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Equal Work Equal Pay

Posted by titantv on April 16, 2014 at 12:40 AM

By Kayla Gallion


For the third year in a row, Democrats in the Senate failed to pass a bill that would help close the wage gap between men and women. Republicans have so far not given a good reason why they will not help close the gap. And women? Women are angry. Very angry.

Republicans derailed the bill on Wednesday after the Democratic vote to save it fell short. The Paycheck Fairness Act would have made it harder for employers to pay women less than men in comparable jobs and would make it easier for aggrieved workers to sue. According to an AP News report, the bill “narrows factors businesses can cite for paying women less than men in the same jobs and bar employers from retaliating against workers who share salary information.” The bill was proposed in the Senate, and every single Republican voted no.

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) sponsored the measure, and though she feels disappointed, she made sure to assure everyone women “are going to continue to fight.” The battle is a necessary one; women average only 77% of men’s earnings, which is only a slight increase from the 61% seen in 1960. 16% could normally be seen as substantial progress, but not if that’s all that’s been accomplished in 50 years. Paycheck discrimination based on gender has been illegal since 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act, yet women today still only see about three quarters of every dollar a man earns. African American women make 62 cents for every dollar earned by a white man. Latina women earn only 54 cents.

Seemingly, this is an issue that everyone, regardless of party, would wish to fix. After all, this wage gap is seen within the same jobs, and it makes no sense for one employee to be paid less than another simply because of gender. However, Republicans refuse to pass a bill attempting to fix this problem because they claim the pay gap is a myth, or exists because women make it that way.

Republicans are arguing that women’s choices contribute to the gap, since women are almost twice as likely to work only 35 to 39 hours per week. Women who work more indeed earn 88% of male earnings, which is admittedly a smaller gap. Also, 62% of the 3.3 million workers earning at or below minimum wage last year were women. Then, of course, the issue of marriage and children makes a difference. The US Bureau of Labor reports that single women who have never married earned 96% of men’s earnings. Therefore, Republicans believe the bill is unnecessary because the gap occurs naturally, paying women less for the same job is already illegal, and these new laws will only encourage frivolous lawsuits (it is also important to note that the top members of the Republican Senate leadership are all men.)

The US Chamber of Commerce and other business groups agree with Republicans that the bill would tie the hands of employers and make it hard to award merit pay or offer flexible work hours in exchange for lower pay, and would also expose employers to lawsuit after lawsuit. However, why shouldn’t this take a back seat if women are being slighted in their paychecks? Why shouldn’t women sue their companies for every penny they’re owed? Any company who isn’t discriminating based on gender should have no reason to feel concern if they can prove that they aren’t doing so.

The fact is most women don’t even know they’re being discriminated against because companies that do it won’t allow their employees to discuss pay. Says Fatima Goss Graves of the National Women’s Law Center, “very few people have enough information to know that they’re making less, much less bring a pay discrimination charge.” Deborah Thompson Eisenberg, a law professor who testified before the Senate, argues, “most women do not want to sue their employers. They want the law to express a stronger commitment to equal pay for equal work so employers will have an incentive to pay them fairly without the need for litigation.” This law will give women the ability to make sure they’re receiving the correct pay and fix it if they aren’t. Why wouldn’t that be acceptable? Most employers hopefully would realize if they were exercising unconscious bias, and if it was conscious bias, then public data could hopefully shame them into changing.

Present lawsuits fighting the wage gap are often dismissed because “some courts interpret ‘substantially equal work’ so narrowly that it’s really difficult to make a claim,” according to Eisenberg. The Paycheck Fairness Act would broaden that idea and make it harder for employers to simply blame the market for discrepancies in pay.

Of course, Republicans are accusing Democrats of simply using this bill to get votes for the upcoming election, though admittedly that is a motive. Polls show Democratic voters are less enthusiastic than Republican voters, but women historically show more loyalty to their parties than men do. Its an obviously great tactic therefore to try and win the female vote, and Republicans are doing nothing but losing female support by rejecting this legislation. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NEV) says, “for reasons known only to them, Senate Republicans don’t seem to be interested in closing wage gaps for working women.” Indeed they don’t, and they instead spend most of their time arguing that women don’t need this bill and that Democrats are misleading women, again using those statistics that claim the gap is based on women’s choices to back that up.

Those statistics, though, don’t tell the whole story. True, women make up the vast majority of employees who receive at or below minimum wage. True, women get married and have children and therefore do not advance as much in careers. What isn’t true is that all women choose these jobs or these lifestyles. Sexism in society pushes women into domestic roles, where they still bear a disproportionate share of the burden of caring for sick kids or elderly parents. They then must settle for any job they can get in order to feed their families, while the men are given free reign to climb the corporate ladder. In today’s middle class, many families are even relying on female wage earners.

There is no reason then that women should not be equally rewarded for this hard work, yet men outearn women at every level of education and in comparable jobs. Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.) seems to be one of the only ones who gets it when he says, “rebuilding the middle class begins with good paying jobs. And those good paying jobs won’t happen if women are systematically denied fair pay simply based on their gender.” Though the Paycheck Fairness Act failed to take off, Democrats are looking good to women and the middle class, and partisan Republicans who refuse to support them are managing to look really, really bad.

President Obama has also voiced his support for women’s equality, but even he isn’t their hero. In honor of “Equal Pay Day,” a public awareness holiday illustrating how wide the pay gap is, Obama issued an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against workers who discuss their pay. He also instructed the Department of Labor to start collecting aggregate data from the same contractors on how much they pay their employees by sex and race. Though it is a step in the right direction, it will take a lot more for women to gain the equality they seek.

It starts with the women themselves. Women must stop settling for the lives society hands them. If they wish to move forward in careers and be justly rewarded for their hard work, they must actively pursue that life. They must make sure they are being paid fairly. They must vote at the polls come election time. They must raise their voices until American leaders on both sides of the aisle have no choice but to hear. Obama of course must do his part to support women, and Congress must forget its extreme partisanship in order to legally solve the issues American women face. Women, though, must be their own heroes. Barbara Mikulski isn’t giving up, and she encourages her fellow women to do the same. Mikulski says, “it brings tears to my eyes to know how women are working so hard and are getting paid less [...] then when I hear all of these phony reasons, some are mean and some are meaningless [...] I get angry. I get outraged. I get volcanic.” Its time for all American women to rise up and do the same.

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