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Behind the Runway: Modeling Might Not Be As Pretty As You Think

1:16 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Sheila Bapat for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

In 1990, supermodel Linda Evangelista famously said that she wouldn’t “wake up for less than $10,000 a day.” Her words have since been used to mock her mercilessly, and continue to influence public perception about what the lives of models are like: overpaid, overindulged, privileged product pushers. When New York Fashion Week took place earlier this month, with models sashaying in clothes too expensive for most people to buy, it was hard not to see past this perception.

So, it’s even harder for some of us to view models as “workers” in the way labor rights advocates understand the term, and complaints from models about, well, anything, may seem insufferable. How can someone whose physical appearance is validated by the culture and the mainstream economy possibly have it rough?

But Evangelista is far from representative of all models. This is a point The Model Alliance, a 501(c)3 nonprofit advocating for improving working standards for models, is trying to make clear. Like many sectors, we tend to see and hear about the most successful, elite few; the proverbial “one percent,” as Sara Ziff, a model of 15 years and founder of the Model Alliance points out. (She is also a graduate of Columbia University and a community organizer.)

Ziff educates both labor rights activists and the fashion industry about why working conditions for models need to improve. “Modeling seems like a privileged profession, so the general public attitude is not at all sympathetic [to organizing efforts],” she told RH Reality Check. “Most people have a hard time even understanding that it’s work.”

Since models are generally independent contractors, they are not covered by major labor laws and their organizing efforts aren’t necessarily protected. Ziff says many members of the Model Alliance join anonymously, so that their chances of getting work aren’t hindered.

Unlike actors, who can join the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) once they have fulfilled a certain amount of acting work, there is no union for models that offers health insurance and basic protections.

Yet working conditions indicate a need to organize. Even though modeling is one of the few sectors in which women out-earn men, the majority of women and girls in New York City trying to work as models are having a tough time making a buck. Between paying their agencies upwards of 20 percent of all their earnings, covering the costs of their lodging and transportation, and to pay their own rent, many models spend time working off debts they owe to their agencies.

And debt is hard to pay back when you’re not getting paid at all: often designers will pay models with clothes or other products instead of with a paycheck, something Marc Jacobs was criticized for last year. (He has since changed this practice.)  In 2011, the average model salary was $33,000 per year. One activist at the Model Alliance points out that earnings can be skewed, with some earning up to $400,000 per year and others steeped in debt to their agency. Like many other workers, it is rare for models to be paid overtime, no matter how late into the night a shoot may last, or to have employer-sponsored health insurance.

Peeling back the layers of many industries reveals a consistent truth: industry bosses earn high dollars on the backs of cheap, unprotected labor. But fair pay is far from the only workers’ rights issue models face. Ziff’s group is focused on moving the fashion industry in a number of different directions, including ending sexual harassment and assault, which some contend is widely under-reported by models fearful of losing work, and changing basic standards of beauty, which she feels have too long promoted unrealistic and unhealthy weight for women and girls.

Ziff is also focused on improving protections for minors working as models: “You see 14- or 15-year-old girls coming to New York to model, and these kids are not thinking about their rights,” Ziff said. “They might even feel lucky to have a picture in a magazine and not ask if they’re getting paid.”

So where are the “momagers” who can attend shoots to protect their kids? “Probably working themselves,” Ziff points out. “Most parents can’t afford to devote their lives to their kids’ careers.”

The Model Alliance has garnered some supporters from within the industry and secured partnerships with Fordham Law School and the Fashion Law Institute; it now plans to focus harder on payment-in-trade practices and on changing a host of other working conditions. “I don’t want to paint the career in a bad light,” Ziff says. “Modeling can be wonderful work. But hearing other models stories’ has made clear that bad experiences in the business — lack of financial security, sexual harassment — are systemic and need to change.”

Paid Sick Leave Pays for Itself: So Why Is NYC’s Mayoral Hopeful Blocking It?

12:58 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Sarah Jaffe for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Rosa* lost her mother just a few weeks ago.

Guy in a face mask

New York City companies want to keep sick people working, despite the costs.

Her elderly parents lived at home in New York. A home health-care aide helped Rosa’s father with the burden of caring for her mother, who had Parkinson’s disease and had suffered a major stroke just over two years ago.

“We didn’t want to keep her in a nursing home, for financial reasons, for germs. They basically told us to take her home,” Rosa told RH Reality Check.

The home health-care aide didn’t have paid sick days, so she came to work sick one day, and Rosa’s parents both wound up with the flu. Her 88-year-old father recovered; her mother did not.

“My dad lives with guilt that he allowed the person to stay,” Rosa said. “I’m living with guilt because I came to work that day to make a few pennies.”

