Editor’s Note: The Empire is publishing a weekly column from the nonpartisan League of Women Voters leading up to this year’s municipal election, in the hopes that it will help inform voters about the process. Stay tuned for the next column in next Wednesday’s paper.
It’s a centuries old problem of gender-based wage discrimination. We have an unacceptable gap between wages paid to women and men for equal work.
What happened? In the 1900s, women comprised 25 percent of the workforce and suffered restrictive and severe working conditions, hours and wages.
Fast forward to 1938. The Fair Labor Standards Act provided some relief to 39 percent of men, 14 percent of women, prohibition of child labor and a minimum wage of $0.40 per hour. Strong opposition came from the Supreme Court. The National War Labor Board (1942) endorsed equal pay when women replaced men in the workforce. The “Prohibiting Discrimination in Pay on Account of Sex” (1942) legislation failed to pass. 1945 brought forth the Women’s Equal Pay Act. That also failed.
Progress in pay equity moved slowly in the 1950s and 1960s. The Equal Pay Act (1968) amended the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act and was opposed by the Chamber of Commerce and Retail Merchants Association. President John F. Kennedy signed this bill anyway and further stated that “child day care centers must be developed.” These efforts were boosted mightily with passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964). In 1972, further legislation provided that white collar, executive, professional and administrative workers could be included with the blue collar protections. So-called statutory “affirmative defenses” of the legislation provided loopholes for seniority status, merit determinations and quantity-quality production guidelines to further prevent pay equity. Between 1963-2004, women’s wages rose from $0.62 percent to $0.80 percent on the dollar.
The Paycheck Fairness Act is a “critical concept” and has been regularly introduced since 1997. It proposed substantial further protections for wage transparency, prohibition of employee retaliation and destructive use of the “affirmative defenses” loopholes. This legislation has yet to be enacted. Naysayers continue to message that such legislation will “line the pockets of trial lawyers — not help women.”
Bear in mind that the gender gap begins right out of college, exists across all occupations and widens during childbearing years. Mothers are generally paid $0.71 on the dollar (called “motherhood penalty”) over against the “fatherhood boost.” Go figure.
In 2016, women who worked full time and year round earned $0.82 on the dollar. Now figure race into the equation: Black women-$0.63; Native American women-$0.57; Latino women-$0.54; Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander-$0.59. This is equivalent to one million dollars for a 40 year work career. Asian women earn $0.90 on the dollar (stated as secondary to educational attainment). Millennial women receive from $0.67-0.87 on the dollar for wages and can expect a loss of $5,000-$44,000 per year over a working career.
A hallmark of progress occurred in 2009 when the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Libby Ledbetter case was overturned by Congressional Action with the passage of the Libby Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. This legislation by Congress overturned the Supreme Court decision to prohibit the right to challenge salary negotiations. Again, the naysayers continued to tout this as a “trial lawyer payment.”
We are not done with this inequity in society and can consider personal and political involvements with some of the following:
• Continue dedicated due diligence to keep wage transparency in front of our employers, employees and policy makers.
• Work to prohibit secrecy and gag orders on salaries and salary negotiations.
• Contact Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for assistance in individual situations.
• Write, call and speak to our elected representatives at all levels of local, state and federal governments to initiate and put in place wage transparency and abuse corrections.
• Learn about and advocate for the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act.
• Learn individual and collective hiring and employee negotiations.
It’s the right thing to do.
• Barbara Belknap is a member of the League of Women Voters Juneau.