It has been four years since President Obama made history and signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The law, the first signed by Obama as President, reasserted employees’ rights to challenge discriminatory pay practices after a Supreme Court decision severely curtailed those rights. And while the law marks a significant moment in the Obama administration, and a moment when the law stopped sliding backwards for women on pay discrimination when it comes to pay equity, we’ve got a long ways left to go.
Thankfully, we also have a pretty good idea of how to get there. To begin with, the essential follow-up measure to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act would be the Paycheck Fairness Act, a piece of legislation with a host of support among almost everyone but the most conservative Republicans. This measure would provide a much-needed update to the Equal Pay Act of 1963, closing loopholes and barring retaliation against workers who discuss wages with co-workers. The Paycheck Fairness Act has already been reintroduced in both the Senate and the House in this Congress. This same bill passed the House twice in prior years and came within two votes of overcoming a Senate filibuster in 2010.
Four years after Ledbetter on average, women still make only 77 cents for every dollar men are paid. The AAUW report Graduating to a Pay Gap found that women one year out of college make 7 percent less than men despite graduating with the same major and working full time in the same occupation. The Paycheck Fairness Act could fix this.
“The Paycheck Fairness Act would help erase this harmful wage gap by ensuring that employers provide equal pay for those doing the same work,” said AAUW Executive Director Linda D. Hallman, CAE. “Once young women throw their graduation caps in the air, they face increasingly large student loans and gender pay disparities that can make repayment a hardship. Instead they should enter the working world with the knowledge that pay discrimination will no longer be tolerated and that they will have a fair chance to provide for themselves and their families.”
Another step we could take today to help crack the institutional forces that keep the gender wage gap persistent is for President Obama to issue an executive order forbidding federal contractors from retaliating against employees who ask questions about compensation or share the amount of their own salaries. This executive order would address, in part, one section of the Paycheck Fairness Act, protecting nearly a quarter of the federal civilian workforce currently exposed should they try and share wage information. It took Lilly Ledbetter decades before she knew she was being discriminated against in her pay because employees face termination for sharing that information. By effectively keeping the gag on employees with regards to pay, employers are able to hide damaging information and potentially quell legitimate discrimination claims.
It seems absurd that in 2012 we are still fighting about the idea of equal pay for equal work, but we are. But I suppose if Lilly Ledbetter could fight for decades, so can we.
Photo from Tax Credits via flickr.