Rosa takes unpaid leave from her job in order to care for her parents — her father still struggles with heart troubles and a bad back that makes it hard for him to get around. When Rosa is sick, she goes to the office. She uses her personal days to stay home with her family. (Rosa is also a breast cancer survivor.)

“It’s basically women who are the caregivers,” she noted. “I realize these corporations, they don’t want to do paid family leave. But they’re just eating themselves because the workers come to work exhausted.

“If it’s between work and my parents, my parents must come first.”

Rosa’s home health-care aide was just one of the 44 million workers nationwide who don’t have even a single paid sick day, according to Ellen Bravo, executive director of the Family Values at Work Consortium. A 2010 report from the Public Welfare Foundation and the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago found that 55 percent of workers without paid sick days have gone to work with a contagious illness like the flu. “Thus, not having paid sick days is associated with an 18 percentage point increase in ill employees spreading diseases at work,” the report said. And 24 percent of parents without paid sick days have sent a sick child to school or daycare.

New York’s city council has a bill that would require paid sick days for more than 1.2 million workers. Calling for its passage, the New York Times editorial page noted that it is “a normal benefit for workers in at least 145 countries.” The bill’s been stalled, though, for more than 1,000 days, since its introduction in 2010, even as a natural disaster and flu epidemic hit the city. Christine Quinn, the powerful council speaker, has refused to bring the bill up for a vote, as Mayor Bloomberg and the business community are strongly opposed. Quinn has said that she’s in favor of the policy, but not while the economy remains weak.

Now, the bill is shaping up to be an issue in the 2013 mayor’s race, as a coalition of well-known and politically powerful women have declared they won’t support Quinn in her historic run for mayor unless she allows a vote on the bill, and there are hints that there’s a compromise afoot.

On February 25, a group of women elected officials from Congress, the state legislature, and the city council held a press conference calling for passage of the bill. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) said, “…[R]ight here in New York, we can bypass congressional gridlock, enact paid sick leave, and make the Big Apple a national leader in protecting the health of our citizens and guaranteeing elementary fairness to all the working women and men who make our great city tick.”

“I think it’s pretty much a no-brainer,” said Pat Kane, an operating room nurse at Staten Island University Hospital and treasurer at the New York State Nurses Association. “When public health emergencies have to be declared during flu season, when every recommendation from every government agency involved in health says you have to stay home, I don’t see how you can have no requirement that people have to have this benefit when they’re working.”

Kane noted that at the end of January, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention released a new study on a new strain of norovirus, causing gastrointestinal illness, spread by people handling and preparing food. “A lot of those workers don’t have paid sick days,” she pointed out. “When you think about all the requirements to certify a restaurant, to me this should be one of those requirements.”

Paid sick leave is good reproductive health policy as well, Bravo pointed out. “From whatever angle, whether it’s prenatal visits, well baby visits or being able to have an abortion, people need time to take care of themselves without being forced either to forgo the treatment or forgo the pay or even worse, the job.”

“When they say ‘everyone’s free to stay home when they’re sick, they’re just not free to keep their paycheck or their job,’ that’s not freedom,” she continued.

Sick Leave Boosts Women’s Finances

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House Once Again Seeks to Eliminate Funding for Family Planning, Planned Parenthood and other Health Services

9:24 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

The House GOP is nothing if not determined to show just how little regard they have for the health and well-being of women in this country.

Just a day or two after launching a politically-motivated “investigation” of Planned Parenthood–demanding audits with taxpayer funds of programs that have already been audited with taxpayer funds–the House leadership released a draft Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations bill that is a retread of attacks on women and the working poor. The bill would:

  • Prohibit federal funding for Planned Parenthood through programs such as Medicaid which provides low-income women with preventive health care, including birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, annual exams, and STD testing and treatment;
  • Eliminate funding for the Title X Family Planning Program, which provides access to birth control, cancer screenings, and other family planning services to five million low-income women each year, and through which women can avoid unintended pregnancies that would otherwise lead to abortion;
  • Ban insurance coverage of abortion in the new health exchanges under the Affordable Care Act — taking away a common health benefit that most women currently have;
  • Prevent the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (the health care reform law passed last year by Congress), and eliminate the new benefits that include insurance coverage of women’s preventive services like mammograms, cancer screenings, and birth control, with no additional co-pays;
  • Cut the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative by $64.79 million — from $ 104.79 million to $40 million — stipulating that $20 million of that money must be used for grants to provide ineffective, abstinence-only education; and
  • put in place a sweeping new refusal provision that undermines patients’ access to quality health care, effectively imposing a religious ideology test on access to essential care.

According to Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the draft bill would prohibit any funding under the bill from going to any Planned Parenthood affiliate unless the organization promises not to perform abortions with non-federal funds.

