Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Fair Pay Act Would Bring Equal Pay for Equal Work

April 13th, 2011 | Mike Hall

Image: Mike HallYesterday, equal rights advocates marked Equal Pay Day to remind the nation that women are paid  just 80 cents for every dollar men earn, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) introduced the Fair Pay Act of 2011 that would ensure that employers provide equal pay for jobs that are equivalent in skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions.

Harkin says that discrimination accounts for much of the pay gap and there are too many loopholes and barriers to effective enforcement of existing laws. “We need to strengthen penalties and give women the tools they need to confront discrimination.”

At the same time, we must recognize that the problem of unequal pay goes beyond insidious discrimination. As a nation, we unjustly devalue jobs traditionally performed by women, even when they require comparable skills to jobs traditionally performed by men.

Millions of jobs dominated by women such as social workers, teachers, child care workers and nurses are equivalent in skills, effort, responsibility and working conditions to similar jobs dominated by men says Harkin:

But the female-dominated jobs pay significantly less. This is inexplicable. Why is a housekeeper worth less than a janitor? Why is a parking meter reader worth less than an electrical meter reader? Why is a social worker worth less than a probation officer?

Commentator Debbie Hines writes on OpEdNews.com today:

Women’s salaries are outpaced by men almost everywhere from the highest paying occupation to the lowest paying occupations. Everywhere from doctors and lawyers to cashiers and lesser positions, women earn less than their male counterparts.

The Fair Pay Act would also require employers to publicly disclose their job categories and their pay scales, without requiring specific information on individual workers. Under current law women who believe they are the victim of pay discrimination must file a lawsuit and endure a drawn-out legal discovery process to find out whether they make less than the man working beside them.

It took Lilly Ledbetter nearly 20 years before she discovered she was being paid less than men doing the same job and was able to file suit. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against her in 2007, Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that helps level the playing field for victims of wage discrimination that President Obama signed in 2009. Says Harkin:

On this Equal Pay Day, let us make sure that what happened to Lilly never happens again by recommitting to eliminate discrimination in the workplace and make equal pay for equal work a reality

Click here for more information on the Fair Pay Act.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He has also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold his blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on April 12, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

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