June 10, 2013

On 50th anniversary of Equal Pay Act, coalition calls on Senate to bring Women's Equality Act to a vote

Source: NYSUT Communications
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Caption: "Seventy-five percent of NYSUT members are women," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira. "We are deeply committed to achieving equality, not only for today's generation of women, but for our students, who are the future of New York state." Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

ALBANY, NY June 10, 2013 - The New York Women's Equality Coalition, which includes the NYC Equal Pay Coalition and the NYS Pay Equity Coalition, today, marked the 50th anniversary of the signing into law of the federal Equal Pay Act by calling attention to the fact that women's wages continue to lag behind what men earn. The group called on New York State Senator Jeff Klein to bring the Women's Equality Agenda (WEA) to a vote.

Advocates held a press conference during which many dressed in 1960s garb to demonstrate the time period when the Equal Pay Act was signed into law a half century ago. "This 50th anniversary is a particularly important milestone in the quest for economic justice for women as it coincides with the recent introduction of the Women's Equality Act by Gov. Andrew Cuomo," said Beverly Neufeld, director of the Equal Pay Coalition NYC.

"It is incumbent upon Senator Klein to wield his leadership power in the Senate to give the 10 million women of the state a chance at greater equality," she stressed.

The facts support the importance of a real pay equity bill that meets modern needs. Women in New York earn 84% of what men earn, and this wage gap is even more severe for African- American and Hispanic women, according to Neufeld.

"Each point of the Women's Equality Act is critical to the women of New York," said Neufeld. "The equal pay provisions are commonsense and important updates to the prevailing law written five decades ago. Times have changed and so must our laws."

"Every woman in New York State should have the right to share salary information without penalty and be fairly and equally compensated for a day's work. The WEA would put teeth back into prevailing law and allow it to solve the problem for which it was created," according to Dina Bakst, Co-President of A Better Balance.

"Specifically, this new law would tighten current exceptions so that pay differentials are only allowed when the employer can show that the differential is based on something other than sex and is related to job performance and consistent with business necessity," said Bakst.

"The law would also prohibit employers from terminating or retaliating against employees who share salary information," she added. "Current practice enables wage disparities to persist undetected and enables employers to discriminate against women without their knowledge."

Further, the WEA would provide for increased damages, helping employees afford representation and achieve justice.

women's equality agenda

"Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law," said Senator Kevin Parker (D-21). "It is appalling that 50 years later, due in part to inadequate remedies, adverse court rulings and cynical exploitation of loopholes, we are still discussing women not receiving equal pay for equal work in New York. I am committed to working to make sure that New York does not continue failing to protect women's rights and their equality. There has been a lot of talk in recent years about the 99%, today is the day to talk about the 51%, and to tell women that we will not forget the work we have left to do."

NYS Assemblywoman Janet Duprey said, "As a Clinton County Legislator, I sponsored legislation three decades ago to increase the compensation for female employees in the County Sheriff's Department to equal pay with the male deputies. Prior to that, women were paid four pay grades below the males - and we are STILL fighting for equal pay. Amazing - 30 years later."

Barbara Thomas of the League of Women Voters, pointed out that there have been significant changes since 1963 when only one in 10 women were primary breadwinners compared to 40% today. "This makes it all the more critical that women earn on par with their male counterparts. The Women's Equality Act will bring us much closer to achieving that goal."

Maria Neira, vice president, New York State United Teachers, said, "Seventy-five percent of NYSUT members are women. We are deeply committed to achieving equality, not only for today's generation of women, but for our students, who are the future of New York state."

There are other critical points of the Women's Equality Act which also impact women's economic security and workplace equality, according to Neufeld. The bill will apply existing Human Rights Law to employers with fewer than four employees in cases of sexual harassment. Currently, a person working for an employer with fewer than four employees cannot file a claim of sexual harassment.

The Women's Equality Act would also stop pregnancy discrimination once and for all by protecting the rights of pregnant workers with a Human Rights requirement that employers provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy-related conditions, said Bakst. This may be as simple as additional restroom breaks or a stool to sit on in a job that requires standing. The law would also ban discrimination against parents. Women with children are less likely to be recommended for hire or promotion, and in most cases, are offered less in salary than similarly situated men.

The Act also protects women's reproductive health care decisions, provides greater protections in credit, lending and housing discrimination; stops housing discrimination and strengthens order of protection laws in cases of domestic violence; and strengthens human trafficking laws.

Gary Dake, CEO, Stewarts Shop, said, "As a family and employee owned company we know the importance of long term relationships. Discrimination or exploitation are in direct opposition to the principles of long term strength and stability. Our work force is about two-thirds female and the stronger that group is, the stronger the company as a whole is."

Lily Ledbetter, Prominent Women's Equality Activist and Plaintiff in the American employment discrimination case Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., said, "I applaud Governor Cuomo's 10 point Women's Equality Agenda which includes stronger laws to ensure equal pay. Passage will inspire other states and the federal government to follow New York's lead to support working women and their families."

Ally Wing, CEO, Giggle, said, "It is important to me that parents using our products know we are treating our employees as well as our customers would want to be treated themselves. I believe gender diversity and business success go hand in hand, and I know other businesses feel the same way. The women of New York deserve better. Let's not delay in making the Women's Equality Act a reality."

The Women's Equality Coalition is made up of more than 850 women's, labor, religious, civil rights and health care groups, businesses and business leaders.