Wednesday, February 22, 2012

State GOP attacks equal pay for equal work

State Republicans make "purse-snatching" in the workplace easier to accomplish

A bill passed last night in the state Assembly would effectively dismantle the state's Equal Pay Act, making it more difficult for women across Wisconsin to remedy situations against their employers if they receive less pay for the same work performed as their male colleagues.

The bill had previously passed the Senate, and now goes to Gov. Scott Walker's desk for his approval. If signed into law, women in the state could only sue their bosses (in cases of workplace discrimination) to receive back-pay and legal fees. In other words, the law would strip women of their right to seek punitive damages from their employers.

Republicans who supported the bill claim that it will remove an undue burden on businesses, freeing up capital to create jobs in the state. But that assessment is wrong for two reasons.

First, an increase in capital doesn't lead to job growth on its own; only demand for a good or service will. There's no incentive for a corporation to hire more people simply because they will have more money -- doing so cuts into their profits. Believing that this bill would do anything for jobs is foolish thinking.

Second, punitive damages are necessary because what's being done is unlawful and unconscionable. A business that disrespects its workers in this manner shouldn't simply be asked to pay back money their employees were owed to begin with; rather, such actions deserve to be punished, to create an economic reason not to do this in the first place, or again if it's happened before.

Think about it: we don't force a purse-snatcher on the street to simply return the stolen items to the victim, and nothing more. The offender is punished further than that, to deter similar crimes in the future and to send a message that what they did was wrong. Otherwise, that criminal would simply repeat the crime over and over again, until they can get away with it without getting caught.

The same holds true with regards to equal pay for equal work. What incentives are there for corporations to comply with fairness in pay if the only judicial "punishment" they are held to is to compensate their workers the wages they were already owed, especially if they can get away with it from time-to-time? Like the hypothetical purse-snatcher, the crime will only be deterred if there's a true punishment as well.

Republican lawmakers essentially made it easier for bosses to become purse-snatchers themselves to their female employees. If Walker signs this bill into law, it will simply add more reason why he and other like-minded legislators deserve to be removed from office.

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