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Apr 7, 2012
On Thursday, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, facing a re-call election set for this summer, signed a bill passed down party lines by Republicans to repeal the 2009 Equal Pay Enforcement Act. Yes- he decided to make it harder for women being paid an unequal amount to press charges against their employers. Apparently he and the Republicans in the state legislature believe that women don’t deserve to be paid as much as men. The repeal, supported by several major business associations, such as Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Wisconsin Restaurant association, reverses an employee’s ability to “plead their cases in the less costly, more accessible state court system,” and instead forces them to go before a federal court.
Reading about this, I asked myself: “Don’t we have federal legislation protecting an employee’s right to equal pay? How does this law comply with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act?” What I learned was that the Ledbetter Act deals with revising the statute of limitations on when an employee can sue for unequal pay; it doesn’t deal with the process of how they do that. What it does say is that you can sue for unequal pay within 180 days of your most recent paycheck, extending the previous limitation of 180 days from your first discriminatory paycheck.
Glenn Grothman, a Wisconsin state senator and “major driver of the repeal,” believes that “a huge number of the discrimination claims are baseless,” even though the 2009 law offered such confident protection to employees that zero lawsuits were filed against employers during the two years the law was in effect. Faced with the realities of the wage gap, though- which in Wisconsin is 78:100- Grothman explains the discrepancy as a difference in priorities and a different sense of urgency between men and women; not as discrimination.
During a recent interview, he referred to work done by Ann Coulter, which he claimed showed that the wage gap only effects married women. Even knowing this isn’t true, it’s problematic because it supports the assumption that married women, who are presumed to have children, obviously have better things to worry about than finances. This theory, however, was debunked by a 2007 study by the American Association of University Women.
“After accounting for college major, occupation, industry, sector, hours worked, workplace flexibility, experience, educational attainment, enrollment status, GPA, institution selectivity, age, race/ethnicity, region, marital status, and number of children, a 5 percent difference in the earnings of male and female college graduates one year after graduation was still unexplained,” it said. After 10 years in the workforce, there’s an unexplained 12 percent gap.
When asked for his response to such studies, Grothman dismissed the American Association of University Women as “a pretty liberal group,” and claimed that they overlooked things like “goals in life,” saying, “You could argue that money is more important for men.”
Saying that money is more important for men is like saying that paying the rent, buying food, and covering medical bills isn’t as important to women. It also plays to the stereotype that women want or need men who can fully support them financially, freeing them to do the un-paid “women’s work” like laundry, dishes, and childcare that they really wish they could do even more of.
Sarah Finger, executive director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health, says that the new law is a “women’s health issue.”
"The salary women are paid directly affects the type and frequency of health care services they are able to access. At a time when women’s health services are becoming more expensive and harder to obtain, financial stability is essential to maintain steady access."
She makes an apt point, especially considering the long list of recent legislative attacks on Wisconsin women. This includes the defunding of Planned Parenthood, mandatory counseling sessions for those seeking an abortion, a ban on private health insurance coverage for abortion, abstinence-only programs that cannot include information on contraceptives, and a personhood amendment, each proposed or passed within the last year.
Kathleen Falk, a former Dane County executive and one of two Democratic frontrunners in the Governor’s re-call election, says that as a working mother, she understands the importance of economic stability for women.
"As a woman and as a mother who worked full-time while raising my son, I know first-hand how important pay equity and health care are to women across Wisconsin,"
According to her website, Ms. Falk “has been recognized for her three decades of public service and has received dozens of awards and recognitions” from various groups such as women’s organizations, LGBT and equality advocates, and domestic violence support groups. Her statement reminded me of another Wisconsin news story I heard about a month ago. It features our sexist friend, Glenn Grothman, co-sponsoring a bill with Rep. Donald Pridemore that would associate single parenthood with child abuse.
The bill says a child being raised by a single mother could be considered living in an abusive situation…
It would mandate the state Child Abuse Prevention Board conduct public awareness campaigns emphasizing that single parenthood is a leading cause of child abuse.
While being interviewed about the validity of the bill, Grothman spoke of his own research (without citing sources) that claimed an outrageous connection to sexual abuse.
"A child is 20 times more likely to be sexually abused if they are raised by say, a mother and a boyfriend, than their mother and father," Grothman said
He also voiced a conspiracy theory last summer that single motherhood was all part of the liberal agenda.
The Left and the social welfare establishment want children born out of wedlock because they are far more likely to be dependent on the government,”
That makes no damn sense. And what a slap in the face to the single mothers of Wisconsin, who incidentally, make up one-third of parents raising children in the state. This Republican war on women is despicable. In Wisconsin, women are at a disadvantage to fight workplace discrimination, to get comprehensive sex education, to secure access to prescription medication and medical procedures, and to be given a level of respect as people and as parents, whether married or single. When will it end??
What makes it worse is that the Republicans won’t even acknowledge that what they’re doing is abusive. The Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, recently said in an interview on “Political Capital with Al Hunt” that the war on women was as fictional as claiming we were having a “war on caterpillars.” Nice to know he’s taking this seriously.
In contrast, the Obama re-election campaign has spoken out strongly against these attacks. Responding to Chairman Priebus’ caterpillar comment, Obama’s Deputy Campaign Manager said that this was yet another example of why women can’t trust Republicans to protect their rights.
“Reince Priebus’ comparison of Republican attempts to limit women’s access to mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, and contraception to a ‘war on caterpillars’ shows how little regard leading Republicans, including Mitt Romney, have for women’s health. … Reince Priebus’ comments today only reinforce why women simply cannot trust Mitt Romney or other leading Republicans to stand up for them.”
And, in response to the repeal of the Equal Pay Enforcement Act, a campaign spokesperson called on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has supported Governor Scott Walker, to tell the women of Wisconsin whether he agrees with the repeal.
"As he campaigned across Wisconsin, Mitt Romney repeatedly praised Governor Scott Walker’s leadership, calling him a ‘hero’ and ‘a man of courage,’" she said. "But with his signing yesterday of a bill make it harder for women to enforce in court their right to equal pay, Walker showed how far Republicans are willing to go to undermine not only women’s health care, but also their economic security. Does Romney think women should have ability to take their bosses to court to get the same pay as their male coworkers? Or does he stand with Governor Walker against this?"
The people of Wisconsin stood up at this time last year to fight against the Republican effort to restrict the rights of unionized workers, and in doing so they inspired the entire country. Considering the extreme attacks they are now pushing through against women, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the people of Wisconsin put up another great fight.