Advocates use Pay Equity Day to lobby Senate for equality
Mitch McConnell | J. Scott Applewhite/AP

WASHINGTON—Advocates of equal pay for equal work used Pay Equity Day, April 2, to lobby the Senate to make pay equality for male and female workers a reality.

And while they have the unanimous support of the Senate’s 45 Democrats and both independents, they face one big obstacle there: Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent.

Led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., longtime pay equity champion Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and veteran actress Michelle Williams, the advocates – including a top official of the National Domestic Workers Alliance – marched into a large meeting room in the U.S. Capitol to demand final passage of legislation strengthening the 1962 Equal Pay Act.

Easing the way to achieve equal pay for equal work would help working women, all families, and the economy, they said. It would also cut the poverty rate among female-headed households from 8.4 percent to 3.8 percent, added Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., co-chair of the Congressional Women’s Caucus.

Right now, depending on which statistics are used, the median weekly paycheck for a working woman is between 77 cents and 80 cents for every dollar in the median for the top paid workers, white males. For African-Americans and Latinas, the inequity is even wider. And the chasm has budged little in more than two decades. The median is the point where half the group is above the figure and half below.

The wage gap is smaller for union women, though. Calculations from federal data show the median pay for a female union worker is 86 cents per the $1 median for the male union worker – and $1.09 compared the $1 median for all workers, union and non-union, male and female.

“Wage discrimination takes place not just on the soccer field” – the medal-winning U.S. women’s soccer team sued the national soccer federation over pay equity last month – “or the silver screen, but in boardrooms and among bus drivers,” DeLauro declared.

“It’s the same job. We should get the same pay.”

“This is about equal pay for equal work and fairness for America’s families,” Pelosi declared. But the inequality appears in other ways, she noted, mentioning a woman she met in DeLauro’s New Haven-based congressional district who had to send her sick child to school because the mother was paid so little she couldn’t afford childcare – and that if she took off time to care for her youngster, she could be fired.

DeLauro’s introduced paid sick leave legislation, too. Like the Pay Equity Act, HR7, it’s a top agenda item for the new House Democratic majority – a majority bolstered by record numbers of women. The House passed HR7 on March 26, 242-187, with seven Republicans joining all 235 Democrats in voting for it.

“To my sisters: We deserve better,” said one of those new female House members, Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, one of several women who unseated GOPers in the deep-red state last November. “It’s terrible that it’s 2019 and we’re still talking about issues relating to women being second-class citizens.”

But if McConnell has his way, the conversation will stall. Politico reported the Senate Majority Leader has unilaterally decided to deep-six the entire raft of legislation – from election reform to pay equity to Medicare for All – the Democratic-run House sends over.

He’s already staged a “show vote” on the Green New Deal, trying to embarrass Senate Democrats on an issue where not all agree.

McConnell won that show vote, 57-0, with every Republican, plus Democrats Joe Manchin (W. Va.), Krysten Sinema (Ariz.) and Doug Jones (Ala.), voting to table (kill) the non-binding endorsement of the idea. The other 41 Democrats and both independents voted “present,” foiling McConnell’s tactic.

But in an interview afterwards, DeLauro predicted the Senate would vote on HR7 on Pay Equity Day, April 2, too. “Equal pay is now at the center of public discourse, and women are watching,” she warned.

“I had conversations with” Senate Democratic Leader Charles “Schumer and Patty Murray,” the Washington state Democrat who’s leading the fight there for pay equity. “We have all 46 Democrats and independents on board.”

“And the situation has changed from 1997” when she first introduced the Equal Pay Act “and 2008-09” when the Democratic-run House passed it but a Senate GOP filibuster killed it.

“When the soccer team speaks up and Michelle Williams speaks up and there is external pressure, people are very aware and my hope is that senators will say ‘This is the time.’”


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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