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Unless Something Changes, it Will Take Women 45 Years to Earn as Much as Men

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Jackie TortoraWomen will not receive the same median annual pay as men until 2058, if current earnings patterns continue without change, announced the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) this week.

“Progress in closing the gender wage gap has stalled during the most recent decade. The wage gap is still at the same level as it was in 2002,” said Heidi Hartmann, president of IWPR. “If the five-decade trend is projected forward, it will take almost another five decades—until 2058—for women to reach pay equity. The majority of today’s working women will be well past the ends of their working lives.”

IWPR released a new fact sheet that tracks the pay gap from 1960 to today and analyzes changes during the past year by gender, race and ethnicity.

“While there is no silver bullet for closing the gender wage gap,” said Ariane Hegewisch, a study director at IWPR and author of the fact sheet, “strengthened enforcement of our EEO laws, a higher minimum wage and work–family benefits would go a significant way toward ensuring that working women are able to support their families.”

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on September 20, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.

 

Working Women Need a Fair Shot

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

seiu-org-logoWhen I think of working women, I think of SEIU 32BJ District 615 member Yocelin Ratchell.

Yocelin works part-time as a baggage agent with Logan Airport in Boston. Her dream? To have benefits that include sick paid leave so that when her children are sick, she can take care of them and not have to worry about losing a day’s pay or even losing her job.

Yocelin is a strong, inspiring woman. Yet her struggle to support her family and get ahead is not unique. Across the country, millions of working people are trying to keep their heads above water and women are overrepresented in low-wage jobs.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to share Yocelin’s story during an event to announce the launch of a major new initiative, “A Fair Shot: A Plan for Women and Families to Get Ahead.”SEIU is joining with the Center for American Progress, American Women and Planned Parenthood Action Fund to call for bold policies that will improve women’s economic, health and leadership outcomes.

I was proud to be part of the event as an ambassador for the millions of hardworking women who just want to be able to work, earn a living wage and take care of their families. But, unfortunately, for too many women, that’s easier said than done. Just look at the statistics:

  • Women represent nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers; a woman working full time, year round at the federal minimum wage will still need to come up with an extra $4,000 a year to make it to the poverty line.
  • Eight of the 12 fastest growing occupations over the next 10years are low-wage. Seven of these jobs, including home care provider and child care providers are in industries in which women are disproportionately represented.
  • Women make up nearly two-thirds of workers in tipped occupations and the federal minimum cash wage for tipped workers is $2.13 per hour.

Working women are the sole or co-breadwinner in two out of three families in America.

The question we should be asking is what can we do to ensure that women get a fair shot so that they are not only getting by, but also getting ahead? How do we ensure that Yocelin and millions of other working women like her don’t have to choose between caring for her children and losing her job?

We can start by advocating and implementing policy initiatives like paid sick leave and raising the minimum wage. The good news is that we are already moving forward.

In my home state of Massachusetts for example, we have taken steps put minimum wage increase and paid sick leave up for a vote via a ballot initiative. These initiatives benefit all workers and are also especially important to the economic viability of women. If the federal minimum wage is increased, 5.5 million working mothers with children under 18 will have more money to support their families.

We also have some victories under our belt.

This week, after decades of lobbying, marches, and protests, the Obama Administration announced that minimum wage and overtime protections will be extended to two million homecare workers, 90 percent of whom are women. Before the announcement, homecare workers in the majority of states did not receive the same basic protections provided to most U.S. workers.

Policy initiatives like the one announced by the President aren’t only the right thing to do, but also makes economic sense because our country can no longer afford to leave American women behind. And it is proof that when policymakers, business leaders and working people come together, we can make a difference in the lives of working people.

A fair shot for women is a fair shot for all working people, communities and families.

Read more about the initiative launch in The Washington Post, ThinkProgress and The Huffington Post. SEIU’s statement can be found here.

