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This Equal Pay Day, It’s Time to Get Even!

Caroline Fredrickson,
Washington Legislative Office
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April 28, 2009

(Originally posted the Hill's Congress Blog.)

Let’s get even, not mad, this Equal Pay Day.

Equal Pay Day — this year, April 28th — marks the day a woman, on average, has to work into 2009 to make the same as a man made in 2008. Women who work full time still earn, on average, 78 cents for every dollar men earn, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

For women of color, the numbers are worse. In 2008, African-American women earned only 63 cents and Latinas only 52 cents for each dollar earned by a white male.

Over a lifetime, these numbers really add up. This, in part, contributes to more women falling under the poverty line as they age than men. A smaller paycheck means smaller savings, retirement funds, Social Security and pension benefits.

We have so many reasons to get even. But how?

We have to rally our Senators with tweets, emails, calls, and letters to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. This bill will help secure equal pay for equal work for all Americans.

It would update the 45-year-old Equal Pay Act by closing loopholes and strengthening remedies for pay discrimination. In the past, limited enforcement tools and inadequate remedies have hampered the goals of the 1963 Act.

To address these problems, the Paycheck Fairness Act equips employees with several legal tools. Under the Act, employers would have to show differences in pay between men and women in the same position doing the same work stem from factors other than gender. The measure clearly outlines the acceptable reasons for a wage gap between men and women.

Secrecy surrounding wages and wage polices have perpetuated gender difference in salaries. Many companies have polices that prevent employees from openly discussing their wages and asking employers about their wage structures. This bill prohibits retaliation against workers who inquire about their employers’ wage practices or disclose their own wages. However, the bill still has important protections for employers. Certain categories of employees, who are required to keep wage information confidential in the course of their work, can still be prohibited from sharing such information.

One of the best tools in the Act is a provision to boost penalties for equal pay violations. The bill takes a measured approach by allowing women to have the same remedies that are provided for discrimination on the basis of race or national origin.

In addition to the legal tools, the bill contains provisions that would better educate all of us about wage disparities. Under this measure, the U.S. Department of Labor would reinstate education programs to assist employees and employers and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission employees would receive training designed to help them identify and manage wage disputes.

The Paycheck Fairness Act is an effective combination of new legal tools and technical assistance for employers, employees and the federal government.
Fortunately, President Obama has signaled a willingness to support strong fair pay legislation. He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act earlier this year and was an original co-sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act in the last Congress.

And the House of Representative has taken action as well. On January 9, 2009 — as one of the first orders of business, the House passed H.R. 12, the Paycheck Fairness Act by a vote of 256-163.

Apparently — four months later — the Senate needs a reminder. April 28 is a good day to remind your Senator to make passage of a fair pay bill a priority. This Paycheck Fairness Act is a critical tool in closing the wage gap and finally letting women bring home every dollar they deserve.

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