Will The Domino Effect Close the Wage Gap?

Little girl counts his coins on a table, select focus at coins.
Little girl counts his coins on a table, select focus at coins.

Not to oversimplify, but there really is something about the domino effect. The chain reaction when one event sets off a chain of similar events.

Fair pay advocates in states across the country are carefully contemplating this effect as a strategy to close the wage gap. On January 29, we will mark the seventh anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. While this law makes it easier for workers to challenge long-standing pay discrimination, we are angered by the fact that women continue to lose billions of dollars each year to the wage gap. It harms all of us, and those we support. Women of color are faring the worst. African-American women still make on average just 60 cents to every dollar earned by white men. Latinas make just 55 cents. States with higher than average populations of women of color have wage gaps that are even wider.

There is an incredible need for stronger federal laws, but important legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would increase protections for workers who talk about pay and close other loopholes, continues to stall in Washington, D.C. If there is one thing we could use more of in the fight to close the gender wage, it is momentum.

What if we could activate the domino effect in the fight for fair pay with state-by-state wins? Leading fair pay and worker advocates across the country -- from California to Washington, D.C. -- have partnered to form the Equal Pay Today! Campaign to do just that. Through a closely coordinated state-by-state campaign, we plan on building momentum towards passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act through equal pay wins in the states.

This national state-by-state campaign will take on the many factors contributing to the pay gap, including: unequal pay, pay secrecy, job segregation, the too-low minimum wage (which disproportionately impacts women, who are 2/3 of the minimum wage workers in the U.S.), and the unfair treatment of pregnant workers and caregivers, which forces them from employment and depresses their earnings. (Read the Equal Pay Today! platform.)

On January 1, under the leadership of Equal Pay Today! member organizations, California enacted the strongest equal pay law in the country, prohibiting unequal pay for substantially similar work, banning retaliation against workers who discuss pay, and allowing workers to more easily combat pay discrepancies across multiple worksites of the same employer.

A Minnesota member of Equal Pay Today! is pushing enforcement of a recently enacted bill to end pay secrecy perpetuating discrimination. Our member organizations in Pennsylvania and Washington are similarly advancing bills to close loopholes in equal pay laws, combat pay secrecy, and require pregnancy accommodations in the workplace. In New Mexico and Illinois, our members are pushing for stronger protections for pregnant workers. This is just the beginning. Equal pay advocates are not waiting for a stronger federal fix to the gender wage gap. Over 35 states have recently passed strong equal pay legislation or have legislation pending.

The dominoes have been set, and they are starting to fall, state by state. Will this create the chain reaction needed to close the wage gap? The Equal Pay Today! Campaign is betting on just that.

Noreen Farrell is co-chair of the Equal Pay Today Campaign. Learn more at equalpaytoday.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Equal Pay Today Campaign is a collaborative effort of the following organizations, in alphabetical order: the American Association of University Women, A Better Balance, American Civil Liberties Union Women's Rights Project, California Women's Law Center, Equal Rights Advocates, Gender Justice, Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center, Legal Momentum, Legal Voice, National Center for Law and Economic Justice, National Employment Law Project, National Partnership for Women and Families, National Women's Law Center, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Southwest Women's Law Center, and the Women's Law Project.