This article was originally printed on SEIU on September 19, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rocio Saenz is the District Leader of SEIU 32BJ New England District 615.

Iowa Supreme Court re-affirms statutory right of jittery, insecure spouses to interfere in the workplace

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Curt SurlsImagine the pilot episode of a revival of the 1970’s situation comedy “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”  It is July 2013.  After a painful break-up with her fiancé, 30-year-old Mary Richards relocates to Des Moines, Iowa, to start a new life.

Mary interviews for a secretarial position at a local television station with Executive Producer Lou Grant.  Lou is an overweight, balding, married father of three grown daughters.  Lou offers Mary an associate producer position, reporting directly to him.  Lou’s wife Edie is threatened by the presence of an attractive, young woman in the workplace.  Edie demands that Mary be fired immediately.  Lou admits that he is attracted to Mary, even though their workplace relationship has been strictly professional.  Lou fires Mary.  He replaces her with Rhoda.  In Iowa in 2013, Mary has no legal recourse.

This month, the Iowa Supreme Court reaffirmed its controversial December 2012 decision holding that a fifty-something Fort Dodge, Iowa dentist acted legally when he fired his 32-year-old dental assistant for being too attractive.  Although the dental assistant had shown no interest in her married boss, both the dentist and his wife feared that he would be powerless to resist her charms.  In a decision insulting to both major genders, the Court reasoned that the firing did not constitute gender discrimination because it was not “because of sex.”  Instead, the Court reasoned, it was motivated by the dentist’s feelings of attraction for a specific person (I suppose you could call it “because of sexy”).

The latest version of the case, Melissa Nelson v. James H. Knight, DDS, P.C. can be read in full here.

Here is the official photo of the Justices of the Iowa Supreme Court.  See if you can spot what they all have in common.

scotus

Melissa Nelson was only 20 when she was hired by Dr. James H. Knight as a dental assistant.  For ten years, she was an exemplary employee.  She regarded her boss as a “father figure.”  Dr. Knight, on the other hand, found himself growing increasingly attracted to his young assistant.   In 2009, Dr. Knight’s wife insisted that her husband’s unilateral attraction to Ms. Nelson was a threat to their marriage.  Dr. Knight and his wife consulted with the senior pastor of their church, who blessed the decision to terminate Ms. Nelson.   Ms. Nelson sued for gender discrimination.  The trial court and the Supreme Court of the State of Iowa agreed with the Knights — and their pastor–and held that firing Ms. Nelson for being a potential threat to Dr. Knight’s marriage did not constitute illegal gender discrimination.

The Court’s original decision in late 2012 was greeted with outrage and ridicule.  In June 2013, the court withdrew its opinion and agreed to reconsider the matter, giving rise to the hope that they had seen the light and would permit the case to go to trial.  Those hopes were dashed when the Court reaffirmed its position that there is a difference between an employment decision based on personal feelings towards an individual and a decision based on gender itself.  “In the former case, the decision is driven entirely by individual feelings and emotions regarding a specific person,” stated the opinion’s author, Justice Edward M. Mansfield (he’s the one in the back row, far left).  “Such a decision is not gender-based, nor is it based on factors that might be a proxy for gender.”

Wait a minute, argued Ms. Nelson’s attorneys and reasonable people everywhere.  Of course it was “because of sex.”  If she were not female, she wouldn’t be in danger of involuntarily attracting the unwanted attention of her heterosexual male boss.  If it is illegal to sexually harass an employee, why should an employer escape liability for firing an employee out of fear that he was just about to harass her.  Under this logic, even an employee who spurns the sexual advances of her supervisor is vulnerable to dismissal under a fabricated “my wife made me fire you to save our marriage” defense.

But back to Mary Richards.  In the eponymous spin-off series “Lou Grant,” Lou found a job as a newspaper editor for the fictitious Los Angeles Tribune.   What if he re-hired Mary?  Could Edie get her fired again in California?  Not likely.

