Friday, June 3, 2011

Learning to Fight Back

As a member of 9to5 Atlanta I have learned a variety of skills including how to organize, research, and fight for my rights and also how to engage in advocacy lobbying. When my landlord refused to respond to my request to bring the housing I was staying in up to code I was forced to use the skills and knowledge I acquired from attending 9to5 trainings and workshops.

Citizens of every community have the right to fair, safe and sanitary housing. Some owners of rental properties in low-income neighborhoods are providing sub-standard housing conditions and neglecting sometimes numerous housing code violations. It seems they think that a tenant will not complain or exercise their legal rights due to his or her current financial situation.

My personal experience was a housing code violation of standing sewage on the outside of the property. The owner continues to ignore the problem. I decided to take action and organize. I contacted the neighborhood association, city code enforcement, the county health department and eventually the city council.

Pending multiple violations and legal notices, the owner fixed the problem and we settled the issue out of court.  A retaliatory eviction is when an owner evicts a tenant who has exercised his or her legal rights; this is an unlawful eviction.  Many tenants feel as though they have to subject themselves to these unsafe conditions for fear of reprisal. There are powerful resources to help those whose rights have been violated. Landlord tenant laws protect both parties.  I will continue to use the knowledge and trainings I gained from 9to5 to fight for my rights.

-Rochelle Payton, 9to5 Atlanta member

9to5 Atlanta Forms Flexible Sick Days Committee

The 9to5 Flexible Sick Days Committee will focus its efforts on passing Georgia House Bill 432, the Georgia Flexible Sick Days Act. This bill will allow workers to use existing employer-provided sick days for the illness of immediate family members as well as their own.

The committee, made up of 9to5 members, decided that they will focus on reaching out to small-business owners, both finding business owners who already have flexible sick day policies in place and educating those that don’t about the positive effects of flexible policies like that outlined in HB 432.

Nationwide, only 30 percent of workers with paid sick days can use that time to care for sick children.  For those workers who can’t use sick days to care for family members, a sick child creates a crisis, often forcing a parent to send their child to school while ill or lie to their employer about why they need time off.  Sending children to school even when they’re ill also negatively impacts public health, and often increases the amount of time it takes a sick child to recover.

The next meeting of the Flexible Sick Days Committee will be Tuesday, June 6.  If you are interested in becoming a member of the committee, please contact Charmaine Davis at or 404-222-0037.

Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Journal Constitution

Thursday, May 19, 2011

"Aqui Estamos y No Nos Vamos!"

Aqui estamos y no nos vamos!” “We are here and we’re not going!” chanted a crowd of more than 100 community members in front of the Georgia Capitol today, as Governor Deal signed Georgia’s racist and discriminatory immigration bill, HB 87 into law.

“Like an Arizona enacted last year, Georgia’s House Bill 87 will empower police to question certain suspects about their immigration status," said Paulina Hernandez, of the group SomosGeorgia. "It will also allow police to stop any person they suspect of being undocumented and ask for their citizenship papers.  It will mandate that employers with more than 10 employees to use the very flawed E-Verify employment verification system, which will raise flags for anyone based on name or gender identity.  Many other insidious provisions will also impact all Georgians, including criminalizing anyone helping to transport an undocumented person, or 'suspected' of being an undocumented person.”

While Atlanta’s Latino community and their allies maintained a presence outside the Capitol, approximately 20 people marched into the capitol and asked to be present for the signing of the bill.  When they were told no, they stayed in the Capitol, outside of the Governor's office, chanting “Shame on you” and “Undocumented and unafraid” until they were ordered to leave the building.

9to5 National Association of Working Women opposes racist legislation like HB 87 and sees it as an insult to Georgia’s legacy in the civil rights movement.  As an organization committed to organizing for economic justice, 9to5 views HB 87 as an attack on all people’s ability to live, work and raise our families with dignity, respect and justice.

In response to Governor Deal signing HB 87 into law, People’s Assemblies are being planned to strategize safety plans, sanctuary zones and other community measures.  9to5 will join with other organizations, communities and individuals to fight HB 87 and create a more just world.

