Rep. Donna Edwards spoke at a community forum Jan. 9 that addressed economic disparities for women and working families. (Photo by Melanie Duncan)

Women in Maryland currently face gender-based pay disparities, erratic work schedules and lost wages due to unpaid sick leave. This negatively impacts thousands of families across the state, according to research collected by Maryland Working Families.

Striving for a solution, Maryland Working Families, an independent political organization is pushing forward with the Women’s Economic Security Agenda. The organization presented the agenda to county residents during a community forum on Jan. 9. The agenda is a package of state-wide bills that seek to promote financial stability for working families in the form of fair pay, fair scheduling, earned sick leave, and paid family and medical leave.

“It’s up to the policymakers to do the right thing when it comes to working families,” said U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), the event’s keynote speaker. “We know that when you invest in women, you invest in the communities. It’s going to take a mass movement all across our state so that we can do the right thing for working families.”

Women in Maryland earn an average of 86 cents per every dollar that men, in similar jobs, make, according to Andrea Johnson from the National Women’s Law Center. Black women earn 70 cents, while Latina women make 47 cents for comparable work, she said.

The agenda promotes “Equal Pay for Equal Work” legislation to close the wage gap between men and women by ensuring that employers cannot pay disparate wages or provide unfavorable employment opportunities based on gender. The legislation will also prohibit employers from retaliating against employees for sharing their salary information.

Tracey Hartman with Working Matters Coalition said that 720,000 employees in Maryland are unable to earn sick leave. Furthermore, at least half of the state’s full-time workers make less than $35,000 a year and cannot earn sick leave, many of which are women. The Healthy Working Families Act will allow workers to earn up to seven paid sick days a year. “Everybody deserves to be able to recover from getting sick without fear,” she said.

The Fair Scheduling Act will mandate that employers provide workers with their schedule at least three weeks in advance so families can better plan for childcare, continuing education, or secure a second job. This would eliminate on-call shifts with no guarantee of work or pay, cancelled shifts without pay, or sending workers home early without compensation. “At the end of the day it’s women who are suffering because we are the caregivers,” Maryland Delegate Ariana Kelly (D-Montgomery) said. “We have a lot of work to do in terms of moving forward bills that impact women. We have a very traditional legislature.”

House of Delegates Economic Matters Committee Chair Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s) said that Maryland is actually one of the better states when it comes to economic gender equality and that Prince George’s County does not currently have wage disparities between men and women. However, he urged forum attendees to go to Annapolis to meet with their elected officials to make the agenda become law. “We need your help,” Davis said, echoing the words of District 24 Sen. JoAnne Benson (D), former District 25 Del. Aisha Braveboy (D), and current District 25 Del. Angela Angel (D), who hosted the event.