Editor’s Note: This blog was written and submitted by Vision 2020 Alaska Delegate Barbara Belknap.
The Paycheck Fairness Act, which still languishes in Congress, focuses on gender equality in pay, and includes language that fills a big gap. This law makes it illegal for an employer to fire employees who talk about what they make. This is key. The only way Lily Ledbetter found out she was being discriminated against was that scrap of paper she found with her male co-workers’ wages on it.
A friend of mine here in Juneau told me that she worked as an intern at a large university in the south in the mid-1990’s. One day, she went to make copies and someone had forgotten a sheet of paper in the copier. It listed the professors and their salaries. All of the women earned less than the men. She didn’t show it to anyone, and she still has it.
It is rare to find documentation of pay discrimination, and, if your employer can fire you for talking about wages, how on earth do you know if you’re being paid less than the man next to you?
The Paycheck Fairness Act would make forbidding coworkers talking about pay illegal. The Fair Pay Act focuses on pay inequality based on gender, race or national origin. The Paycheck Fairness Act and the Fair Pay Act are languishing somewhere in the bowels of Congress.
In a radio interview on this topic a few years ago, I asked, “What’s next? The Please Please Pay Us the Same as the Guys Act?” The question still stands as we mark yet another Equal Pay Day, not to celebrate the attainment of equal pay for equal work, but to remind us that we aren’t there yet.
The bigger question is harder to verbalize. The laws are in place, but there is something much larger at play here. Why is paying a woman the same wage as a man for the same work as difficult a concept in the year 2013 as it was when women first entered the workforce? Shouldn’t this battle be over by now?