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Closing Loopholes in the 50 Year Old Equal Pay Act

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Written by Gysele Miranda of LCLAA National

June 10th marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy signing into law the Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963. But while a lot has changed in these past 50 years, there still exists a gender wage gap in today’s society.  

Back in 1963, women were paid 59 cents for every dollar paid to men. Today, it is said that women are paid 77 cents for every dollar. Some improvement has been made, but it is still not equal or fair pay. The disparity becomes even larger when one looks at women of color, African-American women earn 60 cents and Latinas earn only 54 cents for every dollar.

For women who enter such male dominated careers like engineering or management (for example), they are often paid less than their male counterparts even though most have the same (or more) amount of experience/skill set. This is coming at a time where more women are the breadwinners of their families. Thus, pay disparity not only hurts women but also their families and by extension our economy. In a grander scheme, this pay disparity affects greatly the female college graduates with growing amounts of student debt. Because these women are paid less, more of their income goes to paying off those debts leaving less and less for investment, whether it be investing in a stock portfolio or their retirement plans.

Why is this pay disparity still happening? The EPA was signed to eliminate this problem and promote gender equality 50 years ago, but the problem persists. The answer is that private and public companies are now exploiting loopholes found in the act. The Equal Protection Act states that the acceptable reasons for paying women less than men are to be based on seniority, merit, and productivity. However, it gives some “breathing room” for companies by allowing them to use more vague reasons, such as personality, as a reason for less pay. Another issue with the EPA is that no punitive damages are dealt to the employer who is found guilty of discrimination. Only retroactive pay for the two previous years of employment can be won by the plaintiff, which is hardly a deterrent to large corporations.  More and more private companies are also making sure that workers do not disclose their salary to others with the threat of termination. The disclosure of salary is not protected by the EPA.

However, there are already efforts being made to close these loopholes in the EPA and to help further women’s rights. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which allowed for more time to file a charge of discriminatory pay (under the EPA it was 180 days within the first discriminatory paycheck, with the Fair Pay act it was extended to 180 days after receiving any discriminatory paycheck). More recently, the Paycheck Fairness Act was set to be voted on the week of June 4 in the Senate. This act further looks to close any loopholes in the EPA by requiring more legitimate reasons for less pay from companies (such as fewer credentials rather than personality), allowing punitive damages, and protecting the disclosure of salary between workers, thus creating transparency in the workplace.

 

But this isn’t the first time this bill has come to a vote, it was introduced in 2009. However, in 2010, it was defeated by a minority of U.S. Senators. NOW is the time more than ever to advocate for this act so it actually gets passed and also to strengthen the enforcement of existing anti-discrimination laws. A wide coalition between various civil rights, community and activist groups, including the Coalition of Labor Union Women, has formed across the country to urge constituents to write to their senators. The wage gap for Latinas is the highest in the nation and as such, LCLAA will continue to support the Equal Pay Act and Paycheck Fairness Act. LCLAA firmly believes in advancing women’s rights, not only for Latinas but for all women. We strongly urge YOU to become more active as the fight continues for legislation that ensures equality and fair pay!

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