This year on Equal Pay Day, let's build on decades of hard work for fairness and justice for female workers; let's expand the agenda to encompass fair pay.
Let's redouble our efforts and remind people of the basic truth that President Barack Obama stated in his inaugural address: "We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship."
Right now, women still make only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, and the gap is even wider for African American women and Latinas.
Irregular scheduling practices are the latest threat to fair pay for female workers, especially those in service industries. About half of low-wage workers have irregular schedules, calibrated by employers to the peaks and valleys of customer traffic. Sometimes, in food service for example, the hours are determined by the weather. Increasingly, employees are required to be "on call," waiting at home to learn whether they will be asked to work or not.
More and more women don't know how many hours they'll be given to work week to week or when they'll be required to report. They can't predict their incomes, enroll in school or training or find workable child care arrangements.
Pushed Into Poverty
Millions of women today earn less than $12 per hour, in jobs most people would not consider decent work. Many low-wage workers in caregiving occupations, retail and food service have no paid sick days, so they are in danger of losing their jobs if they or their children are ill. More women who want full-time jobs are working part time, and as a result, have no access to basic benefits. A recent The New York Times article on part-time work, "A Part-Time Life, as Hours Shrink and Shift," addresses the ways in which this type of work pushes many into poverty.
To close the wage gap and strengthen women's economic stability, we need to advocate for fair pay. And fair pay includes a higher minimum wage, a right to earn sick days, protections against the abuses of irregular schedules and parity in benefits for part-time workers.
It includes extending basic employment protections to the growing number of home care workers that our society needs and to domestic workers.
To ensure equal pay for equal work, we need stronger enforcement of equal pay requirements and stronger laws. The Paycheck Fairness Act (S84/HR377), now languishing in Congress, will strengthen the 50-year-old Equal Pay Act by assessing stronger penalties for violations, facilitating class action lawsuits and establishing a non-retaliation provision for employees who discuss their salaries with co-workers.
But equal pay for equal work is only part of the solution to the persistent wage gap. We need to go well beyond modernizing the Equal Pay Act, as the Paycheck Fairness Act would do. We must attack the problem of low-paid work and the financial instability that characterizes so much of the work women do in our economy.