By Beverly Cooper Neufeld
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
The Supreme Court ruling on Wal-Mart spotlights the tough fight between female wage earners and employers. To balance our family checkbooks, we all need help from local politicians to pass the Paycheck Fairness bill.
Critically, the Paycheck Fairness Act would also protect workers from retaliation if they choose to discuss their salaries. More than 60 percent of workers report fear of retaliation as a reason they don't deal with wage inequity.
If employers restrict workers' ability to share salary information women can't find out if they are earning less than they should. With salary information, workers have the opportunity to address inequities in real-time, not years later when courts may decide they waited too long.
In New York, coalitions of advocates have been working to pass a similar bill. As it has annually since 2002, our Assembly passed the NYS Fair Pay Act this April. As usual it got stuck in Republican-controlled Senate committees. In a compromise effort, this year Senator Liz Krueger carved out the key "wage secrecy" portion to stand alone as a single bill. She vows to bring it back in the next term and work for passage.
Not willing to rely on the state and federal legislative successes, New York City is mounting a grassroots campaign. Elected officials are responding to the calls of our coalitions – the New York Women's Agenda and its Equal Pay Coalition NYC - to ferret out and respond to disparities.
Comptroller John Liu helped by producing the first gender-equity analysis of New York City's public and private sector work force, based on data that has been readily available for some time. It provides a snapshot look at job sectors. Workers and agencies can now see how they are faring and have a chance to respond.
Council Members Letitia James and Julissa Ferreras--champions of female wage earners--are using this report to develop remedies. Both are writing pay-equity legislation applicable to city law. The comptroller's office is also looking at some key report findings, such as gender segregation in certain fields and a wider wage gap for female city employees who have children.
With Wal-Mart seeking to enter the New York City market, the Dukes v. Wal-Mart decision has special significance.
City Council hearings called by Speaker Christine Quinn this winter spotlighted questionable workplace practices and drew crowds of protesters. Elected officials queried and cajoled. Now our question is, what will be done to ensure that Wal-Mart --and every employer – creates and maintains equitable workplace practices? That will take more action than talk.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has been wrong before. Ask Lilly Ledbetter who took her discrimination case there only to be denied.
Congress corrected that ruling by passing the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill signed by President Barack Obama. Now it must do the same for Betty Dukes and all workers facing discrimination by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act.
We need to make it clear to politicians in Washington, D.C., and state capitals and localities around the country that it's their job to create a more equitable workplace that respects our current work force. We are watching.
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Beverly Cooper Neufeld, a nonprofit consultant, is president of the New York Women's Agenda and director of its Equal Pay Coalition NYC. The two coalitions represent more than 100 organizations in New York City.
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