UPDATED 3/26/2018: Earlier this month, the Feminist Action Collective issued a statement that called out the callous statements of City Councilor Jay Fosle and centered women as a class particularly disenfranchised by the workforce whose lives would be improved by the Earned Sick and Safe Time mandate. In doing so, we quoted common statistics that routinely erase the experience of trans and non-binary individuals from discussions of the wage gap and workplace discrimination. We also, unfortunately, engaged in this erasure and reinscribed the gender binary in our own statement. We have revised and updated the statement to correct our oversight. We are grateful for our friends who hold us accountable in our sincere and ongoing efforts to be more inclusive.
A primary mission of the Feminist Action Collective is to combat everyday sexism. In support of that mission, several FAC members were in attendance at the March 12, 2018 Duluth City Council meeting to hear the first reading of the proposed Earned Sick and Safe Time (ESST) ordinance. We witnessed many of our community members and neighbors speak with conviction and passion about the importance of and need for this ordinance, which will offer respect, dignity, and resources for workers in Duluth.
Among those with the courage to speak was a woman who offered her own very personal account of how her life was tragically affected by lack of access to Earned Sick and Safe Time. Her willingness to tell her story put her in a public arena talking about extremely vulnerable topics. It was important for her to speak out about the consequences to her pregnancy of the inability to take time off. The choice of her pregnancy, the choice to work, etc., were indeed her choices. But the fact that anyone would be contorted into a position in which those choices are intractably restricted to either losing the income that provides them access to food and shelter, or endangering their health (or the viability of their pregnancies) is in itself proof of the need for this ordinance. Those are not real choices.
In response to this woman’s heartfelt and wrenching story, City Councilor Jay Fosle responded with a degree of ignorance and callousness unprecedented for someone sitting in any public meeting, let alone sitting as a representative for the city of Duluth. His response, effectively, ‘you got what you got because you made bad choices,’ utterly omitted both basic human compassion, and the most rudimentary understanding of the point she was making: without protections, without a strong Earned Sick and Safe Time ordinance, there is no choice.
Fosle’s comments ignited a firestorm of criticism on the topic, which ultimately galvanized into a barrage of criticism, insults, and finally, personal attacks against the woman whose testimony was so compelling. Fosle’s irresponsibility in such a delicate and crucial conversation is a resounding demonstration of what his leadership lacks. His cavalier comments have put a woman in danger. This is not leadership.
Last, while Fosle used his speaking time at the end of the council meeting to shame this community member by questioning her life choices, he avoided any real comment on the actual topic at hand, misusing city time to address a citizen’s personal life instead of the topic being discussed. One can guess how he feels about the ordinance, but you certainly wouldn’t know for sure, as he failed to address either positive or negative implications of it at all. As a city councilor, his actions were unacceptable and disgraceful.
We need to be listening to individual stories. We should be thinking about pregnancy and other health issues. And sick kids. And work environments. Along with all of the permutations of experience belonging to all those who are disadvantaged by the current state of our workforce. Existing research shows that Earned Sick and Safe Time is an issue that disproportionately affects women- particularly women with children. In a nation increasingly dependent on women’s wages, this is not an issue to be shirked or belittled. As more than half the workforce, women are increasingly breadwinners. Yet somehow, 39% of US women say they must miss work when a child is sick, and mind-boggling, 60% of those women are not paid to take that time off. Consider this in tandem with another important fact: all women make fractions of the same dollars men make. White women make 79 cents on the male dollar, African American women make 65 cents, Indigenous women, 57 cents, and Latina women make 56 cents on the same. For trans and non-binary folks, wage and workplace statistics are sparse, often because they are not factored into the discussions at all. Still, statistics have shown that trans and gender non-conforming individuals can be four times as likely to earn annual salaries less than $10,000, their existing salaries drop precipitously once they begin to identify or transition at work, and there are no federal legal workplace protections based on gender identity, which leads to higher rates of discrimination in hiring, firing, and wages among trans and non-binary folks.
It begs the question: how much choice do vulnerable individuals really have?
Our City Councilors stand for us all, to represent and uphold the best interests of everyone in our communities. Fosle’s inappropriate comments make it clear that he is not up to the task, further evidenced by his unwillingness to apologize, even with the knowledge that his tactlessness put a citizen at risk. We expect our elected officials to respect each citizen, even (and especially) in disagreement.
For these reasons, the Feminist Action Collective is asking Mayor Larson and members of the Duluth City Council to officially censure Councilor Fosle, publicly rejecting his mistreatment of this citizen, averring their commitment to and support of citizen participation and inclusion in this process, and demonstrating the responsible leadership Fosle has distorted.
The Feminist Action Collective, Twin Ports