The Iowa Supreme Court was interpreting Iowa law and federal law from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.   The Court relied heavily on 8th Circuit precedent holding that sexual favoritism is, in essence, a private matter between the parties that doesn’t warrant regulation as gender discrimination.  California state law takes a broader view of the impact of sexual favoritism on the workplace environment.  Our Supreme Court has recognized that sexual favoritism is not merely a private matter.  Instead, favoritism can create an atmosphere demeaning to women, giving rise to claims of a hostile work environment by both men and women.  California courts are, therefore, likely to view conduct such as Dr. Knight’s in the broader context, and find a termination under similar circumstances in California to be discriminatory.

And besides.  Why would Lou even listen to Edie?  They got divorced after the third season of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and Edie promptly remarried.  You can watch the wedding here.

Article originally appeared on CELA Voice on July 25, 2013.  Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Curt Surls has been practicing in Los Angeles, specializing in employment law, for almost 25 years. Mr. Surls is a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation and has worked for the State of California as counsel to the Director of the Department of Industrial Relations.  CELA VOICE is a project of the California Employment Lawyers Association.  Our goal is nothing short of changing the discussion about issues of importance to California employees.  Our method is simple.  We will amplify the voice of worker advocates on issues that are vital to our economy, our way of life, even our health. The contributors to the CELA VOICE bring a unique perspective to understanding what is working and, too often, what isn’t working in California workplaces.

80% of Low-Wage Workers Lack Even One Paid Sick Day a Year

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Jackie TortoraMore than four in 10 private-sector workers and 80% of low-wage workers do not have paid sick days. This means people, especially women who are more likely to work in low-wage jobs, constantly have to choose between their health and a paycheck.

A post in Jezebel, brought to you by the AFL-CIO, explains why the lack of paid sick days causes a ripple effect on our health and communities:

In fact, more than 80% of low-wage workers don’t receive a single paid sick day all year. This contributes to the creation of a sickness loop: contagious kids go to school because mom can’t stay home with them; expensive emergency room trips are made that could’ve been prevented; employees show up to work and spread viruses to their customers and co-workers.

When young women can’t stay home to get their sleep and soup on, they venture out into the world where they touch handrails with contaminated hands and sneeze on things. This is the sick, sad world Daria warned us about.

The National Partnership for Women & Families reports that adults without paid sick days are 1.5 times more likely to come to work sick with a contagious illness like the flu:

For example, more than three in four food service and hotel workers (78%) don’t have a single paid sick day—and workers in child care centers and nursing homes overwhelmingly lack paid sick days. This threat to public health is clear.

Last week, House Democrats released a women’s economic policy agenda that including expanding paid sick and family leave.

Originally posted on AFL-CIO NOW on July 22, 2013.  Reprinted with permission

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.

Most Minimum Wage Earners Are Women

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012
Credit: Joe Kekeris

Credit: Joe Kekeris

One of the stats that always amazes is this: If the federal minimum wage had kept pace with the rising cost of living over the past 40 years, it would be $10.52 per hour today.

Instead, the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. That translates to $15,080 per year, below the poverty line for a family of three—if the work is full-time.

Stunning as that is, it gets even worse when you realize that the majority of those paid the minimum wage are women: In 2011, more than 62 percent of minimum wage workers were women, compared with only 38 percent of male minimum wage workers, according to a new report by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

It’s especially bad that women make up the majority of minimum wage earners because women are paid 77 cents for every dollar a typical man earns. Women of color are far more likely to hold low-wage jobs than men, and two-thirds of mothers now are either the breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their families. Their lower wages mean they will receive less from Social Security, their primary source of retirement income.

Slightly more than 2.5 million women earn the minimum wage or less, while about 1.5 million men do.

Pointedly, the report notes:

From 1968 to 2010, incomes for the top 1 percent of earners increased by 110 percent, but the inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage has fallen by 31 percent. If the federal minimum wage had kept pace with the rising cost of living over the past 40 years, it would be $10.52 per hour today.

