Yesterday, a reporter from the local newspaper contacted me regarding a press conference that was held by Senator Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA). During that press conference, Senator Casey discussed a report highlighting the fact that women in Pennsylvania earn 18.3 percent less than their male peers.
This earning differential is known as the Pay or Wage Gap. The commonly used measure to determine the wage gap is the ratio of women’s to men’s median annual earnings for full-time, full-year workers. Nationally, in 2011, women earned just 77 percent of what men earned. That’s a national wage gap of 23 percent. Although Pennsylvania appears to be doing better than the nation on pay equity, we are still being short-changed.
For women of color, the wage gap is even worse. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Asian American women have the smallest wage gap, earning 91 percent of what the average white man earned in 2010. White women are next, earning approximately 81 percent of white men’s average income. African-American women (70 percent) and Hispanic women (60 percent) have the largest wage gaps as compared to white men.
So why did Jessica VanderKolk call me for a comment about Senator Casey’s press conference? The message she left on the phone was that she was interested in what I thought of Casey’s stance on pay inequity, partly as a follow-up to an article she did on this issue in May 2012, where I was also quoted. She wanted to know why I thought there had been almost no change in wage gap in the last year and what I thought needed to happen in order to eliminate this problem.
My first statement to her was that pay inequity is unfair and unjust. She quoted me in the news article this morning,
“It takes just as much to feed a woman’s family as a man’s family and put a roof over your head,” Tosti-Vasey said. “Gender should have no basis [in determining] your salary.”
We then went on to discuss the main point of Senator Casey’s press conference: his support and co-sponsorship of the Paycheck Fairness Act. This bill was introduced again for the fourth time on January 23, 2013 (Casey signed on as a co-sponsor on January 30, 2013 right after announcing his support of S.R. 84).
The Paycheck Fairness Act updates and strengthens the Equal Pay Act of 1963. It gives women the tools they need to challenge the wage gap itself. According to the ACLU, both S.R. 84 and H.R. 377 include the following remedies and programs to help remove pay inequity:
- Require employers to demonstrate that wage differentials between men and women holding the same position and doing the same work stem from factors other than sex.
- Prohibit retaliation against workers who inquire about their employers’ wage practices or disclose their own wages.
- Permit reasonable comparisons between employees within clearly defined geographical areas to determine fair wages.
- Strengthen penalties for equal pay violations. The bill’s measured approach levels the playing field by ensuring that women can obtain the same remedies as those subject to discrimination on the basis of race or national origin.
- Encourage proactive enforcement of equal pay laws by re-instating the collection of wage-related data and providing for training for the workers who enforce our equal pay laws.
- Modernize the Equal Pay Act to make it more in line with the class action procedures available under Title VII. It would not extend class action protections beyond what is available under other anti-discrimination laws.
- provide important safeguards for businesses, including:
- providing an exemption for small businesses;
- instituting a six months waiting period from the time of enactment and requiring the Department of Labor to assist small businesses with compliance; and
- Recognizing employers for excellence in their pay practices and strengthening federal outreach and assistance to all businesses to help improve equal pay practices.
Yet if people in general understand that paying someone less for doing the same job is unfair, why is this bill now in its fourth iteration? I was asked this question by Jessica Vandervolk during our phone call. She paraphrased my comment, stating that Senator Casey and I agree on this issue:
[Tosti-Vasey] said the lack of action so far may have to do with the conservative climate, and Casey added that he hopes the 2012 election makes a difference.
The paraphrase is accurate, but somewhat incomplete. I said that I believed that the lack of passage was mostly due to conservative legislators. I continued by stating that this is particularly true in the US House of Representatives but also occurs among conservatives in the US Senate. Why? Just follow the campaign money. These legislators listen to lobbyists and business honchos who want full control over how much they pay others. If employers can get away with paying less and discriminating against one segment of their workforce, then they will lobby and work to defeat any effort to change this scenario. When elected officials’ campaign war-chests depend upon funds from uncaring, well-financed business owners and lobbyists, they vote no.
So I agree with Casey. We have a slightly more caring House and Senate as a result of the November election and maybe we can get the Paycheck Fairness Act to become law during this session of Congress. As constituents, let all of your legislators–both Senators and your US Representative—know that you want them to cosponsor (if they are not already a sponsor) and vote for the Paycheck Fairness Act as soon as possible.
You can find out where your representatives stand on the Paycheck Fairness Act by going to http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php. In the search box in the middle of the page, type in “Paycheck Fairness Act” and click search. On the next page, 2 bills will show up—SR 84 and HR 377. If you then click on “cosponsors” for each bill, you can determine if your representatives are publicly supporting the bill or not.
Meanwhile this might never have come up as an issue to fight in Congress OVER and OVER and OVER again if the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) had been ratified by 38 states and was now part of the US Constitution. I recently blogged about why having an ERA is important, so check that out as well. Once you have done that, go to the White House petition site and tell President Obama that you want him to work with Congress to finally get the ERA ratified.