by Anny Bolgiano, Intern, Coalition of Labor Union Women
Q: What’s better than paycheck equity legislation?
A: Effective paycheck equity legislation.
The government makes a lot of suggestions and recommendations to us Americans. The CDC recommends staying home when you have the flu and getting 2.5 hours of exercise per week, and the EPA recommends testing your home for radon and checking the UV index before outdoor activities. The government also makes laws, and we all know how laws are different from recommendations and mere suggestions. It is illegal to litter, it is illegal to trespass, it is illegal to sell certain drugs, and IT IS ILLEGAL TO PAY A WOMAN LESS THAN A MAN FOR THE SAME WORK. I put that last one in all caps because some employers seem to be a little confused about which category it falls under, and luckily Congress has picked up on this and has decided to clarify the matter.
This Tuesday, June 5th, the Senate is expected to vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act, (S. 797, H.R. 1519), taking a step towards remedying the consistent wage gap in our country. Because gender discrimination is already illegal, many people are unclear about why we need this act. It’s important that we understand how the Paycheck Fairness Act would build off of existing legislation, and why it’s necessary. Because you know what’s even better than paycheck equity legislation? Effective paycheck equity legislation.
The legislation would improve the Equal Pay Act of 1963, an act which made it illegal to pay men and women different wages for the same work. This was an important step towards gender equality, but if we evaluate the effectiveness of the bill, we see that it needs to be supplemented. Change has been overall positive, but insufficient. According to the National Women’s Law Center, between 1963 and 2010, the wage gap went from 41.1% to 22.6%, illustrating that pay inequity is still an urgent issue in this country. The bill recognizes the need for close monitoring of the problem, and would enable more comprehensive data collection by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. General awareness of pay inequality would also be promoted; the legislation would establish The National Award for Pay Equity in the Workplace, and require the Department of Labor to confront the issue at a national summit on wage disparity.
Equality cannot be achieved through courts and legislation alone; it must be monitored and maintained on all levels by knowledgeable and legally empowered workers, especially women workers. The Paycheck Fairness Act would provide women with a legislative “toolbox,” taking steps to improve the enforceability of the law, and making women partners in the eradication of their discrimination. Congress has tried sending the message, “Hey employers, let’s stop discriminating” and now, the Paycheck Fairness Act also turns to women and says, “Hey women, let’s not let them get away with this anymore” The bill would prevent companies from penalizing workers for being transparent with others about their salaries or inquiring about other employee’s salaries, and establish negotiation skills training for girls and women. Additionally, it would bolster the repercussions of discriminatory paycheck practices, providing women with the legal safeguards of compensatory and punitive damages.
Let’s hope that employers begin to understand the difference between legislation and recommendations. You won’t be fined for not knowing the UV index and you won’t go to jail if you don’t exercise enough or go shopping with the flu (seriously though, it’s a bad idea). But you do have to pay women the same wage as their male counterparts, and there are legal repercussions for gender pay discrimination. Employers need to make decisions with the knowledge that unethical, discriminatory behavior has legal repercussions. More importantly, there is a human cost, which is the true and lasting repercussion of all grave injustices.
Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.