Mayor, labor secretary listen as Atlanta women call for pay equity, paid leave and affordable child care

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms hosted a roundtable to hear the concerns of women in the workforce.

Emil Moffatt/WABE News

As companies in Metro Atlanta and across the country struggle to find workers, community organizers say the federal government should do more to help women re-join the workforce.

Several groups had an opportunity Wednesday to share their concerns with Atlanta’s mayor and the head of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Erica Clemmons-Dean is with United For Respect, a group that advocates for retail workers. She says women need paid leave to deal with unexpected health crises, equal pay and help to afford childcare, which she says is often costing families more than they actually make.

“In the conversations that we’ve been having, they can’t afford to go back to work. It doesn’t make sense to go back to work and make $150 for that week and your child care is $175,” said Clemmons-Dean.

Stats show the pandemic and economic slowdown has disproportionately affected women, particularly those with young children.

Lisa Brooks also struggled to find affordable child care and was a stay-at-home mother until she entered a local apprenticeship program called Georgia Trade-Up. There, she got the training to become a painter and has since been elected as the first Black woman president of Atlanta Painters Local 193.

“Had I known about the ability to get into construction when I was 20, I would have done that, but construction is a male-dominated field and I didn’t think there was a place for me,” said Brooks.

Clemmons-Dean, Brooks and others spoke at a roundtable Wednesday with Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, who continues to try and drum up support for President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending plan that attempts to address some of these concerns.

“Every time the investments are made, they aren’t equally attributed across the board, this has to be different this time,” said Walsh.

U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh listens to concerns of Atlanta women at a roundtable hosted by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)

The former Boston mayor says the pandemic has provided another opportunity for investment.

“The federal government needs to support cities all across America,” said Walsh. “Atlanta is one of those important cities in our country that we need to support.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms hosted the roundtable with Walsh. She says the struggle of many women in Atlanta – and Black women in particular, pre-dates the pandemic.

“To hear from the women today, to get that information directly to him, is what we need to make sure that our concerns are addressed,” said Bottoms. “And now we need Congress to act.”

While the smaller $1.9 trillion dollar infrastructure package has bipartisan support in Washington, Republicans and even some key Democrats oppose the larger measure.