Women wage war

Nevada Legislature considers forming a committee to study pay equity

Working gals face dilemmas that guys just don’t.

Working gals face dilemmas that guys just don’t.

Photo by David Robert

A bill that would create a study to examine race- and gender-based pay disparities will be heard by the Commerce and Labor Committee at 8 a.m. March 26 (also Women’s Grassroots Lobbying Day) in Room 2135 of the State Legislature, 401 S. Carson Street in Carson City.

She had been with the company for 10 months when her doctor ordered bed rest for the last few weeks of her pregnancy. She hadn’t worked at the job long enough to qualify for the Family Medical Leave Act.

That put Kristy, who asked us not to use her last name, in a bind. She could follow her doctor’s orders and put her job at risk. Or keep her job and risk the life of her unborn child. Legally, the company could let her go without any repercussions.

“I felt like I was being punished for having a baby,” Kristy said. “No women should ever have to make the decision between her child and her job.”

Even in today’s workplace, women have to make decisions that many men don’t have to think about. Moms may opt for less pay to work at a job with flexible hours, so they can be involved in their children’s schools or stay home when the kids are sick.

“When my child is sick, who gets the call from daycare?” Kristy said. “I do.”

The problem is complex, according to an action statement by the National Committee on Pay Equity, a coalition of over 180 organizations, including labor unions, religious groups and women’s and civil rights organizations.

“Because socialization in America is not free from sex or race bias, we continue to wrestle with stereotypes about women and minorities—including stereotypes about what kind of work is appropriate for women and the importance of their jobs,” the NCPE statement said.

These stereotypes lead women to choose jobs that are traditionally considered “female” jobs. Women make up more than 90 percent of the nation’s nurses and hairdressers, 95 percent of the receptionists, and nearly 99 percent of the secretaries.

The above reasons partly explain why women are still earning much less than men.

Over 62 million women working in the United States made up about 46 percent of the total work force last year. But they earned about 77 percent of what men made, according to statistics at the U.S. Department of Labor Web site. And those figures actually represent progress, said Carl Beach, a University of Nevada, Reno, feminist theory instructor.

But the gains have been mostly for Caucasian women. African-American women make about 65 percent of the white male’s average income—and Latinas earn only half as much as white guys.

“I think that it is amazing how little we have progressed since the second-wave feminist movement, which began before the Civil Rights Movement,” Beach said.

The consequences of pay disparities include moms raising their children in low-income households, barely able to make ends meet. Women make up 76 percent of the heads of single-parent families. Women also make up 62 percent of people living under the poverty level, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

“It really is our society that makes it the norm for women’s work to be devalued,” Beach said. “I have seen this towards women my whole life.”

In Nevada, state legislators have proposed a study to look at pay disparity in the state. Sen. Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, introduced SB 85 in February.

“I left a Pay Day candy bar for all the legislators to get them thinking about pay equity,” Carlton said.

The bill, co-sponsored by senators Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, and Valerie Wiener, D-Las Vegas, calls for an equal pay commission to study the disparity in pay based on gender and race in the public and private employment areas.

As the only male sponsor of the bill, Amodei said he doesn’t have any first-hand experiences to recount, and he doesn’t know if there is a Nevada-specific problem.

“That is why a study makes sense to see where we are,” Amodei said. “As a father of two daughters, I feel that people should be compensated based on performance and not gender.”

If the bill passed, a 13-member commission would be created in July. Members would include people from the business and labor communities, as well as university researchers. The committee will spend about a year and a half looking at wage disparities and their economic and social consequences. The committee would then make recommendations on how to deal with the problem.

More than 12 states are trying to get bills passed through their legislature to look at the pay disparities.

“Other bills that are out there are not as comprehensive as SB 85,” Carlton said. “This bill will add it all together.”

That some women are still paid less for doing the same work in 2001 seems hard to believe. Many companies say that they have a plan and an inside auditing committee that reviews the pay equity between men, women and minorities. But complaints within large U.S. corporations are still being made. A few years ago, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Pay raised issues of pay disparity at The Boeing Company’s Philadelphia, Huntsville, Ala., and Long Beach, Calif., facilities. Boeing, a maker of aircrafts, defense equipment and satellites, agreed in 1999 to end pay disparity.

“It is ludicrous that a women should receive less pay than a man for the same work,” said Gabrielle Blaustein, the program assistant at UNR’s Women’s Resource Center. “The company obviously wanted you for the job, and gender shouldn’t enter into the situation.”

Equal Pay Day will be on April 3, and the NCPE is encouraging all women to wear red to show that women’s pay is “in the red.”

“Working together, we can ensure that all Americans get the respect that comes with a fair paycheck,” said the NCPE statement posted at Feminist.com. The site includes information on how to get involved with Equal Pay Day.

Many women face problems that can’t be solved, but with the help of her doctor, Kristy’s problem was solved. A letter from her doctor persuaded Kristy’s employer to let her work two hours a day at home, so she could keep receiving her benefits.

“I was extremely lucky to hold on to my job," Kristy said. "Many women are not."