Equal pay a civil right

The economy is slowly improving, but not everyone’s paychecks reflect that. On average, women are paid 77 cents for every dollar the average man makes, a ridiculously backward standard that needs to be remedied if the country is truly going to recover economically.

President Barack Obama has increased his scrutiny of income disparity in the last six months, pressuring Congress to pass legislation that would strengthen the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s ability to regulate workplaces to prevent pay disparity between men and women. Similar wage rights measures have been introduced before, but it’s time for Congress to make a definitive statement.

Economic equality for women is a civil right. It’s 2014, and this should not still be up for debate. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was meant to correct inequity, and while it has made some headway, there are a number of gray areas unresolved. While the Equal Pay Act requires employers to pay the same wage to all workers who perform the same duties, it does not require them to report their salary numbers, nor do they have to disclose to employees how much their co-workers make. The lack of transparency makes it easy for companies to discriminate.

Obama has signed a number of memorandums urging Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would strengthen the EEOC’s oversight of company pay hierarchies and require companies to disclose salaries both to the government and to other employees. Employees should have access to the salaries of co-workers doing similar jobs to ensure accountability and enable them to take charge of their workplaces by keeping employers honest.

Employees have the option to sue companies for discrimination by filing class action lawsuits. However, class action lawsuits fighting against unequal pay have become more difficult to file because of union-busting tactics and several Supreme Court decisions. In the case of Betty Dukes, who headed a class action suit against Wal-Mart for pay discrimination, the Supreme Court ruled that there was not enough commonality among female employees at Wal-Mart stores and decided the women were not allowed to sue for pay discrimination. Supreme Court decisions become the law of the land, so corporations can now say that the rules are different at each store and stop sweeping changes across a company’s salaries.

Women make up half the nation’s workforce, and paying them less can damage consumer spending and reduce private sector profits. Equal pay for women should be a given, but because it is not, Congress needs to take action to legislate that equality. The claim of corporate interests that businesses will suffer by having to pay their employees extra pales in the face of social injustice.