-Vanessa Faraj, 9to5 Fair Eats Organizer, and Jayne Mariotti, 9to5 Jesuit Volunteer

ALC Policy Day

Our Annual Leadership Conference (ALC) was a huge success! The conference, held April 29th through May 2nd in Washington D.C., was an opportunity to learn and share skills; organize working women for economic justice; and meet with the administration and elected officials about our working women’s agenda. From our Atlanta Chapter we were able to have 7 staff members and 5 chapter members attend.

On Monday May 2nd we held our ALC policy day. For the first half of the day, we held meetings with the Department of Labor (DOL) and Health and Human Services (HHS). The purpose of these meetings was to allow our voices to be heard. We were able to share with members of these organizations what was really happening with programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and food stamps. We shared real-life challenges and, with follow up, hope that these issues will not only be heard, but also acted upon.  For the second half of the day, we were able to meet with representatives from the offices of Senator Saxby Chambliss, Senator Johnny Isakson, Representative Hank Johnson, Representative John Lewis and Representative David Scott. The Healthy Families Act, Wages Act, Equal Pay Act and TANF were issues we focused on presenting to these individuals. These meetings turned out to be very successful.

ALC 2012 is just around the corner!

Photo: ALC participants at the Department of Labor

Fair Employment Practices Bill Introduced in Georgia House

Just two weeks before the end of the first half of Georgia’s 2011-2012 legislative session Rep. Karla Drenner introduced House Bill 630, the Georgia Fair Employment Practices Act.  This legislation would protect public employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and sexual identity.  HB 630 was introduced with wide support across the political spectrum; the bill has 70 cosponsors, of which 57 are Democrats, 12 are Republicans, and one is Independent. 

Rep. Drenner said that everyone benefits from anti-discrimination bills: “Treating LGBT employees fairly is simply better for business. The Georgia Fair Employment Practices legislation would also ensure that Georgia State Colleges and Universities are competitive with major research institutions in attracting and retaining the best and brightest researchers, students and administrators to study, work and develop new products, industries and jobs in Georgia.”

The expansion of anti-discrimination measures to protect sexual orientation and gender identity is supported by 76% of Georgia voters.  If HB 630 is passed, Georgia will become the first southern state to implement protections for public employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

We encourage all members of 9to5 Atlanta to contact their representative and encourage them to work for the passage of HB 630, or to thank them for their support of the employment rights of LBGT Georgians.
For more information, please visit Georgia Equality’s website.

"I am an Ex-Offender, a Woman of Color, Living in Poverty."

On April 2, 9to5 co-sponsored a “speak out” with Jobs with Justice. Marilynn Winn, a member of 9to5, spoke at the event. Here are her words:

“My name is Marilynn Winn. I was born in 1951 at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta GA. I was born into poverty; my mother cleaned other people’s homes for minimum wage to support us. She still cleans homes for the same wages today.

"Society calls me an ex-offender. For those of us who are seeking employment to better ourselves we are not ex-offenders, we are reformed citizens of the state of Georgia. It was very hard for me to obtain any kind of employment, if I told the truth about my background. I was recommended to a temp staffing service that hires ex-offenders. To my surprise, when I arrived I had to not only be an ex-offender but also homeless in order to receive assistance. Since I didn’t meet their requirements, they didn’t want to help. I was determined to get employment. I sincerely wanted a change from a life of crime. I stressed my problem to the company over and over and finally they said they would give me a chance. Through this temp staffing service, I worked for a wealthy company that did not hire ex-offenders. I have been employed there for 3 years. I am considered a regular. I work everyday and am often called in to replace other employees who are absent. The company manager calls me, not the temp agency. I report to work like the company’s employees do. The difference is, I cannot make overtime, I have no benefits. Company employees receive both overtime and benefits and while I make $7.25/hr they earn $10-$12/hr.