“Remarkably, said the Congresswoman, “these particular health care providers—and the patients they serve—would be denied federal funding for any purpose unless they agree to stop providing a lawful medical service using funds from patients and other non-federal sources. The main effect would probably be to prohibit Medicaid patients from choosing to receive services such as contraception and cancer screenings from Planned Parenthood clinics.”

This is of course not the first time that the House has sought to do these things, the motto being if at first you don’t succeed in gutting women’s health care, try, try again.

Earlier this year Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor made explicitly clear that they were willing to shut down the government over funding for family planning and took the country to the brink until President Obama finally called their hand.  Several efforts have been made to pass bans on abortion coverage in health reform–prohibiting women from paying for policies with their own money.  The desire of the GOP and Tea Parties to eliminate evidence-based approaches to anything, including teen pregnancy prevention has long been clear.  And right-wing politicians have made no secret of their lack of respect for gender-specific health needs, such as birth control, mammograms, and maternity care. 

As outlined in a detailed analysis of the bill from the office of Congresswoman Delauro, the proposed appropriations bill would, among other things, also:

  • Overturn 75 years of practice by removing the protections of the National Labor Relations Act from workers in any firm that falls within the SBA’s definition of “small business”—a definition broad enough to encompass companies with a thousand employees in some cases.

  • Prohibit local public radio stations from using any funds they receive from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to acquire programming from one particular provider that has evidently been singled out for the Republican majority’s displeasure—National Public Radio.

  • Block Education Department rules designed to protect students and taxpayers from those for-profit colleges with the very worst records as far as student debt loads and defaults.

  • Prohibit use of funds to implement almost any part of the Affordable Care Act. (It makes exceptions for certain Medicare payment regulations and a few provisions relating to drug costs under Medicaid.)

  • Reduce Pell Grant Assistance to students who are working while going to school.
  • Make large cuts to the Centers for Disease Control.


“There are at least 50 million people in this country without health coverage,” DeLauro said, “and yet all that we hear from the Republican majority on this subject is “no”. The bill’s prohibition would prevent use of funds to implement reforms like prohibiting insurance companies from excluding pre-existing conditions for children, allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ policies, and placing restrictions on lifetime and annual coverage limits, to give just a few examples. It would also deny funds to implement the interim “risk pool” coverage for uninsured people with health problems and to continue putting in place the systems needed for full health reform implementation in 2014.”

The bill, according to DeLauro, contains at least 40 brand new legislative provisions and riders, many of them highly controversial, and most dealing with complicated subjects well outside the expertise of the Appropriations Committee from which it originates. It “injects a whole host of new, contentious legislative issues into the process,” DeLauro noted, “most of them quite extraneous to the task at hand of setting funding levels for federal agencies and programs for the upcoming fiscal year.”

Public health and rights advocates and providers of essential health care are outraged at this newest attempt to compromise the lives of women throughout the country.

“This budget not only guts effective programs that keep women and families healthy, it will make women and families worse off economically, at a time when they are already struggling,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

“We believe in protecting a woman’s ability to make personal, private decisions with her doctor, and Speaker Boehner’s budget violates these fundamental American values in several ways,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

“The Boehner Budget would defund Title X, the nation’s family-planning program, which serves millions of Americans each year. It also would effectively end private insurance coverage of abortion in state health-insurance exchanges. How will taking away women’s freedom and privacy lead to the job creation he promised voters?”

“This budget is further evidence that Republican leaders have no new ideas and are merely recycling failed attacks that undermine women’s health,” said Richards. “Eliminating funding for the Title X family planning program and prohibiting Planned Parenthood from providing preventive health care through federal programs will result in millions of women across the country losing access to basic primary and preventive health care, including lifesaving cancer screenings, birth control, annual exams, and STD testing and treatment.”

“At a time when Americans desperately want and need Congress to focus on fixing our economy and creating jobs, House Republican leaders are instead continuing their campaign to take away preventive health care and affordable birth control from millions of women,” said Richards.

A bill is so laden with policy riders, restrictions and elimination of key program guarantees that efforts to pass an FY 2012 spending bill will be fraught with conflict, especially since it differs so greatly from the version passed by the Senate.

“If these documents represent the position [House leadership] intends to take into negotiations with the Senate,” said DeLauro, “it looks like we’re in for a long, difficult process. After a year of contentious budget debates, radical proposals from the new majority, and multiple threats of government shutdowns and even defaults, there had been hope that we’d be able to put all that behind us for a while and complete action on fiscal year 2012 appropriations in a reasonably timely and cooperative manner based on the spending levels agreed to in the Budget Control Act enacted last month. Judging from these proposals, though, the Republican majority doesn’t seem to be on board for that goal.”

Bottom line: If you are not a white male Republican or Tea-Party follower, you can stick it.