We Need to Fight for Equal Pay, Today and Everyday


Fifty years ago, when Pres. John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, he attacked "the unconscionable practice of paying female employees less wages than male employees for the same job." While the act prohibits arbitrary discrimination in women's pay, President Kennedy's hope that the practice would end has not been realized. Instead, women today continue to receive less than 80 percent of the wages that men receive for doing the same job.

Today is Equal Pay Day, a day when women and men across the country redouble our efforts to make sure women receive the equal pay they deserve. This annual event is held on a different date each year, on whatever day represents how far into the year a woman must work to earn the same pay as a man earned, on average, in the previous year. Women in America must work 15 months and nine days to receive a paycheck equal to what men doing the same job received in 2012.

AFSCME has been engaged in the fight for equal pay for decades, and we will continue to fight to end this unjust form of discrimination against women. More than 54 percent of AFSCME members are women. We know that equal pay is directly connected to economic stability for our families and the American economy. That's why we have devoted so much energy to this fight.

Our members were historic leaders in the fight for pay equality. In 1981, a city-initiated study in San Jose, Calif., showed that women's jobs were underpaid. The city refused to take steps to address the inequity, so members of AFSCME Local 101 in San Jose, Calif., went on strike. Their successful nine-day strike was the first time workers in our country walked off the job to demand equal pay. As a result of their courageous action, our members won a contract that included $1.5 million dedicated to wage increases for female-dominated jobs.

One year later, AFSCME members in Minnesota won $33.4 million to raise the pay for female-dominated jobs in the state government. In 1983, AFSCME initiated a landmark lawsuit against the state of Washington, which resulted in a settlement providing more than $100 million in pay equity adjustments to 35,000 employees.

We continued to fight pay discrimination wherever we found it, even when it occurred in our nation's Capitol building. We brought a class action suit 12 years ago against the Architect of the Capitol that provided $2.5 million for 300 current and former employees who faced discrimination in pay simply because they were women.

AFSCME members across the country fought to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, supported by Democrats in Congress (only eight Republicans voted for the bill) and signed into law by President Obama in 2009. The Ledbetter Act overturned a corporate-friendly decision by the Supreme Court that gave women only 180 days after their first paycheck to file a lawsuit charging pay discrimination. Thanks to the Ledbetter Act, women can make a legal claim based on their most recent paycheck.

When President Kennedy set the nation on a path toward pay equality, he noted that the Equal Pay Act was "a first step." Much more was needed in 1963, and much more is still needed in 2013. Congress must pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would strengthen the Equal Pay Act by making it easier to file class action suits and prohibit employers from penalizing employees who share information about their salaries. It's time to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. It's time to end pay discrimination against women once and for all.