Over the past 18 or so months, the gender wage gap in Pennsylvania closed by another penny, to 78%. That is, Pennsylvania women make, on average, 78 cents to every dollar made by their male counterparts. Pay equity in Pennsylvania has been law since 1959, enacted more than five decades ago, when the gap was 60%. That’s an 18 cent per hour improvement over 50 years. It is progress, but hardly worth the name. It’s been more like watching grass grow than witnessing gender parity!
Now you might ask yourself what good is the Pay Equity Act if it hasn’t actually accomplished equal pay for equal work for women? That’s a good question with only one answer: Not much. Weak penalties and worker’s lack of knowledge about what their jobs are worth make it easy for employers to do the wrong thing: discriminate on the basis of gender. Despite Equal Pay being the law of the land and the state, the gender wage gap has persisted. And while it’s true that women aren’t as good at negotiating salaries as their male counterparts, it’s also true employers shroud their pay practices in secrecy and impose policies that discourage and even punish the sharing of information about wages. Throughout industries, from the highest paying job to the lowest, women are paid less than men for identical work. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) has found women are paid less right out of college than their identically trained male counterparts. A lifetime of gender wage discrimination means a lifetime of lower savings, decreased access to healthcare, a less secure retirement. All of this still happens despite the fact that wage discrimination on the basis of gender is illegal.
The Pennsylvania law needs teeth. That’s why I testified on behalf of Pennsylvania NOW twice in 2014 to improve the Pennsylvania Pay Equity Act of 1959 (which has not been amended since 1968). In July 2014, I advocated in support of Representative Maria Donatucci’s bill increasing penalties to businesses that discriminate on the basis of gender. In September 2014, I urged the House Labor & Industry Committee to vote out a bill introduced by Representative Brian Sims that would end pay secrecy and close existing loopholes in the law which give business cover to discriminate against women. As these bills are reintroduced and (hopefully) move forward, you can bet that Pennsylvania NOW will be making sure state legislators know our members want to see true change. Equal pay for equal work is simply what’s fair, and it’s what we demand!
Fixing Equal Pay in Pennsylvania is not the only improvement working women expect their legislators to take on. Pennsylvania NOW stands in solidarity with the Fight for $15, because all workers should be paid a living wage. Working families also need Parental Medical Leave, Earned Sick Time and working women need breastfeeding and pregnancy accommodations in the workplace. As the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health continues to grow, feminists will focus more on these issues.
Women are half the population, half the citizenry of Pennsylvania, and half the workforce. Women demand laws that reflect the reality of our lives. Happy Equal Pay Day. May there be a time very soon where every day is an equal pay day for women.