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Equal pay demands delivered to White House, Congress

More than 100 organizations on April 8 called on President Barack Obama to issue an executive order banning retaliation against employees of federal contractors for disclosing or inquiring about wages.

The request was made on the eve of Equal Pay Day and accompanied with renewed calls for equal pay for equal work. Data from the U.S. Census says that women still earn, on average, 77 cents for every dollar that a man makes. Women of color take home even less.

"A half century after President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, we have many more steps to take before his vision is fulfilled,” said Deborah J. Vagins of the ACLU Washington legislative office. She's co-chair of the National Paycheck Fairness Coalition.

“A pernicious wage gap still exists for women, and to compound the problem, employees can be fired for simply asking about or disclosing their wages in many workplaces. If you can’t ask about your pay without fear of punishment, it is difficult to address any disparities. We urge Congress and the president to take action, so that next year, on Equal Pay Day, we will be one step and many cents closer to achieving pay equity," Vagins said.

The coalition, in a statement, said an executive order banning retaliation for wage inquiries would immediately protect 26 million Americans who work for federal contractors — roughly 20 percent of the American workforce.

A letter from the groups also asks the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs to finalize its compensation data collection tool in order to collect employment information that will help to highlight disparities and indicate where possible discrimination exists.

Members of the coalition also reiterated support for the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was introduced earlier this year by U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and has the support of the president. The bill would update and strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

“Fifty years ago this year, the Equal Pay Act became law. Yet a punishing wage gap persists for women across the country,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families. “We must do more to close the wage gap, which is present in every part of the country and every industry, and affects workers with every level of education. Congress and the president can and must do more. We are urging Congress to prioritize passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act and urging President Obama to take executive action to ensure that federal contractors do not discriminate in pay. It is past time the country finally make gender-based pay discrimination a thing of the past.”

The partnership released an analysis showing that, in Wisconsin, women are paid 78 cents for every dollar paid to men. That wage gap for a woman amounts to about $10,324 a year. The partnership says collectively the loss to women in Wisconsin is more than $8.3 billion in income each year.

“This new analysis illustrates the great harm to families, states and metropolitan areas caused by the pervasive gender-based wage gap,” said Ness. “With most women serving as essential breadwinners for their families, the loss of this critical income has devastating consequences. Local, state and federal lawmakers should make ending gender discrimination in pay and promotions a much higher priority.” 

According to the analysis, if the gap between men’s and women’s wages in Wisconsin was eliminated, each full-time working woman in the state could afford to pay for food for 1.7 more years, buy 2,700+ more gallons of gas, pay mortgage and utilities for seven more months or pay rent for 14 more months. These basic necessities would be particularly important for the 31 percent of Wisconsin’s women-headed households currently below the poverty level.

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