Latina Women Are Leading Their Fight for Equal Pay

For working Latinas, it takes us almost twice as long—two years—to be compensated what a white, non-Hispanic male worker is paid in just one year.

Actors (left to right) Diana Maria Riva, Angelique Cabral, Lizza Monet Morales and Constance Marie join members and supporters of SAG-AFTRA and WGA on the picket line at Fox Studios on Aug. 11, 2023 in Los Angeles. (Amanda Edwards / Getty Images)

The phrase “I am my sister’s keeper” takes on particular meaning in this moment as we prepare for this year’s National Latina Equal Pay Day of Action, marked this year on Oct. 5. Each year, we observe the “pay days” for different demographics of women as we finally reach that point in the calendar where our earnings reflect the earnings that a white male makes in just 12 months. For some of us, like working Latinas, it takes us almost twice as long—two years—to be compensated what a white, non-Hispanic male worker is paid in just one year.

Throughout the country, events, marches and training sessions are organized to mark these pay days. Millions organize and activate on social media to demonstrate solidarity and to call for fair and equitable pay. Together, we raise our voices, express our outrage and call for change once and for all. And, we are not demanding change for ourselves. We are calling for change for each other, for our families and for the generations that will come after us. It is the most massive and love-filled demonstration of how we are showing up and turning out for each other.

These actions aren’t meaningless or empty. In workplaces and cities all across the United States, Latina workers are rising up.

The reality is that for far too long, the conditions have been far from equitable for working Latinas across the United States, with the pay gap remaining just under 50 percent of what Latinas should be paid for their work.

In 2022, all Latinas with reported earnings—full-time, part-time and seasonal—were paid just 52 cents to the dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic male workers.

But in spite of every attempt to hold Latinas back, we are fighting the current, winning against all odds and leading the way towards change.

Labor activist Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers group, in the 1970s. (Cathy Murphy / Getty Images)

We demonstrate our power in myriad ways, including through the actions of some of the most famous Latina organizers and activists, like Dolores Huerta, the self-described “I-Can” (a play on the word “icon”). She is a hero to generations of Latinas and the co-founder of the United Farm Workers, which created the roadmap to justice that so many of us have eagerly pursued.

Lawmakers, like U.S. Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), have not only been fighting for workers’ rights in the halls of Congress but she also spent her career as an attorney fighting for workers’ rights.

Labor activist turned state senator, Maria Elena Durazo, is another example of someone who spent decades organizing across workplaces and now negotiating in the state house on bills, like California’s SB 686, which would extend occupational health and safety protections for domestic workers. She is now working to implement change for some of the most vulnerable working people in our nation, many of whom are working Latinas.

Take authors, like Angie Cruz and her beautiful book How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water. It centers the experiences of Cara Romero, an unemployed older immigrant woman who struggles to find a job and meet the requirements necessary to continue receiving unemployment after her low-paying factory job ended during the recession. It sheds light on the often unfair requirements and unrealistic expectations, not to mention the bad working conditions that too many people endure. Cruz’s book gives a glimpse into the struggle of low-paid immigrant women and unemployed people in the United States through her fictional book, which is a reality for many.

We also have the iconic film Real Women Have Curves, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary. It is the first film by a Latina director to be added to the U.S. Library of Congress’ Film Registry. In the film, activist and actor America Ferrera takes on the economic injustices and reality that exists for women working in sweatshops. She calls out the fact that Latina seamstresses are being paid a fraction of what the clothes they are making are being sold for by the sweatshop owner. She is able to create a sense of unity as she calls for something better for herself and her co-workers.

Right this very minute there are hotel workers, domestic workers, farmworkers and so many more everyday working people who are organizing for change. In fact, this summer was called “hot labor summer” in Los Angeles, as hotel workers, actors, writers, city workers and others set the streets on fire, picketing in front of movie studios and other places demanding better contracts and conditions.

Latinas were in the lead on these actions—from the formation of Latinas Acting Up, co-created by actors Diana Maria Riva and Lisa Vidal, to the leadership of Labor Council for Latin American (LCLAA) members, like OPEIU Local 74 president Lupe Valles, and Unite Here 11 director Lorena Lopez and SAG-AFTRA strike captains Chelsea Rendon and Lizza Monet Morales.

Each of these Latinas is organizing and igniting change. Their actions are having a ripple effect on making visible what for far too long was kept invisible to keep Latinas and other working people down.

This fight belongs to all of us. No one person can drive the kind of massive change required to close the pay gap or implement the laws and workplace practices that actually level the playing field for the more than 12.8 million working Latinas.

I am my sister’s keeper. There is no other way that I would want it to be than to have millions of us working in concert to achieve lasting change for each other.

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Mónica Ramírez is the founder and president of Justice for Migrant Women, and the co-founder of The Latinx House.