"I am an ex-offender, a woman of color, living in poverty. Being any one of these titles I mentioned, I automatically face all types of discrimination; jobs, housing, etc. I have to accept what I can get. I survive by working any and every job I am asked to.

"My message to you, to the country, to the world, is society needs to stop putting us down and help us up. Give us a chance. Someone gave them a chance. For ex-offenders, we did the crime, we have served our time. We shouldn’t be given a chance to go back into society with jobs, education, housing and benefits. If you don’t give ex-offenders a chance you won't allow them to stop committing crimes and the cycle will continue."

Photo: Ms. Marilynn Winn with Georgia State Senator Nan Orrock

Monday, March 28, 2011

Still More History to Be Made

Sometimes as an organizer for 9to5 I’m asked, “Is the work you do really necessary? It's 2011, are working conditions still really that bad for women?”  My answer is always emphatically YES! Yes, women are obtaining more degrees than men at virtually every level of education; yes, in 1993 we were able to pass the Family and Medical Leave Act; and yes, because of the tenacious organizing efforts of women we have been able to decrease pregnancy discrimination and gender-based discrimination in the workplace. We at 9to5 celebrate all of these accomplishments, especially during Women’s History Month, but there is still so much more work that needs to be done.

Women still make approximately 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. For women of color that wage gap is even greater! In the United States, the average African American woman working full-time is paid $30,000 a year, while a white male with similar experience and educational background makes $50,767. That’s a wage gap of approximately $20,000 a year. For Latino women the gap is closer to $25,000 a year. In 2011 many working mothers still don’t have access to a single paid sick day, and only 1 in 5 low wage workers have access to paid sick days on their jobs.  So although we’ve come a long way and we rejoice over our accomplishments during Women’s History Month, we are aware of the history that still needs to be made. We are prepared to make it!

-Charmaine Davis, 9to5 Atlanta Lead Organizer

One More Step on the Long Road to a Good Law

Last Thursday afternoon, when I was already contemplating what to do on my Friday off, my supervisor returned from a meeting at the Capitol and said, “We have a hearing.”  She didn’t need to say anything else; I knew right away she meant that the bill 9to5 has been championing this legislative session, HB 432, was one step closer to becoming law.  

HB 432, the Georgia Flexible Sick Days Act, states that if an employer provides sick days, their employees must be able to use that leave to care for either themselves or an immediate family member.  Because it will provide parents and caregivers more flexibility to care for their families, 9to5 and the Georgia Job/Family Collaborative strongly support this legislation.

After a bill is introduced, it’s assigned to a committee based on its subject matter.  For a bill to be voted on by the entire House or Senate, it first has to be voted out of committee.  But most proposed legislation doesn’t get that far; many bills aren’t even given a hearing.  To get a hearing, you have to have the support of the committee chair.  The chair holds the power to move your proposal forward or just ignore it until the end of the session.  If he or she schedules a hearing, it’s a good sign!

At our hearing in the Industrial Relations Committee, three Representatives presented their bills.  Diiscussion on the bill preceding HB 432 only lasted about fifteen minutes, but it felt like it dragged on and on.  Then Chairman Hembree asked Rep. Dempsey to come to the podium and explain why she thought this legislation was necessary and what it would do.  The members of the committee asked questions, and any interested parties were invited to speak on the bill.  Four speakers came forward, all testifying in favor of HB 432.  Finally, Chairman Hembree told Rep. Dempsey that he would work with her between now and the start of the next legislative session to improve the bill.

I was proud to hear members of the committee acknowledge Rep. Dempsey’s hard work and express their support for the bill.  It was satisfying to hear that HB 432 would move forward in the process of becoming law, even though it’s going to take a while.  But thanks to the support of 9to5 and other hard-working organizations in the Georgia JobFamily Collaborative, in a few years parents might be able to stay home with their sick child without fearing for their jobs; and that’s the best feeling there is.

Beth Miller, 9to5 Atlanta Volunteer

For more information on the Georgia Job/Family Collaborative and HB 432, go to

(Originally posted 3/16/2011)