Unions Still Lead The Way To Equal Pay For Women

by Laura Reyes  |  June 10, 2014

Upon signing the Equal Pay Act on this day in 1963, President Kennedy remarked, “This act represents many years of effort by labor, management, and several private organizations … to call attention to the unconscionable practice of paying female employees less wages than male employees for the same job.”

Fifty-one years later, labor unions are still taking the lead in the fight for equal pay for women – and women everywhere are taking notice. At AFSCME, nearly 60 percent of our members are women. By 2020, the majority of all union workers will be women.

That’s because women know that unions level the playing field for all workers. Women who belong to a union earn, on average, 11 percent more than non-union workers. Women in low-wage occupations – such as home care and domestic work – earn as much as 14.3 percent more. It’s just that simple, women who join a union earn more money and are more likely to have access to a retirement plan, health insurance and paid leave.

For women who do experience wage discrimination, unions fought to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. It overturned a terrible Supreme Court decision that severely limited the timeframe during which a worker could file a lawsuit. The bill was signed into law by President Obama in 2008.

To be sure, we still have plenty of work to do. Since President Kennedy signed the Act, Women’s pay only increased from 60 cents for every dollar a man earns to 77 cents today.  That’s unacceptable.

AFSCME is part of a broad coalition working to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would add protections to the Equal Pay Act like permitting workers to file class action lawsuits and prohibiting employers from penalizing employees who share information about their salaries.

We also support the Women’s Economic Agenda, a series of proposals supported by Democratic lawmakers and others to reduce poverty, improve educational opportunities, strengthen the Family and Medical Leave Act, and invest in pre-school, Head Start and affordable child care.

In 1963 President Kennedy recognized that “our economy today depends upon women in the labor force.”  He sought to ensure a just and equitable economy with the Equal Pay Act. It’s up to us to finish the job.

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