National Commentary

Fight’s Not Over for Equality in the Workplace

As the country marks Equal Pay Day on April 20, it’s time to renew the push to eliminate salary disparities between men and women once and for all.

Forty-seven years have passed since President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law in 1963, and yet in many cases, there is still not equal pay for equal work in this country.

In 1963, when the Equal Pay Act was signed, women who worked full-time, year-round made 59 cents on average for every dollar earned by men.  In 2008, women earned 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.  That is progress – but it is slow progress.  It means that the wage gap has narrowed by less than half a cent per year.

Achieving equal pay for women is one of the top priorities of the 111th Congress. In January 2009, the Congress sent to the President’s desk the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act – and it became the first major bill signed into law by President Obama, a week after he was inaugurated.

The Lilly Ledbetter Act restores the right of women and other workers to challenge unfair pay in court.  Specifically, it rectifies the May 2007 Ledbetter v Goodyear Supreme Court decision that overturned precedent and made it much more difficult for workers to pursue pay discrimination claims.  The bill simply restores the longstanding interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and other discrimination statutes, thereby protecting women and other workers.

The enactment of the Lilly Ledbetter Act was a major victory for America’s women. However, the Senate should also now pass and send to the President’s desk the Paycheck Fairness Act, which the House passed in January 2009.

The Paycheck Fairness Act gives teeth to the Equal Pay Act of 1963.  It closes numerous loopholes in the Equal Pay Act and stiffens penalties for employers who discriminate based on gender.  It protects employees from retaliation for sharing salary information with their co-workers, with some exemptions.  And it creates initiatives to provide negotiation skills training programs for girls and women.  Just because gender-based pay discrimination is illegal, does not mean it is no longer a great concern.

In 2009, Lilly Ledbetter herself wrote to Senators about why it is so important, now that the Lilly Ledbetter bill has been enacted, to also enact the Paycheck Fairness Act.  Lilly Ledbetter wrote, in part:

“The first step was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act…The next logical step is the Paycheck Fairness Act, a critical and comprehensive update to the 46-year-old Equal Pay Act that brings equal pay laws in line with other civil rights law.  This bill would take real steps to deter wage discrimination by empowering women to negotiate for equal pay, creating stronger incentives for employers to follow the law, and strengthening federal enforcement efforts…From my perspective, one of the most important provisions of the bill would prohibit retaliation against workers who ask about employers’ wage practices or disclose their own wages to others.  This provision would have been particularly helpful to me, because Goodyear prohibited me and my colleagues from discussing or sharing our wages.  This policy delayed my discovery of the pay inequities between me and my male counterparts by almost two decades.”

As we celebrate the enactment of this landmark legislation, we should not let up in our effort to realize this simple mantra: equal pay for equal work.

 


Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.


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