By Jillian Martin, Editorial Assistant
On January 24, President Barack Obama made his annual State of the Union address. In it, he touched on important issues that will come up in the next few months as he campaigns against the Republican candidate.
While discussing his plan for economic growth, this year’s top priority, he said, “You see, an economy built to last is one where we encourage the talent and ingenuity of every person in this country. That means women should earn equal pay for equal work.” This statement, short as it is, is important.
While women may have the right to vote, and sexual discrimination when hiring and at the workplace is illegal, women in the U.S. continue to earn less than men for equal work (approximately 78 cents to every one dollar. And let’s not forget about women of color, who are paid even less. The National Women’s Organization reports “African American women earn only 61 cents and Latinas just 52 cents [compared to every one dollar men earn for equal work].”
Since the beginning of his term, the President has been dedicated to this issue of pay equity. In fact, in 2009, the first bill that Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act. When Lilly Ledbetter neared retirement, she learned that her male co-workers were paid more for equal work. The case went to the Supreme Court where the Court ruled that the statue of limitations had passed—she should have filed the suit within 180 days of the first sign of pay discrimination. The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which amends Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, says the suit can be filed 180 days after the most recent paycheck that shows discrimination, thereby making it much easier for women to file for claims in cases of pay inequity.
Obama’s support of the Lilly Ledbetter Act three years ago was critical to its transition from an idea to a legally enforceable mandate. And this year, Obama is making it clear that he is still committed to pay equity. Two days after his State of the Union Address, Obama uploaded a video to YouTube explaining why he signed the Lilly Leadbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act into law and why he supports the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 182/H.R. 12), which some have called the “next step” toward equality and ‘closing the wage gap.’ This bill passed the House in January, but still needs to pass the Senate before it becomes a law. The act looks to remedy pay discrimination based on sex.
If it were to pass, the Paycheck Fairness Act would work to end the discrimination of pay between women and men by implementing specific regulations and creating more opportunities for women to be paid equally, and to protest when they are not. Some of these regulations include requiring education, training, and work experience as determinants in or reasons for a change in pay or position. Additionally, employees would be legally allowed to discuss their wages with co-workers, if they so wished, which would enlighten someone if he or she was being underpaid. Women would be given the chance to participate in negotiation training, where they would develop skills to negotiate their salary. On a broad scale, the bill would bring a great change to the workforce practices in place today.
While it is heartening that the Paycheck Fairness Act has been reinstated for debate in Congress since our blog entry: “Congress Votes Down Paycheck Fairness Act” in November 2010, there is still a long way to go before this bill becomes law. As young women, this law may not seem relevant to you yet, but it is. Over the course of your lifetime, it could mean millions of dollars more in your pocket.
As the 2012 Presidential election approaches, we hope to see this wage gap issue and other women’s rights issues discussed among the candidates.
For more on the Paycheck Fairness Act and Obama’s policy on equal rights, visit the following websites: the National Organization for Women, the American Association for University Women, and The President’s Record on Equal Rights.