Wages for One, Wages for All!

By: Fatima Guillen-Walsh

It’s no secret that women are an important force in our society, and thus should be treated accordingly.  Yet, women everywhere still face discrimination in the workplace, especially when it comes to equal pay.  Finally, states are beginning to adopt legislation to help amend this very big problem.[1]  This past week, New Jersey advanced a bill from the state Assembly that would close the wage gap between men and women.[2]  It will now make its way to the House and hopefully be adopted.[3]

\The bill, proposed by the Sen. Loretta Weinberg, follows the path taken by the Lilly Ledbetter Act of 2009.[4]  It hopes to “limit[] all pay discrimination claims and also prohibit unequal pay for ‘substantially similar’ work under the Law Against Discrimination.” Additionally, it is one of the first to call for a valid justification if an employer has different compensation rates.[5]  It includes provisions that suggest various factors besides the employee’s sex that should be considered, as well as prohibit employer retaliation, and impose reporting requirements for information beyond just compensation, such as gender, race, job title, and occupational category.[6]

Fellow sponsor of the bill and Senate President Steve Sweeney (Democrat-Gloucester) considers this an important form of legislation.[7]  After the advancement, he made a statement explaining:

It is shameful that women continue to make less than men for doing the exact same      work. Equal pay will raise wages for women, helping families to get ahead – and it          will benefit the entire state by strengthening the economy . . . . We advanced this          legislation because it is the right thing to do for New Jersey residents and for the            state.[8]

Sweeney is not alone in his opinion, and is joined by Sens. Sandra Bolden Cunningham (Democrat-Hudson) and Linda Greenstein (Democrat-Middlesex).

Women in New Jersey earn an average of 80.4 cents per dollar that a male earns, only slightly above the national average of 79 cents on the dollar.  The gap continues to widen if you separately factor in African-American and Hispanic women, who will make 58.1 cent and 42.7 cents for every dollar that men make in the work force.[9]  Though the gap has narrowed since 1970 where women barely made 59 percent of what men were paid, it is still not where it should be.[10]  This is predominantly due to the movement for women in both education and participation in high power careers, as well as men’s wages slowly rising today.[11] However, recently progress has been at a standstill, and it does not seem like the pay gap will disappear without legislative guidance.[12]

This passage comes at a crucial time of year, as Equal Pay Day[13] is right around the corner.  However, what many people do not realize is that the pay gap between men and women exceeds just salary and wages, but also full compensation packages as a whole. Though much of this applies mainly to lower income women, it affects all women nationwide.[14]  Not only are these women less likely to have retirement type saving plans, but are also less likely to be offered health insurance, training opportunities, flexible work arrangements, paid vacation, leave or sick leave from their employer.[15]

Around this time last year before Equal Pay Day 2015, President Obama’s middle class agenda was said to want to “mov[e] forward on policies that ensure fair pay for all Americans and help workers find jobs that best suit their talents . . . .”[16]  The White House was hopeful that policies can help not only narrow the gap, but allow employers to “retain the strong talent, which benefits the economy as a whole.”[17]

Though there has been some federal legislation on the issue[18], we have not seen changes in federal regulation to help fix this problem, it is nice to see the states taking a stand and attempting to begin the fight for equal pay.[19]  Women are a huge part of our economy; they dominate “almost half the workforce . . . [they are] breadwinner[s] . . . receive more college and graduate degrees than men . . . [but] continue to earn considerably less than men.”[20]  It is unfair that women continue to face these discriminatory practices that our Constitution[21] should protect.

[1] Jeannie O’Sullivan, NJ Gender Parity Pay Bill Passes Both Houses, law 360, (Mar. 14, 2016, 8:59 PM), https://www.law360.com/employment/articles/770979/nj-gender-parity-pay-bill-passes-both-houses.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id. The Act was signed by President Obama in 2009 to help restore anti-discrimination protection for the unfair gender wage gaps, which was previously stripped away in Ledbetter case. Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Nat’l Women’s Law Ctr. (Jan. 29, 2013), http://nwlc.org/resources/lilly-ledbetter-fair-pay-act/.

[5] O’Sullivan, supra note 1.

[6] Id.

[7] See id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Council of Economic Advisers Issues Brief, Gender Pay Gap: Recent Trends and Explanations (Apr. 2015), https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/equal_pay_issue_brief_final.pdf.

[14] See id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] See Jennifer Ludden, Despite New Law, Gender Salary Gap Persists, NPR, (last updated Apr. 19, 2010, 12:38PM), http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125998232 (explaining that “[t]he very first bill that President Obama signed into law dealt with equal pay for women, but activists say it’s done little to close the ongoing difference between what men and women earn.”).

[19] O’Sullivan, supra note 1.

[20] Pay Equity & Discrimination, inst. for women’s policy research, http://www.iwpr.org/initiatives/pay-equity-and-discrimination (last visited Mar. 18, 2016).

[21] As suggested above, many believe that the United States Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause should extend to gender discrimination and mandate equal pay among the sexes. See U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1.

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