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Liz Shuler's picture

Equal Pay Day was last week—but really, we should be talking about this every day, not just on April 8.

I love the AMC hit show “Mad Men.” But I don’t love Mad Men-era pay. You can’t smoke in the office any more, but you can still pay women less than men.

If women were asked to work for free for three months of the year, it would be an outrage. But that’s essentially what happens to the average working woman, who is paid just 77 cents on the dollar of a man’s pay. That average woman didn’t see her full year of 2013 pay until April 8, 2014—Equal Pay Day.

The Equal Pay Act has been federal law for more than 50 years—but at the current pace of progress, it will take another 40-plus more years to close the pay gap between men and women.

Who suffers because of the pay gap?

—Women: Over a lifetime of work, the pay gap costs the typical working woman more than $400,000.

—Families and children: For single-mom families, a woman’s paycheck is all there is. But families with two employed parents also rely on women’s pay. Women are the primary breadwinners in 40% of families with children.

—All of us: Not only is unequal pay wrong—it’s lousy for the economy. If women had equal pay, we would have more money to pump into the economy, and consumer buying is what keeps our economy afloat.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would strengthen the Equal Pay Act and make its promise a reality. Republican lawmakers in Congress have defeated the act three times, claiming it would reduce “flexibility” in the workplace. By “flexibility,” I guess they mean employers being flexible enough to pay women less than men.

At least one group of employers is going to find it harder to maintain the pay gap: government contractors. President Obama marked Equal Pay Day by signing an executive order preventing contractors from punishing workers for talking about how much they’re paid. Unequal pay thrives on secrecy.

Guess Who Else is Calling for Some Paycheck Fairness?

NFL cheerleaders. It started with a class-action suit filed in January by Oakland Raiderette Lacy T., who says the team’s cheerleaders are treated miserably. They are put through a rugged schedule of games, practices, weigh-ins and social and charitable functions (not to mention the annual swimsuit photo shoot), for which they get $125 per game—but only at the end of the season. Plus they get fined for things like using the wrong nail polish or forgetting a pom-pom! They’re warned before the season starts that they could end up with no payment at all. Lacy T. was required to stick within four pounds of her 103-pound weight or risk being benched. We often think these types of high-profile jobs are all glamour and glory, and we forget their workplaces have the same fairness issues we all face.

A month after Lacy’s suit hit, a Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader filed a similar complaint.

The Raiders are fighting Lacy’s lawsuit, saying her contract requires arbitration rather than a hearing in court, but her lawyer is convinced the team has violated California’s labor laws and that the case will end up in court.

What do you think? I hope you’ll use the comment section here to let me know.

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