Showing Support for Equal Pay Day

equal payBy Tina Vasquez (Los Angeles)

A few weeks ago, The Glass Hammer shed some light on the Paycheck Fairness Act by speaking to the AAUW‘s passionate Director of Public Policy and Government Relations, Lisa Maatz, as well as labor and employment law attorney, Counsel Dena Calo of Genova, Burns & Vernoia. The Paycheck Fairness Act would essentially act as a much-needed update to the nearly 47-year-old Equal Pay Act and would create stronger incentives for employers to follow the law, empower women to negotiate for equal pay, and strengthen federal outreach, education, and enforcement efforts. If passed, the legislation would also deter wage discrimination by strengthening penalties for equal pay violations and by prohibiting retaliation against workers who ask about employers’ wage practices or disclose their own wages.

On March 11, 2010 the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing on the Paycheck Fairness Act. According to Maatz, who attended the hearing, some who testified on the Republican side deemed the act unnecessary because of the already-existing Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which now enables employees to challenge any discriminatory paycheck they receive. Maatz says that President Barack Obama’s signing of this important Act is a step in the right direction for women in the workforce. But recent statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau perfectly illustrate the real problem and the reason why organizations like AAUW are fighting to get the Paycheck Fairness Act passed: The wage gap. In 2010, the average woman continues to make just 77 cents for every dollar made by her male counterpart.

During the March 11th Senate hearing, the AAUW lived-blogged the proceedings and was quick to point out something that may stop women dead in their tracks: President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, making equal pay for equal work the law of the land in the United States. Nearly 50 years later, the law has yet to live up to its billing. Not only has a pay gap between men and women always existed, but in 1963 when the initial act was signed into law women were making 59 cents on the dollar compared to men. Essentially, this means that in the past 47 years we’ve only made up for 18 cents!

The Glass Hammer recently spoke to Maatz for an update on the Paycheck Fairness Act and how women can show their support for the cause on April 20th during Equal Pay Day, here’s what she had to say:

The Glass Hammer: How did the Senate hearing go?
Lisa Maatz: The hearing went very well and it was well attended on both sides. I think the message as to why we need the Act passed was clearly made. Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY) thought it was important that more women enter non-traditional jobs, while Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT) continued to be champions of this Act and got to the heart of why it should be passed. It was made clear that the Paycheck Fairness Act needs to be a priority for the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Those opposed to the Act came out in full force – and that’s a good thing. It means they’re taking us seriously and that’s a compliment. The time for this Act has clearly come and that was illustrated by the number of supporters in attendance; there were so many supporters that the room was packed and it was standing room only.

T.G.H.: Have there been any developments since the hearing?
L.M.: We’ve actually been amassing more and more supporters. For Equal Pay Day on the 20th, a number of very important groups have decided to rally behind us and urge the Senate and Congress to support the Act. Organizations like the Coalition of Labor Union Women, The National Council of Jewish Women, and the American Bar Association among others have joined us and will be using Equal Pay Day to help move the legislation forward. The American Bar Association, in particular, is coming out in full force and is actively lobbying to get the legislation passed.

T.G.H.: So, what happens now, what’s the next step needed to get the Act passed?
L.M.: One of two things can happen: It can be marked up in committee or the bill can go straight to the floor. It’s hard to tell with these things because the Senate calendar is so jam-packed with items that it makes the appearance of the Act unpredictable. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

T.G.H.: Until then, how do you suggest women show their support and honor Equal Pay Day?
L.M.: It’s celebrated on a national level and there are branches across the country women can contact and plan activities with. AAUW’s Pay Equity Resource Kit can give states ideas as to what they can do. How you mark the day is really up to you – as long as you do something. In the past, rallies have been thrown and panels have been held featuring experts who discuss the importance of closing the wage gap. Some women get very creative and hold bake sales, except they charge men more for items than they do women; some wear red to illustrate the fact that women are still in the red, some meet for unhappy hour at local restaurants and bars. I’ve even heard of some branch members handing out big Payday candy bars with information about the Paycheck Fairness Act or the wage gap on the back. AAUW will actually be updating its wage gap data online and releasing the new information on Equal Pay Day. Basically you can do anything to mark the day, as long as it involves getting the word out.