Thursday, July 17, 2014

New edition of The Nation's The Curve: The Supreme Court's economic war on women

For the latest edition of The Curve, Sarah Jaffe, Sheila Bapat, and I look at recent Supreme Court decisions in which the Court expanded its economic war on women: Hobby Lobby, McCullen, and Harris. In my piece, I write about the Harris v. Quinn decision, which invented out of wholecloth a separate-but-unequal class of worker known as the "partial public" employee, and then granted this type of worker far weaker union protections.

I focus on an aspect of the decision that has not attracted nearly the attention it warrants: its blatant sexism. I wrote, "With its decision in Harris v. Quinn, not only did the Court target this largely female workforce [of home care workers], but it also undermined broader feminist goals. In granting a second-class legal status to labor that is performed in the home, the Court reinforced patriarchal norms that devalue domestic work and care work. It also attacked the larger feminist project of advancing women’s economic equality by recognizing care as work and insisting that our society compensate female workers fairly."

The other major point I make in my piece is that the Court is hardly likely to stop here. Though they have shrewdly and carefully tailored this ruling to just one group of vulnerable workers (home care workers, who are overwhelmingly low-income women of color), the Roberts Court, as the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin has noted, often decides a case in a relatively narrow way, then uses that ruling as a precedent for far more sweeping decisions. Clever bunch, these boys are. Next time, they'll be coming after public sector unions more broadly -- make no mistake. And after that, who knows?


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