Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Equal Pay Act at 45

On June 10, 1963, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act. The EPA was enacted to "prohibit discrimination on account of sex in the payment of wages by employers."

In the 45 years since the EPA became law women's salaries have risen from 62% of men's earnings in 1970 to 80% in 2004. The original goals have not yet been achieved, and it should be noted that in recent years the narrowing of the gap has more to do with depressed wages for men than it does for a increase in salaries for women.

In previous posts I've noted that when women earn less than men who do the same job EVERYONE suffers. The families of women earning less suffer, and single women -- or single heads of households -- don't get a break on things like rent/mortgage, groceries, or the light bill because they are women.

Treating women is against the law, but we have seen recent examples of a conservative U.S. Supreme Court saying "so what?"

In Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Robber Co. the court determined that because Lilly Ledbetter didn't report the discrimination within the statutory limitations period, 180 days, she was not eligible for relief. Writing the five-justice majority opinion, Justice Alito ruled that employers are protected from lawsuits over gender pay discrimination if the claims are based on decisions made by the employer 180 days ago or more.

This ridiculous decision presumes that employees know the salaries of their co-workers. In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ginsburg argued against applying the 180-day limit, noting that the discrimination often occurs in small increments over long periods of time. She also argued, rightfully, that pay information of fellow workers is typically confidential and unavailable for comparison. Ginsburg was joined by Justices Stevens, Souter and Breyer in the dissent.

If business owners treated workers fairly there would be no need for a Equal Pay Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, labor unions, or all the other protections enacted to safeguard workers. But we know that very few business owners care about the people they employ.

In one of the wealthiest countries in the world some people still go to bed hungry, or without a roof over their heads. Families struggle to provide for their children, hoping to give them a better life. And single people face growing older without the resources necessary to sustain themselves during what should be our "golden years."

To address a problem that costs families an average of $4,000 a year, Sen. Hillary Clinton sponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act in 2005, and has continued to reintroduce it since.

This legislation will help prevent pay discrimination in the first place and provide critical tools to resolve it if it occurs by, among other things:

  • Prohibiting employers from punishing employees who share their salary information with their co-workers; (Sharing salary information is often essential for understanding that discrimination exists and addressing it.)

  • Toughening the penalties associated with violating the Equal Pay Act;

  • Teaching women and girls negotiation skills; (Women are 8 times less likely to negotiate their starting salaries then men and if a woman with a starting salary of $25,000 fails to negotiate for $5,000 more a year, she stands to lose more than $568,000 by age 60.)

  • Rewarding model employers; and

  • Strengthening the ability of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to crackdown on equal pay violations.
It's past time for this to be passed and signed into law.


mwb said...

Agreed. Equality (what there is of it) is especially meaningless without economic equality.

Anonymous said...

It was extremely interesting for me to read that blog. Thank author for it. I like such topics and everything connected to them. I definitely want to read more on that blog soon.