Paycheck fairness: Fighting for moms and all women

In this week leading up to Mother’s Day, advocates working across the country in workplace fairness and women’s health are focusing on issues that affect women – in particular mothers – and their economic security. We can strengthen the American family by better protecting women in our workforce and eliminating the pay gap that, on average, results in a woman making 77 cents for every dollar a man makes.

Advocates are ramping up this week to draw attention to workplace issues affecting women, ranging from pregnancy discrimination to sick leave and health care. Congressional events and daily “tweetstorms” at 3pm EST will explore the following themes:

  • Monday – Maternal Health & Child Care
  • Tuesday – Pregnancy Discrimination
  • Wednesday – Paid Leave & Paid Sick Days
  • Thursday – Equal Pay & Minimum Wage
  • Friday – Health

You can follow and join the National Consumers League and our partners in the chats using the hashtag #WhatMothersNeed.

One of the biggest issues facing women and their economic security is the lack of equality in pay. More than 50 years after John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law, women continue to make far less than men. On average, a woman makes 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. A new effort in Congress is aiming to help reduce the barriers to equality faced by women in the United States, and NCL is getting involved.

The American gender pay gap is even more severe for women of color; African American women making just 64 cents for every dollar a white man makes, and Latina women make even less — 55 cents.  Over the course of a year, women will make significantly less than their white male counterpart: $10,784 for a white woman, $19,575 for an African American woman and $23,873 for a Latina woman.

Under current law, women often struggle to successfully sue their employers if they suspect they are victims of discriminatory workplace practices because the burden of proof needed to prove an employer has violated the law is too great.  The Paycheck Fairness Act would help reduce these barriers to equality. If the Paycheck Fairness Act were passed into law, women would be empowered to negotiate for equal pay in the workplace. New protections barring employers from punishing employees for discussing salaries with colleagues and requiring employers to prove pay disparities between men and women exists for legitimate reasons, would give women a renewed ability to pursue justice in our courts.

In April, the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) committee held a hearing on the Paycheck Fairness Act. On Equal Pay Day (April 8th) the Senate held a floor vote on the Act. However, they failed to make cloture on the bill. Equal Pay Day marks the day on the calendar that women’s earnings catch up to men’s earnings from the previous year. It takes a woman approximately 465 days to earn what a man, on average, earns in 365 days. Esther Peterson, one of the League’s past leaders, ran the US Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau in the Kennedy Administration and she called for equal pay for women. Today, the League continues that fight. NCL is working with members of the Senate HELP Committee on the Paycheck Fairness Act and meeting with Congressional staffers to educate and advocate for it along with other economic security bills including the Pregnant Worker Fairness Act, the FAMILY Act and the Minimum Wage Fairness Act.

A recent populist strain in the national political conversation has shined a bright spotlight on social and economic inequalities. The time is now for meaningful social and economic change and the passing of the Paycheck Fairness Act would be a great step in the right direction. The pulse of the nation is longing to eliminate inequalities between the rich and poor, old and young, women and men. From the fast food strikes held around the country in the second half of 2013, to President Obama boldly stating in his 2014 State of the Union address that, “Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do,” to GAP declaring that they will raise the minimum wage for their employees to $10 an hour by 2015, the direction of the country is clear.

The fact that women get less money for equal work is not only a women’s issue but also a family issue. A woman is the primary breadwinner in four in 10 households with children under 18, according to a Pew Research Center Analysis. At a time when women contribute an increasingly growing percentage of a family’s income, 71 percent of mothers are part of the labor force, a pay gap unfairly targets children in households with single mothers or where both parents work. The Paycheck Fairness Act deserves a vote in Senate as women continue the long and steady march towards equality.