It took Lilly Ledbetter over two decades to discover her wages were being docked at work because of her gender. Even then, Lilly only discovered she wasn’t being paid equally thanks to an anonymous note slipped to her by a well-intentioned co-worker. As we celebrate the seventh anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the progress that has been made in securing equal pay, we must also remember the millions of women who are still impacted by disparate pay policies. Not every working woman will be lucky enough to receive an informative note and far too many women are still being underpaid on the job due to their gender.
On average, working women in the United States earn 23 cents less than their male counterparts. And 23 cents isn’t a number to shrug off; over the span of a woman’s forty year career it adds up to a whopping $463,320. Considering that women are the sole or primary breadwinner for 40% of families in the United States, equal pay isn’t just a “women’s issue,” it’s an economic issue that is negatively impacting far too many working families.
The labor movement is all about fighting for fair practices and a strong voice for working people on the job. Through collective bargaining, union members, both men and women, are able to negotiate wages that are fair and that pay enough to sustain a family. But every woman should be guaranteed equal pay, whether or not they are a union member. That is why the labor movement supports legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Workplace Action for a Growing Economy (WAGE) Act on the federal level and is proud to partner with grassroots organizing campaigns in the states that are working to pass equal pay legislation on the local level.
Making equal pay a reality for all women will reduce poverty, lift up working families and bolster the economy of the United States. Raising wages for all working people, both men and women, is a main priority for the labor movement. As long as the wages of working people remain stagnant, eliminating the wage gap will only take the improvement of women’s economic security so far. Lilly Ledbetter courageously led the charge to bring the issue of equal pay into the limelight. Let’s finish the fight by making sure that every working woman and man receives the fair pay they deserve.