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On 47th Anniversary, the Equal Pay Act Must Finally Live Up to its Name

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Image: Linda MericImagine for a moment that you work in a department with three employees: one African-American, one Caucasian and one Latina. One day, someone new is hired.

Imagine discovering that this new hire is to be paid much more than any of you; even more than the Latina, who has been employed there for 14 years. Imagine your outrage; especially since the only difference is that all of you are women — and the new hire is a man.

This story, from a Denver woman who now works in the financial industry, might be shocking to those of us who believe in equity and fairness, but it’s not unique.

All over this country, similar stories play out, most anonymous and a few now famous — like that of Lilly Ledbetter, who worked 20 years at a Goodyear plant in Alabama before learning that the men who performed the same job as she had been earning more all along.

It’s time that pay discrimination end and the pay gap close in this country — and there is something we all can do about it right now! Push the U.S. Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

On average, women earn about 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. For women of color, African American women and Latinas, the gap is even wider. Men of color experience a pay gap, too, compared to white men. Some don’t like to talk about it; some even refuse to believe it. Some think we got past this kind of blatant discrimination long ago.

Forty-seven years ago, when President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law, women’s rights activists celebrated. After years of effort, finally there was a law that prohibited women from being paid less than men for doing the exact same jobs.

Women finally had some equality in their paychecks — at least by law. When the Equal Pay Act passed, women earned, on average, 60 cents for every dollar earned by men. In the forty-seven years that have passed, the pay gap has closed by less than less than 20 cents.

Now, we have a chance to make further progress to close the pay gap: the Paycheck Fairness Act.

A desperately needed update to the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 182) would close loopholes, strengthen business incentives to end pay discrimination, prohibit retaliation against workers who share wage information, and bring the Equal Pay Act in line with other civil rights laws.

The Paycheck Fairness Act has passed in the House of Representatives. President Barack Obama is ready to sign it into law. But it’s bottlenecked in the U. S. Senate. If it doesn’t move forward this year, we’ll have to start all over again.

Meanwhile, paying women less affects not only us and our families, but our communities and even our nation because it means we have less to spend on rent and mortgage payments, medical care, taxes, retirement savings and other basic necessities.

Women can’t afford to lose another penny. Our nation can’t afford to wait another year.

Speak out now. Encourage the Senate to pass this much needed update so that the Equal Pay Act of 1963 can finally start to live up to its name.

Help us support the Paycheck Fairness Act by contacting your Congressman and urging their voice behind the bill.

About The Author: Linda Meric is Executive Director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, an inclusive multi-racial membership-based organization founded in 1973 to strengthen the ability of low-income women to win economic justice through grassroots organizing and policy advocacy. Linda has spent more than 30 years as a labor and community organizer. She also serves as an adjunct professor specializing in sexual harassment and other workplace issues.

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Lily Ledbetter’s Fair Pay Fight Continues

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In a recent Letter to the Editor in the New York Times, Lilly Ledbetter reminded all of us that Congress still has some unfinished business when it comes to ensuring fair pay for women. Specifically, she mentioned the importance of passing the Paycheck Fairness Act – a bill that aims to strengthen current laws against wage discrimination and provides tools to enable the federal government more proactively address it.

It’s an unfortunate reality that pay discrimination persists nearly half a century after the Equal Pay Act outlawed the practice. When women aren’t paid what they are owed, they suffer and so do their families – in income, benefits and retirement security.

Lilly’s determination and fortitude is an inspiration for all of us to continue fighting for pay equity. As Lilly herself has said so many times before, this fight is about ensuring that our daughters and granddaughters will get a better deal. She has traveled far and wide to spread this message, and to make sure no one forgets that women are still falling 22 cents short of equality (http://www.nwlc.org/fairpay/statefacts.html)

Fatima Goss Graves: Fatima Goss Graves is Senior Counsel for Education and Employment at the National Women’s Law Center. She focuses on gender equity in education, including the advancement of women and girls in fields that are nontraditional for their gender, affirmative action, sexual harassment and athletics. Prior to joining NWLC, she worked as an appellate and trial litigator at Mayer, Brown, Rowe, & Maw LLP. She began her career as a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. She is a graduate of Yale Law School and the University of California at Los Angeles.

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