An Unhappy Anniversary for the Equal Pay Act

Yesterday, on a procedural vote, the U.S. Senate failed to reach the 60 votes needed for the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill intended to update the Equal Pay Act of 1963, to move forward. Unfortunately, the 52-47 vote means more delay for an already long overdue measure to ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work. In 1963, the year that Congress passed the Equal Pay Act, women earned 59 cents to their male counterparts’ dollar. Although we will celebrate the 49th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act on June 10, the disparity continues: today, women, on average, earn only 77 cents for every dollar their male counterparts take home, and for women of color, the disparity is even greater

The majority of people across all political parties support pay equity, so it is particularly disheartening that yesterday a minority of Senators blocked, along partisan lines, the Paycheck Fairness Act from further consideration. Until recent years, the Senate had a proud history of passing major civil rights laws with bipartisan majorities. Hard-working Americans deserve no less now. 

Women need concrete tools to combat wage discrimination—and the Paycheck Fairness Act would ensure that women have the tools they need. This common-sense bill would bar retaliation against workers who ask about their employers’ pay practices or inquire about their own wages.  It would allow women to receive the same remedies for sex-based pay discrimination that are currently available to those subjected to discrimination based on race and ethnicity. The bill also would provide technical assistance to employers and important safeguards for small businesses.

So after yesterday’s vote, what next? 

In the face of Congressional inaction, we know the Obama Administration will continue their very strong support of this issue. One of the things that could be done, as we continue to press for legislative reforms, is that the President could sign an executive order to protect people who work for federal contractors against retaliation for disclosing or asking about their wages. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, nearly half of American workplaces either discourage or specifically prohibit employees from discussing pay practices.

While this would not reach as many workers as the Paycheck Fairness Act would, this executive order would have the critical effect of banning retaliation against the 26 million people in America who work for federal contractors when trying to determine if they are being paid fairly. Women cannot do anything about discrimination, if they don’t know it is occurring. This is only right in workplaces receiving federal dollars, and would signal a step in the right direction for women and families who deserve the opportunity to take home the pay that they have rightfully earned. 

For over 70 years, presidents of both parties have used the power of executive orders to protect employees who work in companies that contract with the federal government.   These protections have often paved the way for expanded protections for all workers.

We hope that the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act next year will be a happier one. The ACLU will continue to fight for legislation that ensures equal pay for equal work for all American workers—and in the interim, support executive action that would set an example of equality and fair pay in the workplace.

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OK, so that effort didn’t do much for women—yet that does not mean you cannot still keep your promise to help us women making way less than 77 cents on the dollar! But please, President Obama, do us a favor and handle this one yourself—do not take our fair pay issues to this Congress. The U.S. Supreme Court already tossed this hot potato back to Congress and the Labor Board and it is still firmly up there in the air.
However, if you act now on our behalf you will absolutely succeed in helping many distressed women of all ages—as well as significantly increase federal and state tax revenues, Social Security contributions and the spending power of millions of women. You will get more votes too, if only you take a little more time to explain; what your act now means to these millions of disheartened women employees— permit the public to understand what removal of this stigma and oppression will mean to the many other women—and men—needed to fill the increasing demand for good dependable home care workers in the next 10 years in this essential, decent, demanding, fulfilling and worthwhile service work.
It is time to get off the dime and repeal the phony “companion,” and “live-in” domestic service exemptions in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that permit commercial home healthcare agencies to exempt these—mostly female—employees from federal minimum wage and overtime protections. Currently even experienced, well trained and licensed homecare companions, personal care aides and health care aides are exempt even though we typically perform substantial additional domestic work services such as laundry, shopping, cooking, cleaning, gardening and driving.
The FLSA exemptions do not help "Granny" and caring families afford good dependable caregivers—what they do is greatly increase profits of corporate Health Care Agencies—which now place over 50% of home care workers—while their own office staffs consist of a few well manicured 20 and 30 year olds—not particularly concerned about aged clients’ financial straits or home health caregivers’ rights to minimum pay protections.
ABOUT 95 PERCENT OF HOMECARE WORKERS ARE WOMEN—HALF ARE BLACK OR WOMEN OF COLOR! We are bona fide workers—not family members, friends or next door neighbors who occasionally look in on an elderly person that the “casual" worker exemption was originally intended to cover. These unjustified exemptions are not merely contradictory from one section of the law to the next and grossly discriminatory—but are maintained, in great part, to enable commercial corporate employers to legally exploit the most disenfranchised segment of our national workforce!
Our work in other peoples' homes is how we support ourselves and make a living for our families. Our jobs are often very demanding physically, emotionally and mentally—so much so that most family caregivers don’t, can't or won't do it!
Our labor and time is just as valuable and as deserving of the FLSA minimum wage and overtime protection as the same work done outside the home and we should be paid fairly for it—period! Instead, we are demeaned and defrauded solely based on being fallaciously labeled “casual” home “companions.” The value added element of our “companionship” should be prized as it is by this continual proximity that home caregivers provide the elderly and disabled with not only considerate direct personal care, medical assistance and domestic services—but vital socialization. Our time and labor, coupled with caring fellowship, is what makes it possible for concerned family members to remain in the workforce and allows the vulnerable persons we care for to continue living peacefully at home instead of being traumatized by institutionalization.
The misogynistic and racist FLSA minimum wage and overtime exemptions applied to an entire category of work and worker merely because the employment locale is the home is reminiscent of slavery—it is a continuing disgrace—and it ought to be a scandal in an allegedly first world nation! Y’all can’t keep slaves anymore—even if you keep ‘um at home.


I thought this was the american civil LIBERTIES union? Liberty doesn't mean a bunch of jackbooted thugs get to ask businessmen if their papers prove a nondiscriminatory basis for pay decisions. It means I can associate with whom I wish, in what manner I wish, paying as much as I wish, and they can either accept my terms, persuade me peaceably to offer other ones, or not interact with me.

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