Monday, August 19, 2013

What would Wisconsin Dems do? Part 2 of 5: equal pay for equal work

Women deserve equal pay for equal work, but under Walker Wisconsin has gone backwards

If Democrats were to take back political control of the state of Wisconsin, what would they do?

Wisconsinites aren’t happy with Gov. Scott Walker -- his approval ratings, which have recently dipped below 50 percent, convey that the people are starting to see his agenda doesn’t match their wants or needs.

But where do Democrats stand? What would they do differently if given the chance, if they were successful in booting Walker out and taking back the legislature in 2014? A lot of people ask that question, but far too often they can’t come up with a concrete answer.

That’s a problem, and it needs to be addressed.

In part one of my five part series, “What would Wisconsin Dems do?”, I examined the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s views on the minimum wage. Today, I’d like to look at another item the DPW addressed at their state convention this year, which has a direct impact on women: reinstating the Equal Pay Enforcement Act.

Democrats pass Equal Pay Enforcement Act -- and Walker repeals it

In 2009, then-Gov. Jim Doyle signed into law a bill passed by a Democratic-led legislature. Intended to curb abuse by state employers, the Equal Pay Enforcement Act empowered women who were discriminated through unequal pay for the same work by allowing them to sue their employers in the state court system.

That meant that women could litigate against discriminatory practices, if they had reason to assume they were paid less for the same work, in any county in the state. The law also allowed for punitive damages to be rewarded if a company was found out.

Those punitive damages were meant to deter discrimination in the first place -- it incentivized paying women equally because getting caught could mean losing more money, rather than just being forced to pay back-pay (or, in other words, the earnings women workers were meant to get anyway).

At the time the law was signed by Gov. Doyle, Wisconsin ranked 36th in the country in terms of the gender wage-gap (meaning 35 other states had paid their women more equally). By 2012, we improved our ranking for women by 12 spots, to 24th best.

But when Walker and Republicans took over, they decided that the law needed to go. In 2012, the Republican-led legislature passed, and Walker signed, the repeal of the law. It took away a woman’s ability to sue in state court -- only federal courts in Milwaukee and Madison can hear cases now, which means three-quarters of women in the state have to travel a far distance to have their day in court.

What’s more, the provision allowing for punitive damages was removed completely. Employers caught paying women less in Wisconsin only have to pay back pay, which almost incentivizes paying women less if you think about it...because hey, if the punishment is only paying women for what they were owed in the first place, then why pay them equally if there’s a possibility of getting away with it?

Democrats would restore protections

The resolution passed by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin regarding equal pay for women reads:
WHEREAS, the 2009 Equal Pay Enforcement Act empowered working women of Wisconsin to sue employers paying them less than men for equal work;
WHEREAS, the 2011 repeal of that act by the Republican controlled state legislature diminished the rights of women and adversely affected their lawful interests; and,
WHEREAS, providing equal protection under the law for all employees would improve Wisconsin’s employment climate;
THEREFORE, RESOLVED, that the DPW initiate and support immediate reinstatement of the Equal Pay Enforcement Act of 2009.
There’s no doubt that Democrats, if elected, would once more try to pass a similar law aiding women of Wisconsin toward the pursuit of equal pay.

It obviously wouldn’t be the end of the struggle for women. Even when the law was in place there remained a significant wage gap. But it would be an important first step towards limiting the ability for employers to get away with shorting their women workers, incentivizing equality of pay for equality of work performed.

We know this much for sure: Democrats care about women, and believe for the work they perform. Meanwhile, Republicans have shown disdain for women by eliminating these protections for them.

Scott Walker himself tried to sign the law with as little fanfare as possible, hoping to avoid the subject and not let-on that he was enacting such legislation.

That alone should convince women across the state that Walker and his Republican allies don’t have in mind what’s best for women in our state.

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