AAUW Honolulu Advocacy Chair Susan Wurtzburg was featured in The Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Island Voices on April 21 2016, discussing equal pay.
Read it here, or if you don’t have a subscription:
Next Year, Legislature Must Ensure Equal Pay for Women
Susan J. Wurtzburg
April 21, 2016
It was just last week, on April 12, that we “celebrated” when a woman’s earnings caught up to what a white male made the previous year.
That’s right. The average woman working full time in the U.S. has to work 15 months to earn what a male did in just 12. The pay gap is even worse for women of color and mothers who have to work even longer for their salaries to catch up.
Members of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) have worked tirelessly to urge legislative action to close the gender pay gap. But we need additional legislation to give employers and employees the tools to prevent wage discrimination in the first place — and we’ve been waiting too long for that.
Women in Hawaii face an average earnings ratio of just 86 percent, which translates into less money for feeding families, paying off student loans and saving for retirement. It also leads to workplace dissatisfaction, low morale and higher turnover. But compensating women equally can address many of these problems.
Without legislative remedies for pay equity, the pace of change has been glacial. Just how long will it take until we see equal pay?
At this rate, it could be later than 2053. Our nation’s economy and the working families that continue to chase the American Dream can’t wait that long. If Congress won’t act, the states will, and many have shown themselves to be more than willing to move forward on equal pay — although, unfortunately, not Hawaii.
In Hawaii, there were two 2016 bills that would have provided better equal pay protections for women across the state. The last of these was Senate Bill 2313, which failed to get a hearing before the House Finance Committee. In January, there was enthusiasm among women in Hawaii about several bills, proposed to tackle several different pieces of the puzzle in eliminating barriers to equal pay.
The bills had delineated which reasons employers could use to pay employees differently — things like education, skill-set and experience. By clarifying these reasons, employers would be able to avoid costly litigation and be clear about which attributes they valued.
The bills would also have protected employees who share their salary information from retaliation. This is vital to uncovering pay discrepancies, since most women only discover they are being paid less than their male counterparts through informal conversations and tips.
Finally, the bills would have prohibited employers from asking about prior salary history.
This would have protected women (and all individuals, frankly) who have been chronically underpaid or those who have taken time out to raise their families, but are no less qualified to hold the job.
Pay inequality is a pervasive issue that demands a multi-pronged solution.
I encourage our legislators to act in the 2017 session, since it is too late in 2016 to pass these bills. We need all of these solutions to help Hawaii women achieve economic equality.
Passing a federal law, like the Paycheck Fairness Act, would help protect everyone in all states. But until that happens, each state will continue operating under antiquated regulations and piecemeal state and local laws to combat unequal pay.
As we wait for Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, Hawaii AAUW members, including myself, will continue to urge the state Legislature to make improvements to Hawaii equal pay laws in 2017 so that fair pay is an accessible reality for everyone.
I encourage everyone to be a part of the countrywide movement and ensure equal pay for every state resident.