Equal Work Deserves Equal Pay

This article is written by Denise Ferguson, Board Member of The Women Worldwide Initiative, and former Director of Advisory Council on Women for the City of Chicago, ahead of Equal Pay Day on April 9, 2013.

Retired since September 2011, as Director/Community Liaison of Advisory Council on Women from the Chicago of Chicago’s Commission on Human Relations, Denise Ferguson continues to address issues of gender based discrimination in wages. Ferguson promotes Pay equity, advocates for the passing of the Paycheck Fairness Act and the annual observance of National Women’s Equal Pay Day.

“Women represent nearly half of the American workforce and are 51% of the population in Chicago. We are equally, if not totally responsible for the economic viability of our families,” states Ferguson.

Fifty years ago, in 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law which requires employers to give men and women employees “equal pay for equal work.” One year later, in 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed. Title VII of that act bars all discrimination in employment, including discrimination in hiring, firing, promotion, and wages on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

As these legal protections have not ensured pay equity for women, President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law in 2009 and is urging the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act which will strengthen gender pay equity laws and would prohibit companies from retaliating against workers who discuss salary information. The law would also require employers to prove any pay discrepancies among workers are unrelated to gender, as well as both necessary for the business and tied to job performance.

To bring public attention to the disparity in wages, Equal Pay Day was originated in 1996 by the National Committee on Pay Equity to show how far into the current year a woman must work to earn as much as a man doing similar work earned in the previous year. The gender wage gap undermines the economic security of women from all backgrounds, at all ages, and at all levels of education. Today, in 2013 the average working woman earns just 77 cents to the average working man’s dollar and has to work from January 1, 2013 to April 9, 2013 to achieve pay equity for the previous year. Women of color are especially impacted by the consequences of unequal pay. In comparison, Latina women earn 58% and African American women earn 67% to the man’s dollar. The gender wage gap undermines the economic security of women from all backgrounds, at all ages, and at all levels of education.

Illinois enacted an Equal Pay Act in 2004. In January 2008, the Illinois Department of Labor (IDOL) won its first Equal Pay Act case in court to recover thousands of dollars in owed wages for a female employee. The State of Illinois found that Main Street Liquors located at 2000 W. Madison Street in Chicago violated the Act by paying a male clerk a higher wage for performing the same work as a female clerk formerly employed at the store. A Cook County Circuit Court judge ruled in favor of the State and ordered the employer to pay $4,061 in back wages and $8,122 in penalties to the employee.

This year Equal Pay Day is Tuesday, April 9, 2013 and will be celebrated at noontime at Daley Plaza. Free and open to the public.

Working together to raise awareness about pay equity and the Paycheck Fairness Act are the following:
AAUW Chicago; AAUW-Illinois; the Chicago Loop Branch of AAUW; American Bar Association; Chicago Commission on Human Relations; Chicago Foundation for Women; Chinese American Service League; Coalition of Labor Union Women; Cook County Department of Human Rights and Women’s Issues; Chicago NOW; Chicago Women in Trades; Dominican University Domestic Abuse Stops Here; Enterprising and Professional Women – USA; Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; Illinois Department of Human Rights; Illinois Department of Labor; Illinois Federation of Business Women’s Clubs; LULAC of Illinois; Mujeres Latinas en Accion; National Employment Lawyers Association-Illinois; National Organization for Women; North/Northwest Suburban NOW; Restaurant Opportunities Center Chicago; Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law; UN Women Chicago Metropolitan Chapter; Wilson-Taylor Associates, Inc.; The Women’s Center/DePaul University; Women’s Bar Association of Illinois; Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor; Women Employed; Women’s Leadership and Mentoring Alliance; YWCA Metropolitan Chicago.

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