But these same 1 percenters are some of those who block efforts at the local and national levels to raise the minimum wage. In fact, research has shown no job loss results from reasonable minimum wage increases, even when the economy is struggling.

On the contrary, a minimum wage increase boosts consumer spending and can improve the nation’s weak economy by growing demand through increased purchasing power.

This blog originally appeared in ALC-CIO on June 21, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee they were represented by a hotel and restaurant local union (the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism (covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia) she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.

Working Women’s Bodies Besieged by Environmental Injustice

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Michelle ChenFrom birth control pills to equal pay, women are a favorite target in the country’s most heated political wars. But a much quieter struggle is being waged over women’s bodies in their neighborhoods and workplaces, where a minefield of pollutants threaten working mothers and their children.

According to new research from the the National Birth Defects Prevention Study, working pregnant women who are exposed on the job to toxins known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are more likely to have children with gastroschisis, a rare birth defect in which the intestines stick out from the baby’s body, generally requiring surgical repair.

The study, summarized by Environmental Health News, reveals a distinct link between women’s occupational exposure and the prevalence of the defect: “mothers who were exposed to PAHs had 1.5 times the risk of having a baby with gastroschisis compared to women who were not exposed to PAHs at work.”

While this is a rare defect, the troubling context of these findings is the prevalence of PAH pollution in women’s workplaces. The researchers noted, “assessing workplace exposure to PAHs is important because ‘more than 95 percent of employed women in the United States remain employed during pregnancy’ and ‘an increasing number of women are being exposed in their jobs to chemicals that can harm the fetus.’” The researchers especially noted exposures among women working as “cashiers in fast food restaurants.”

PAH’s are an ubiquitous byproduct of everyday combustible materials like oil and coal. Studies have linked the contamination they cause when burned and churned into the atmosphere with health problems that can shape a kid’s entire upbringing, ranging from developmental disabilities to childhood obesity.

A separate study on women in New York City linked prenatal PAH exposure to behavioral issues that could pose a lifelong burden. Researchers with the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found a connection between a pregnant woman’s exposure to PAH-laden air and the chances that her child will by age 6 or 7 show mental health symptoms such as anxiety or attention problems. These long-term behavioral patterns, the researchers wrote, “suggest an adverse impact of prenatal PAH exposure… that could impact cognitive development and ability to learn.”

The ramifications of toxic childhood environments are a global issue. A 2010 study on women in Krakow, Poland, revealed similar impacts of PAH exposure in the womb, with a significant effect on intelligence tests at age 5.

To environmental justice activists, the synergy between pollution and social hardship intersects with barriers surrounding urban communities. Environmental hazards compound the burdens that already shadow children growing up in disadvantaged communities: poverty, gaps in healthcare and education, racial segregation.

The recent Columbia study, which focused on New York City women of black and Dominican descent, noted that “Urban, minority populations in the U.S. often have disproportionate exposure to air pollution.” According to ABC News, the investigators also accounted for other issues associated with the stresses and hazards urban life–like exposure to secondhand smoke and the mother’s mental health (“demoralization” was one potential factor)–which can also shape children’s development.

Much of this environnmental research focuses on everyday exposures, not work-related pollution specifically. But in unhealthy workplaces, there’s a unique convergence of economic, gender and environmental injustice. The economic and ecological abuses looming over working-class women on the job each day may pose crippling costs for the whole family.

Urban environmental justice advocates recognize that workplace protections, especially for working moms and women of childbearing age, are critical for community health. Cecil Corbin-Mark, deputy director of the Harlem-based environmental group WE ACT, says, “It’s a good thing to avoid creating a dynamic where a worker has to choose between their health and their livelihood. It’s like forcing someone to choose between either having a heart or having lungs.”

