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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

National Equal Pay Day and the Fight for Fairness

by Leah Tingley

Some may say the earlier you fall behind, the longer you have to catch up. Unfortunately, most women fall behind in earnings right out of the starting block and fight for decades to catch up to their male counterparts. In fact a recent report entitled, Women In America, prepared for the White House Council on Women and Girls, notes, “At all levels of education, women earned about 75% of what their male counterparts earned in 2009.” Forty-eight years after the passing of the historic Equal Pay Act of 1963, the push for pay equity for women continues.

This year, President Obama has declared April 12 as National Equal Pay Day 2011. Equal Pay Day is an annual commemoration of the day when women’s wages finally catch up to those of men from the previous year. Also in commemoration of this date, Senator Thomas Harkin (D-IA) and Representative Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-DC) have re-introduced the Fair Pay Act. The bill will require employers to provide equal pay for jobs that are comparable in skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions, and it will give workers the information they need to determine when jobs are under-valued.

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-NY) have also reintroduced the Paycheck Fairness Act. In the 111th Congress, the Act passed the House (256-163), but was defeated on a procedural vote (58-41) in the Senate. The Act provides incentives for employers to follow the law, empowers women to negotiate for equal pay, and strengthens federal outreach and enforcement efforts. The bill would also deter discrimination by strengthening penalties for equal pay violations and prohibit retaliation against workers who inquire about employers’ wage practices or against those who disclose their own wages. With passage of the Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act, women would take another step forward towards equal and fair pay that they deserve.

Thanks to the hard work of many different organizations, coalitions, and fearless activists like Lilly Ledbetter, women took a progressive step forward with President Obama’s signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act on Jan. 29, 2009. The fight for equal and fair pay is also currently playing out in the Supreme Court in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, a case where courageous women like Betty Dukes are standing up for their right for equal pay, and for the ability to organize and fight as a class action against a large corporation such as Wal-Mart. Today in local communities across the country, people are commemorating Equal Pay Day by taking action. They are sharing their stories both online and offline, distributing literature about the issue of pay equity and expressing their support for fair pay for women by wearing the color red to symbolize how far women and minorities are “in the red.” In Washington, DC, some activists teamed up to hold a flash mob for equal pay in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Using the hashtag #fairpay, everyone will be able to follow or join in the action on Equal Pay Day on Twitter.

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