On International Women's Day, Lawmakers And Advocates Urge Passing Of Equity Bills

Sandra Gomez-Aceves
Contact Reportersgomezaceves@courant.com

On International Women’s Day, as Connecticut legislators heard pleas for the passing of several bills related to women’s equality, Sally Grossman quietly entertained her 1-year-old daughter Sadie in the corner of Room 1D. It’d be hours before she would testify in favor of a bill.

Sadie had been at a public hearing on an earned family and medical leave bill before, but last time she was far less mobile — Grossman testified in support of a similar bill days before Sadie was born last year.

“I thought she should come back with me this year,” said Grossman, a Windsor mom of two and the owner of a painting business.

Grossman was listed as witness No. 16 on the public testimony list. She’d signed up at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, the day after a nor’easter dropped more than a foot of snow in places. At 6 p.m., three and a half hours into the public hearing, only five of the nearly 60 people who signed up to speak had been called.

“I would stay here until 3 o’clock in the morning if it meant they hear my story,” Grossman said. “It’s important they hear from regular people who these laws will affect.”

Seven bills were heard during the labor and public employees committee.

The bills, often overlapping, targeted earned family and medical leave, equal pay for equal work, harassment in the workplace and increasing the minimum wage.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who in his State of the State last month emphasized “Connecticut Fairness,” called for the support of three proposals that particularly focus on fairness in the workplace.

It was her first time in the state Capitol but 16-year-old Grace Evans sat in front of the committee with the microphone on and her testimonial in hand.

The junior at Conard High School in West Hartford was part of the group supporting equal pay — not just because of her gender but also because of her skin color. “The earliest lesson I ever learned from my parents was to expect less,” Evans said. “Expect less because I am black, expect less because I am female.”

Supporters of the bill pointed to studies that said woman make 80 cents for every dollar a man makes and that the wage gap is significantly wider for women of color.

Sen. Gary Winfield’s twins were in the neonatal intensive care unit less than a month ago when they were born six weeks premature.

“My son wouldn’t eat unless I fed him,” Winfield testified with tears in his eyes. “This issue is about getting to spend time with people in your life who are important.

“This is not just a women's issue,” he added, “this is all of our issue.”

Lawmakers last year could not agree on a family and medical leave bill. This year’s proposed bill offers up to 12 weeks of family leave.

Under the proposal, the Labor Department would collect a half of a percent of employee earnings to cover the program, which would pay a maximum of $1,000 a week.

The Connecticut Business & Industry Association said the program “is not mathematically maintainable.”

Eric Gjede, counsel with CBIA, said that an employee making $52,000 a year would only contribute 0.5 percent of their paycheck, or about $260 a year.

“It would take 46 people contributing for every one [person] who gets the benefits,” he said. Additionally the Labor Department, which would have to manage the compensation accounts, would need more personnel to handle the workload, he said.

The bill also suggests the Labor Department could lower the payouts or amount of weeks for which employees are eligible should the insurance program lack the funds.

“We’re telling [employees] to pay into something and that the payout they are expected to receive could fluctuate and be one amount or be a lot less than that,” Gjede said.

Sally Grossman, the mom who was still waiting for her three-minute testimony 10 hours after arriving at the state Capitol, is a self-employed painting contractor.

“I’m a small-business owner so I don’t get access to any sort of paid leave,” Grossman said.

During her first pregnancy five years ago, Grossman went into preterm labor and was put on bed rest for nine weeks, the remainder of her term.

Grossman had to return to work while still healing from the birth because she and her partner were struggling to make ends meet.

When Sadie came along, Grossman was so frightened of going through the same hardship that she worked six or seven days a week in order to save money and prepare.

“This bill is important because it allows someone like me to opt in to some sort of paid leave,” Grossman said.

“Let’s be honest,” she added, “Connecticut can do better. We shouldn’t have women choosing between feeding their kids or healing from childbirth.”

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