Equal Pay/Fair Wage

Fair Pay Springs Back Onto Agenda of NY Lobbyists

Monday, December 22, 2008

An Obama-era Congress will have at least two chances to act against wage discrimination next year. That raises the hopes of some New York activists, but they say they'll continue to lobby for similar state legislation, just in case.

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Activists gather at a January wage-bias forum.

(WOMENSENEWS)--Lilly Ledbetter became an immediate star in the movement to eliminate gender pay bias when the U.S. Supreme Court took up her case against the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. She first sued her employer, the Akron, Ohio-based manufacturer, in 1998 for nearly 20 years of paychecks that were significantly less than those of male co-workers at her level.

However, the Supreme Court's negative ruling against her in May 2007 and the subsequent stalling out in the U.S. Senate of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act made her name a byword for the frustration of stunted wage-reform efforts under the outgoing Bush administration.

Now, on the heels of the U.S. presidential election of Barack Obama and a Democratic majority in the Senate of 58 seats, activists in New York who have attracted Ledbetter to their cause say they are hoping for the best from the next Congress.

"It's sort of like, what do we want for Christmas?" said Beverly Neufeld, vice president of the New York Women's Agenda, a New York City coalition of professional women. "We want some new fair pay legislation. That would be a gift."

Neufeld and others say they're also lobbying state legislators because U.S. lawmakers could disappoint, especially since Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss' win in early December quashed the option of a filibuster-free majority for the Democrats.

Pushing for Equal Pay in New York

Lois Haignere, a coordinator of the New York State Pay Equity Coalition, which includes about 25 organizations, is gearing up for another push for the New York State Fair Pay Act. That bill would provide workers back pay along with punitive damages.

The bill would include employees who had comparable job titles, not just identical positions, which is more extensive than existing law. It would also outlaw intimidating an employee for disclosing his or her salary to co-workers. Haignere said workers are sometimes fired for revealing what they make when bosses want to discourage wage comparisons.

The law has been passed twice by the New York State Assembly in the last two years but consistently held up in the State Senate. "It's been a one-house bill," said Haignere. However, the New York Senate is now controlled by the Democrats, for the first time in a generation.

The coalition is planning fundraising and awareness-raising events for the spring legislative session. Last year, it organized a Gloria Steinem Day, when the prominent women's rights activist led 500 women to the state capital to rally for the Fair Pay Act.

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