by Gloria Lau, YWCA CEO
Yesterday, 52 U.S. Senators voted in favor of the Paycheck Fairness Act. While a majority, it was still eight votes shy of the number needed to move this gender equity bill forward. I couldn’t help but note the parallel to women and power. We are a majority in the U.S., we are a majority of college graduates, and yet we continue to lack progress in some important ways.
The Senate vote was along mostly partisan lines. Yet, the Paycheck Fairness Act does not represent a partisan issue. When women get paid 23 percent less than what men would earn for the same work, we aren’t asked about our party affiliation. This is an issue for every woman.
The Paycheck Fairness Act would have helped women pursue punitive damages for unequal pay claims. It would have outlawed employers from retaliating against employees who inquire about payment practices or who disclose their own salaries. It would have required businesses to prove that differences in pay between genders were rooted in business requirements. All of these are positive, logical and necessary extensions of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which was a part of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to protect workers against wage discrimination.
Clearly, being well educated and in the majority aren’t enough for women. We need to organize, own our power, get past our differences on other issues and push for fair wages.
Since 1938 when the first Fair Labor Standards Act became law, the YWCA USA has pushed for initiatives to increase the income of women, including policies that raise the minimum wage, protect overtime, strengthen equal pay and expand non-traditional jobs training for women from all socioeconomic and racial backgrounds. Equal pay is another pocketbook issue that should have been solved years ago.
Much like the recent Violence Against Women Reauthorization vote in the House of Representatives and the debates about women’s reproductive rights, access to fair pay for women has become political football. Let’s stand together and speak out forcefully against the politicization of women’s issues in this election year and beyond. Together, let’s use our collective strength to promote a new standard of fairness.