June 10th is the 54th anniversary of the passage of the Equal Pay Act, the 1963 law that prohibits employers from paying men and women different wages for the same work solely based on sex. The Equal Pay Actâ€™s passage is an important example of the labor movementâ€™s long history of partnering with progressive womenâ€™s organizations to advocate for equal pay for women. Indeed,Â Esther Petersonâ€”one of the labor movementâ€™s greatest sheroesâ€”was instrumental in the enactment of this landmark legislation.
Pay equity and transparency are bread and butter issues for working women; when they come together to negotiate collectively for fair wages and important benefits, like access to health insurance and paid leave, they can better support their families. (Indeed, women in unions experienceÂ a smaller wage gap than women without a union voice).
Â Since the passage of the EPA, the gender wage gap has narrowed, but it persists. Women overall typically are paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts, and that number hasÂ barely changedÂ in the past 10 years. And the gap is even larger when you compare the earnings ofÂ women of colorÂ to white men.
Â Clearly, we still have much to do to ensure pay equity, and thereâ€™s been some progress, thanks to tireless working women and their allies across the country. For instance, in the past two years, more thanÂ half the states have introduced or passed their own remediesÂ to increase pay transparency, strengthen employer accountability and empower working people to take action against pay discrimination. But stronger protection from pay discrimination shouldnâ€™t depend on where you happen to live or where you work. Working women deserve a national solution.
Â Thatâ€™s why the AFL-CIO, the National Womenâ€™s Law Center and countless other organizations support theÂ Paycheck Fairness Act, part of aÂ comprehensive womenâ€™s economic agenda. TheÂ PFA would strengthen the EPA by: protecting employees from retaliation for discussing pay; limiting the ability of employers to claim pay differences are based on â€śfactors other than sexâ€ť; prohibiting employers from relying on a prospective employeeâ€™s wage history in determining compensation; strengthening individual and collective remedies against employers who discriminate; and increasing the data collection and enforcement capacity of key federal agencies.
Â Letâ€™s not forget that raising the federal minimum wage also would boost womenâ€™s earnings in a big way. A driving factor in the gender wage gap isÂ womenâ€™s overwhelming majority representation (two-thirds of workers) in minimum wage jobs, including those who pay the lower-tipped minimum wage. Legislation like theÂ Raise the Wage ActÂ would give women the well-deserved raise theyâ€™ve earned.
Â We need strong policy solutions like the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Raise the Wage Act to help close the gender wage gap. Working women and the families who depend on them canâ€™t afford to wait another 54 years.
This blog was originally published at AFLCIO.org on June 10, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Authors:Â Fatima Goss Graves is the senior vice president for program and president-elect at the National Womenâ€™s Law Center. In her current role, she leads the centerâ€™s broad agenda to eliminate barriers in employment, education, health care and reproductive rights and lift women and families out of poverty. Prior to joining the center,, she worked in private practice and clerked for the Honorable Diane P. Wood on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Liz Shuler is secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. The second-highest position in the labor movement, Shuler serves as the chief financial officer of the federation and oversees operations. Shuler is the first woman elected as the federationâ€™s secretary-treasurer, holding office since 2009.