by eightfold, much of the focus has been on middle-school students. She said more attention should be paid to younger children.

"It's not easy to open up and share your own personal problems that affect your responsibilities as parents and workers and we really appreciate it," Sweeney told the women. "These are issues we are hearing all across the country, and it helps us develop an agenda that addresses these issues."

Pub Date: 5/25/99

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