THE WOMAN PROJECT INTERVIEWS:
1) Tell us a little about yourself and Jobs with Justice.
My name is Mike Araujo I am the Executive Director of RI Jobs with Justice. I am a member of IATSE Local 481 (movie production union) my trade is Grip and Rigger. I have 2 perfect children, Xavier George (7) and Eleanor Sparrow (5). I was the New England policy director for Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (http://rocunited.org/). I was also the Business Agent for IATSE Local 23 (stagehands union). I have worked as an organizer throughout the deep south mainly Texas and New Orleans.
RI Jobs with Justice is Rhode Island’s only standing multi-issue coalition, meaning we take on a range of issues like wage theft and prison justice. The coalition is made up of over 70 labor, faith, community, and student organizations representing over 60,000 Rhode Islanders. In short, we believe in people over profit.
2) Are your members concerned about reproductive rights? How so?
In the last 8 years we have seen what we had thought was a settled issue, become a controversy. Specifically, birth control is included in nearly every employer-based insurance package. Our members were shocked and dismayed to hear the incredibly wrong-headed and anti-scientific, and anti-woman rhetoric coming from some employers about why birth control should not be covered. Most shocking of all was the silence from employers who offer birth control. These employers should have stood up.
3) How do you see issues of class and race intersect with reproductive rights?
I feel its really important for me to preface this answer by stating clearly that I am a heterosexual cis-male and because of that there are some experiences that are simply not mine, and because of that I will answer as best as an ally of the movement.
Women who occupy the lower rungs of our economic system end up forced to make choices about their bodies that are informed by the dollars in their pockets. Good reproductive choices have always been available to the bourgeoisie and much of the legal framework around reproduction comes from this deeply middle class perspective. Because wealth in the US is largely held by whites, reproductive policy has a double whammy of having a race and class dynamic that tends to exclude women of color and poor women (often one in the same). Representative Henry Hyde, in his odious Hyde Amendment, prevents any government monies going to abortion services. This amendment is aimed at poor women who may rely on medicaid for reproductive services. His quote is telling. “I would certainly like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion: a rich woman, a middle class woman, or a poor woman. But since I cannot affect the choices where a rich woman puts her money, I can stop a poor one from using ours.”
As for race, particularly Blackness, choice is a deeply valued although often conflicted thing. There is no denying that anti-blackness is a core feature of American life. That our ability to thrive as a people is often thwarted by deep and bloody racist violence. This violence plays out on black bodies and women’s bodies in particular. We have seen in the last several years, a serious re-examination of reproductive choice in my community. This change is reflective of the new civil rights leadership that has emerged post-Ferguson. The founders of Black Lives Matter show a dramatic shift from church centered and male dominated Black Liberation to a street-based and woman-centered movement. Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Partrisse Cullors have identified denial of ready access to reproductive services as an issue and they have also identified that violence against the black community by the state is also a reproductive act and a denial of choice, by having our children killed and so many locked away. In RI in particular there is a basic rift in access to basic OB-GYN care for black (and brown) families the has led to incredibly high maternal and infant mortality in the black community.
4) Do you see reproductive rights as a collective bargaining issue too?
Simply, yes. Today it is vital that organized labor, particularly union locals that are woman -dominated, include a specific must-negotiate clause protecting access and anonymity for women seeking all levels of reproductive care. I would include it first in a privacy protection clause that protects medical information not pertaining specifically to workplace tasks. I would also have reproductive service protections as a specific part of any medical plan. If enough contracts contain these clauses it becomes a norm and is considered a prevailing standard.