Spotlight: Closing the Wage Gap with Equal Pay Today! State Leads

The Equal Pay Today! Campaign, a project of the Tides Center, is an innovative collaboration of women’s legal and worker’s rights organizations working at state, regional, and national levels to challenge the legal, policy, and cultural barriers that have allowed the gender wage gap to persist. Their state projects are currently in California, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, Washington, and Pennsylvania. This week, we chatted with the fearless and visionary leaders of each state project who are fighting on the front lines – in  the  courtroom,  in  the  state  capitol,  and  in  their communities – for a State of Women that ensures economic security for all regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, or disability status.

The common statistic is that white women make 74 cents to every white man’s dollar, but there’s so many more layers to this issue. What’s one thing you wish people knew about the work being done to address this?

African American women, Hispanic women, and Native American women are not earning a dollar to every white man’s dollar. These women are also not earning the 74 cents that white women are earning. It is important for people to realize there are basic discriminatory practices affecting women of color that prevent both equal pay and equal access to the negotiation table. – Pamelya Herndon, Southwest Women’s Law Center

That the gender pay gap is even worse for women of color, particularly African American and Hispanic women.  While the gap for white women is astounding, California Latinas are doing far worse, making only 44 cents on the dollar and African American women in California are paid, on average, just 63 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. This wage gap has a devastating impact on women and their families. Important work is being done to not only highlight the gender wage gap, but to also bring attention to the fact that due to this wage gap, all women, but especially women of color, can expect to lose out on much more in their lifetime.  – Amy Poyer, California Women’s Law Center

One thing we wish people knew about the work being done to eliminate the wage gap is the need for a national pregnancy reasonable accommodation law like we have in Illinois and that exist in over a dozen other states. Women make up half of the workforce, three-quarters of women entering the workforce will become pregnant during their careers, and two-thirds will work during their pregnancy. Some women—especially those in strenuous jobs—will face a conflict between the physical demands of their work and their pregnancy. No woman should have to choose between a healthy pregnancy and her job. Pregnancy reasonable accommodation laws ensure that pregnant women can receive the same types of reasonable accommodations, such as a stool to sit on, that employers already make for other workers who require temporary adjustments for their health.  Providing a reasonable accommodation helps both pregnant workers and the families who rely on their paychecks. The ability to continue working while pregnant allows women to maintain income and seniority while also accessing advancement opportunities. – Melissa Joseph, Women Employed

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Was there a defining moment where you realized this work was something you wanted to pursue and fight for?

Growing up, I looked at my mother and wondered why the hardest working woman in my world was paid the least. Whether she was cleaning houses or providing home care to the loved ones of others, she was providing incredible value to our community. But it wasn’t until she was represented by a union and paid a living wage working in a senior home that she had any economic security for herself or the five children she was raising as a widow. I became a social justice lawyer to fight for women like my mother and fair pay is my rallying cry. The gender wage gap quantifies discrimination, in dollar and cents. And because it harms women across education and income levels, it unifies the movement for gender equality. I believe the fair pay fight is a fight for all of us – for working women still living in poverty, for the families who rely on a woman’s earnings, and for girls and boys across the country who should be raised seeing hard work valued equally, regardless of sex. – Noreen Farrell, Equal Rights Advocates

I represent low-wage working women and see how hard they fight every day – facing sexual harassment and sexual assault on the job as well as pregnancy discrimination and wage theft.  I represented one Latina worker who was fired for being pregnant and then was sexually harassed at her next job and then had wages stolen at the job after that. I was struck by how she was a “repeat” customer in this world of employment discrimination and how unfair that was for her and her family. – Elizabeth Kristen, Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center

The defining moment for me occurred while I was watching a news show about a mother, grandmother and children that lived in Louisiana. The grandmother had been paying on the old, dilapidated house where they resided, for years. After residing in the home for more than 40 years, the grandmother still did not have the papers showing her ownership of the home.  At the end of the story, the commentator stated, “Who will help these women?” I remember standing up in front of the television and saying “I will…..I will help the women.” Today, I am not only helping women like those described above, but also many others like them. I believe I became the voice of the voiceless, after a defining moment, watching a television news show. – Pamelya Herndon, Southwest Women’s Law Center

What would fixing the pay gap mean for the families in your state?

Closing the gender wage gap in California would mean putting over $39 billion a year into the pockets of women and families, too many of whom are struggling to make ends meet, despite living in a state with the eighth largest economy in the world. The fight for fair pay is about securing wage justice and economic opportunity for all. California is home to 12% of American women and we cannot afford to wait another year, decade, or century for fair pay. – Jennifer Reisch, Equal Rights Advocates

Pennsylvania’s wage gap is at 79 cents for every dollar paid to men, amounting to an annual wage gap of $10,507. African American women are paid 68 cents, Latinas are paid 56 cents and Asian women are paid 81 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. At the current almost stagnant pace, Pennsylvania won’t achieve equal pay until 2072—far behind the national average. Truly achieving equal pay requires addressing a broad set of interconnected issues such as paid leave, pregnancy and nursing accommodations in the workplace, and increasing the minimum wage. A solid first step would be to eliminate pay discrimination. We also need to eliminate job segregation. Fixing the wage gaps will enable more Pennsylvania families to achieve economic security. For the almost 600,000 Pennsylvania families with a female breadwinner, 30 percent of whom live on less than the federal poverty level, this will mean being able to feed, house, and care for their families. Terry L. Fromson, Women’s Law Project

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What would you like the state of women to look like?

All people, regardless of gender, will have the opportunity to live out their best potential. Families wouldn’t be stretched thin, working multiple jobs. We would have both public policies and workplace policies that take into account what women’s lives really look like. A family health crisis wouldn’t mean bankruptcy, and survivors of intimate partner violence would not have to sacrifice their safety to gain economic independence. – Janet Chung, Legal Voice

The state of women values all people equally, regardless of sex or gender identity, race, age ethnicity, creed, ability, or sexual orientation. It lifts us from poverty and ensures we are paid fairly for our work. It supports us to work hard and care for families and loved ones. It ensures our autonomy over our own bodies. It is safe from violence, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. It allows our minds to be educated and our leadership skills to be fostered. It provides equal opportunities and challenges stereotypes that limit us. It builds community and activates hope and innovation to better the lives of those around us. In the state of women, we lead with a vision of the world we want, as opposed to what others say is possible. – Noreen Farrell, Equal Rights Advocates

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The state of women must be equal. It is a positive sign that the public is increasingly paying more attention to the issue of pay equity, but the fight for justice, for equal rights, and for greater opportunity is far from over. The state of women as we imagine it is not only one that has awareness of the wage gap issue, but one that includes concrete steps and a concentrated effort to eradicate this gap. – Amy Poyer, California Women’s Law Center

I would like the state of women to be filled with broken glass ceilings. I would like to see the state of women advance to a place where domestic workers are paid the minimum wage they are entitled to earn under the law now.  In my vision of the state of women, I see women moving into leadership positions where they have never ventured.  I see them receiving equal pay to men who have previously held those positions. – Pamelya Herndon, Southwest Women’s Law Center