Dr. Shanna Swan, a professor of Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, says more research is needed on the intersection between workplace health and the everyday exposures that encircle expecting mothers in struggling communities:

This is an important and understudied area, especially since exposures are usually far higher in the occupational setting than those to which the general public is exposed, and because the period of fetal development is the most sensitive window; developmental damage during this time is irreversible. We have just begun to recognize that this may be a sensitive window, not only the developing fetus, but for the pregnant woman herself, since she is subject to the stress of pregnancy, workplace stress and likely the added stress of low socioeconomic status. All of these may contribute to adverse development for the fetus and challenges to the woman’s own health.

The right rallies to defend the sanctity of “the unborn” while vilifying women for trying to exercise reproductive choices in response to socioeconomic realities. This is the same kind of rhetoric that assaults environmental regulation, healthcare programs, and labor protections that alleviate gender inequity. So the ideology that claims to honor life actually militates against the right to a healthy childhood and safe community. Women’s bodies carry the burden of this hypocrisy, and the next generation will bear the fruits of the injustice.

This blog originally appeared in Working In These Times on June 8, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Michelle Chen work has appeared in AirAmerica, Extra!, Colorlines and Alternet, along with her self-published zine, cain. She is a regular contributor to In These Times’ workers’ rights blog, Working In These Times, and is a member of the In These Times Board of Editors. She also blogs at Colorlines.com. She can be reached at michellechen @ inthesetimes.com.

Chart: Averge Woman’s Wages Stop Growing When She Turns 39

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Image: Pat GarofaloThe New York Times’ Catherine Rampell highlighted data from Payscale, a salary tracking firm, showing that “by the time women reach age 39, their wage growth pretty much stops altogether.” By that age, the average college-educated, full-time female worker is making about $60,000. For men, meanwhile, wage growth doesn’t stop until age 48.

womenwagechart

This post originally appeared in ThinkProgress on May 30, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Pat Garofalo is Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Pat’s work has also appeared in The Nation, U.S. News & World Report, The Guardian, the Washington Examiner, and In These Times. He has been a guest on MSNBC and Al-Jazeera television, as well as many radio shows. Pat graduated from Brandeis University, where he was the editor-in-chief of The Brandeis Hoot, Brandeis’ community newspaper, and worked for the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life.

On May Day, No Borders Between Workers

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

Image: Mike Hall

May Day—International Workers’ Day—is a day when there should be no borders or barriers between workers around the world, said Shawna Bader-Blau, executive director of the Solidarity Center, at a special May Day forum at the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C., today.

Bader-Blau presented video greetings from union leaders and worker activists around the globe, including Heli Vargas, International Affairs secretary of one of the Solidarity Center’s partners in Peru, the CGTP (Confederacion General de Trabajadores del Peru). Said Vargas:

“Just as the companies are globalized to exploit us, the actions of the workers and unions must also be globalized as businesses are.”

The forum focused on the challenges and conditions of Latina and immigrant workers in the United States and women workers around the globe. Andrea Delgado, senior policy analyst and communications manager for the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), said there are some 24 million Latinas in the United States—64 percent native born and 36 percent foreign born. Citing data from a new LCLAA report, Delgado said with 60 percent or fewer Latinas holding a high school degree, many are in low-wage, low-quality jobs where “they are an easy target for discrimination.” Also, in many cases,

“their immigrant status is used as a tool to prevent them from organizing into unions or going to the government to report abuses and other employer violations.”

Delgado noted that Latina workers suffer from the same—and often more so—wage and job discrimination and sexual harassment as all women workers. She said LCLAA and other workers’ right groups are fighting to ensure Latinas have jobs:

where their rights are respected—not just as workers—but as women.

You can find out more from LCLAA’s report, “Trabajadoras: Challenges and Conditions of Latina Workers in the United States.” Click here to download.

