Paycheck Equity

BlogHer Original Post

I swear that I will one day get over the miserableness that was the previous ensuing decade, but for now I will continue to harp on yet another failure of the previous decade. In January 2009, President Obama started the year off right by signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law. The Act righted a serious offense committed by the Supreme Court, which had ruled that discriminating against women by paying them less than men for doing the same (or even better work) was perfectly fine as long as companies kept it secret for a really long time. The Act, in effect, called this bullshit, and said that of course workers can use federal courts to challenge illegal wage discrimination.

However, on The Huffington Post, Linda Hallman and Lilly Ledbetter reminded people that this was a step in the right direction, but not enough. It seems that the Senate neglected to pass companion legislation to the Act. They explained:

The Paycheck Fairness Act is a sorely needed update to the original Equal Pay Act signed by President John F. Kennedy in 1963. It would close loopholes, strengthen incentives to prevent pay discrimination and bring the Equal Pay Act in line with other civil rights laws. And it would also prohibit retaliation against workers who inquire about employers' wage practices or disclose their own wages--something Lilly could have used in her case.

Why did the Senate not pass it? Excellent question. Hello Ladies reported that she sat on a conference call about the situation, and "Senator Dodd announced he has support from Senator Tom Harkin, Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to start hearings on the Paycheck Fairness Act." It's about time, as Hello Ladies also noted that the wage gap has increased since the Ledbetter Act was passed.

Ironic, isn't it? Say It, Sister points out that women were more likely to retain their jobs during the recession than men. Could it be because the ladies are paid less for doing the same job as their male co-worker, and thus more likely to be retained when budgets are slashed? Or is it that women tend to cluster in lower paying (and "recession-proof") fields like nursing and teaching? Hmmmm....

Again, detractors can say that paycheck disparities come from different negotiating tactics. I'll not dispute that it is tough for me to ask for what I deserve, although I think part of my issue is because I've always worked in public service and it feels extra gooey to me when I try and get every cent I'm worth. This has not stopped my female colleagues from getting what they deserve (and sometimes far more, but that's another story). It seems like every time I really push hard for more, I am stopped by some HR person who tells me that there are strict salary bands and job categories. I don't know how anyone negotiates around that. The times I've been offered jobs with higher salaries, I don't tend to ask for the upper range. Then I get pissed when I discover that I am the worst paid staff person at my level. So go figure.

Whatever the case may be, women and men who work hard and perform well deserve to make what their colleagues do, regardless of gender. We can change the culture of negotiating and self-esteem to fix pay disparities, but we also have to change the law to make sure that unscrupulous employers don't continue exploiting their labor, for whatever reason.

Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants and is the author of Off the Beaten (Subway) Track.