Three years ago, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a significant step in securing equal pay for women in the work place. However, there’s still work to be done:
Though the law expanded the legal remedies available to women who have been victims of discriminatory pay, little has been done to address the pay gap that exists between male and female employees. Since the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was signed into law, the pay gap has closed at less than half-a-cent per year. That trend is continuing, as the pay gap barely closed from 2009 to 2010.
Women made 77 percent of men’s earnings in 2009, the year the law passed. In 2010, that was virtually unchanged, as women’s wages rose to 77.4 percent of men’s. The gap is even larger for African Americans and Latinos: black women made 67.5 percent of all men’s earnings in 2009, while Latino women made 57.7 percent. In 2010, those figures ticked up to 67.7 percent and 58.7 percent, respectively.
Well, Gary Latanich, the economist turned politician in AR-01, announced in an op-ed released on the anniversary of the bill’s signing that we can and should do better and, sharing the personal story of his niece to put a human face on the problem, endorsed the Paycheck Fairness Act.
LILLY LEDBETTER THREE YEARS LATER: WE CAN STILL DO BETTER
Last Sunday, January 29th 2012, was the three year anniversary of Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first piece of legislation that President Obama signed into law. It was named after a woman who had worked almost 20 years as a supervisor for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company only to find as she neared retirement that she was not only paid less than her male colleagues, but her pay raises were also less than her male counterparts. The Supreme Court eventually ruled against her citing the fact that she did not file suit within 180 days of her first pay check, an impossibility given that Goodyear had a policy forbidding employees from discussing their wages. The new law says that workers have 180 days to file discrimination charges after each paycheck. In essence, there is no statute of limitations on failing an equal pay discrimination law suit.
While this is a good first step it does not go nearly far enough. For an example of what still needs to be done consider my niece. After receiving a letter confirming her employment at a specific wage rate, she moved from Wisconsin to the Memphis area. Within a few months she noticed that the agreed upon wage-rate had been lowered. Upon inquiring, she was told that wage reduction was the result of her having mentioned the original wage to a fellow worker even though she was never told that by doing so would be a violation of company policy.
What we now need is a bill that puts the weight of the law behind legislation designed to protect against wage discrimination. Specifically, we need to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. From my perspective, the most important provision of the proposed legislation is that it would end the Paycheck Catch-22 by prohibiting retaliation against employees who inquire about or reveal wage practices and existing wage rates currently being paid. Allowing employees to file suit for discrimination is meaningless if information about possible discrimination is unavailable or can only be obtained at the risk of harassment or termination.
We need to level the playing field when it comes to employers and employees. And while it is true that we live in a world where the concept of “employment at will” is commonly accepted, it is also true that a no-holds-bar “employment at will” approach is harmful to all, and that includes the economy. All aspects of life have morals, customs, and laws designed to place limits on behavior; the labor market should be no exception. It was Martin Luther King who said that “Laws won’t change peoples hearts, but at least they can constrain the heartless”.
Candidate for Democratic Nomination 1st District US Congress
Kudos to Latanich for stepping up on the issue and being a voice for equality and fundamental fairness. What say you to women in the workplace Clark Hall? And you Congressman Crawford?