The forum included Iris Munguia, the first women elected to lead COLSIBA, the union for banana workers in eight Latin American nations. Speaking through a translator, Munguia explained how women built power and a voice in a male-dominated sector, first by forming women’s committees at individual worksites that grew into a coalition throughout Honduras before building out to other nations.

They have developed a Women’s Rights Platform that is now a template used in negotiations with nearly two dozen large employers. The three central demands are:

  • More employment of women that includes the right of freedom of association and collective bargaining;
  • Limiting the use of chemicals and other pesticides in the fields; and
  • The end of sexual harassment.

COLSIBA has worked closely with the AFL-CIO in the recent filing of petition with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Trade and Labor Affairs that charges the Honduran government with failure to effectively enforce its labor laws and comply with its commitments under the six-year-old Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA). Click here for more.

Munguia said she couldn’t stress enough,

“The high importance that solidarity has been with our sisters and brothers in the United States and across Latin America….Your help will help us win.”

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.

Women, Black Workers Hard Hit by Attacks on Public Employees

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Credit: Joe Kekeris

The improved jobs figures out last Friday obscured the ongoing decline in public-sector jobs. As the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted when releasing the March unemployment data:

Employment in local government continued to trend down over the month. Local government has lost 416,000 jobs since an employment peak in September 2008.

The loss of such jobs is important because the nation’s well-being depends not only on job numbers increasing, but on the creation of quality jobs—those that pay decent wages and enable people to attain or maintain a middle-class life. According to National Employment Law Project (NELP), the new jobs being created aren’t as good as the ones that have been lost. NELP found that jobs in lower wage industries, such as retail and food preparation, made up 23 percent of the jobs that were lost in the recent recession. Yet they made up 49 percent of the jobs the economy has gained in the past year. As the BBC Business puts it:

In other words, it appears that while people may finally be returning to work, they have to work for less pay.

In contrast, jobs in the public sector have provided such economic stability. They have also made it possible for some of the nation’s most economically marginalized—women and minorities—to achieve financial security often denied them in the private sector.

So attacks on public employees hit women and black workers especially hard.

Susan Feiner, professor of economics and of women’s and gender studies at the University of Southern Maine, writes that:

employees at the federal (43 percent female), state (53 percent female) and local (61 percent female) levels have been able to better resist the wage reductions, benefit cuts and mass lay-offs that giant multinational corporations have visited upon employees over the last decade.

Yet Feiner finds that “while women represented 57 percent of the public-sector work force at the end of the recession,”

women lost the vast majority—79 percent—of the 327,000 jobs cut in this sector between July 2009 and February 2011, according to a January report by the Washington, D.C.-based National Women’s Law Center.

Steven Pitts, labor policy specialist at the University of California-Berkeley Labor Center, writes today about the striking results of his new research brief, Blacks and the Public Sector. In sum:

  • The public sector is the single most important source of employment for African Americans.
  • During 2008-2010, 21.2 percent of all black workers were public employees, compared with 16.3 percent of non-black workers.  Both before and after the onset of the Great Recession, African Americans were 30 percent more likely than other workers to be employed in the public sector.
  • The public sector is also a critical source of decent-paying jobs for black worker.  For both men and women, the median wage earned by black employees is significantly higher in the public sector than in other industries.
  • Prior to the recession, the wage differential between black and white workers was less in the public sector than in the overall economy.

As California Progress Report writes:

For blacks and others, “the best anti-poverty program is union organizing,” the UC Berkeley Labor Center notes on its website.”

And so moves by Republican governors like Scott Walker in Wisconsin and John Kasich in Ohio to shred the ability of public employees to bargain for a decent middle-class life are also specifically targeting the ability of women and black workers to remain in the economic mainstream.

About the Author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee (she was represented by a hotel and restaurant local union—the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism—covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia—she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.

This blog originally was post on AFL-CIO on April 5, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

Fair Pay Act Would Bring Equal Pay for Equal Work

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

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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