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Paycheck Fairness Act: how Democrats plan to shrink the gender pay gap



You’ve probably heard this statistic by now: Women who work full time in the US earn, on average, 82 cents for every dollar a man earns — a number that has hardly budged since 2004. The gap has even widened a bit in the past four years.

Several factors explain this difference, but researchers believe a big part of it is due to discrimination. But that’s really hard to prove, for one simple reason: No one really knows what private employers are paying their workers.

Democrats in Congress have tried, and failed, to change this fact for more than two decades. And now they’re trying again. In January, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and her colleagues reintroduced the Paycheck Fairness Act — for the 11th time.

The bill would require employers to report, among other things, job salaries, promotions and dismissals to the federal government, broken down by gender and race.

The idea is that it will help women, and the government, identify potential pay discrimination and take legal action. However, businesses hate this idea, and have responded to previous efforts by saying this would burden employers. About two dozen business groups pushed the Trump administration to revoke an Obama-era rule from 2016 that would have required businesses to provide similar salary data.

“This expansion means huge additional costs for companies of all sizes, yet has no accompanying benefit, or protections for the confidentiality of the information to be gathered,” the groups wrote in a March 2017 letter to the White House, urging the president to revoke the new rule issued by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces federal civil rights laws. Trump revoked the rule a few months later.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, which Democrats have just reintroduced, would reverse that decision, essentially reinstating the rule. It would also ban wage secrecy, increase penalties for employers who retaliate against workers who share salary information, and allow workers to sue for pay discrimination.

This time around, Democrats have momentum on their side. They have the House majority, and their bill has support from every single Democratic lawmaker — more than ever before. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi publicly championed the bill too, signaling that it is a high priority for the caucus.

It’s part of a larger agenda “to make women in the workplace have the opportunities that we all should have,” Pelosi said during a press conference on January 30.

The proposal will pass the House easily, but Democrats will need support from some Senate Republicans and President Trump in order to become law. If they can pull it off, there’s a good chance the pay gap will start shrinking again, which is good — since it’s currently costing women billions of dollars.

Progress toward women reaching equal pay with men has been slow

When Rep. DeLauro first introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act in 1997, women in the US earned about 74 cents for every dollar a man earned.

The pay gap has been shrinking since then, but very slowly. And it has flattened in the past 15 years or so, hovering around 79 cents to the dollar. In the past four years, it has started to widen a bit. (The disparity is even larger between women of color and white men.)

There are several reasons for the pay difference. Women are less likely to negotiate pay, and more likely to be penalized when they try. They are also more likely to choose career fields that pay lower salaries and are often pushed out of the highest-paying professions in the country, which reward workers who put in long hours — schedules that disproportionately hurt working mothers.

But after taking education, occupation, and work hours into account, researchers say that discrimination could explain about a third of the pay gap.

A 2013 study by the American Association of University Women found that women get paid 6.6 percent less than men in their first jobs, even after considering factors such as job location, occupation, college major, and number of hours worked.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would address the problem in two key ways. It would require employers to share pay data with the EEOC, which would allow the agency to identify potential discrimination, for example, if they notice that women at a certain company consistently earn less and get promoted less than men in similar positions. It would also prohibit employers from forcing workers to keep their salaries confidential, so women can ask their colleagues how much they earn without fear of retaliation.

The bill also includes a third provision that would go a long way in promoting equal pay: It bans employers from asking job candidates about their salary history.

The salary question hurts women and people of color

Asking applicants how much money they earned at previous jobs has long been a routine part of the hiring process. But this seemingly harmless question is a key culprit in perpetuating the persistent gender wage gap in the United States, according to a growing number of civil rights groups and legal experts.

It’s not hard to see the challenge in closing that gap when employers largely rely on a person’s past salary to calculate their new salary.

Businesses decide what to pay new hires based partly (or entirely) on how much they earned at their last jobs. Because women are generally paid less than their male co-workers, for reasons that include gender discrimination, asking female job candidates about their past salaries nearly guarantees that the wage disparity will continue throughout their careers. The same dynamic disadvantages workers of color.

“When you peg your offer and salary based on what someone made in their last employment, you then replicate whatever discrimination people have faced in prior jobs,” Victoria Budson, the executive director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, told Slate.

This awareness has led equal rights advocates to push state and local lawmakers to address the problem with a straightforward idea: ban companies from asking the question altogether.

Massachusetts was the first state to outlaw the salary question outright in August 2016. Since then, California, Oregon, Delaware, and Puerto Rico have done the same. Maryland is considering a similar law. Several local governments, including Albany County, New York City, San Francisco, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh have passed their own bans, though some of the local laws only ban the question for government jobs.

Businesses aren’t thrilled about this development, and they are starting to fight back, saying they collect salary information for market research too. In Michigan and Wisconsin, lawmakers recently passed laws prohibiting bans on the salary question.

In April, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals gave momentum to the equal pay movement in a major court ruling, saying that it’s a violation of the Equal Pay Act for businesses to consider a job candidate’s past wages when crafting a salary offer.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision doesn’t ban the salary question, but the ruling makes it a lot harder for employers in the region — which includes Silicon Valley — to persuade a federal judge to dismiss gender pay discrimination lawsuits.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would go even further, making it illegal for all large employers in the country to ask the question.

Hollywood and Silicon Valley shined a spotlight on the gender pay gap

The fact that women make less than men in similar jobs is nothing new. But recent stories out of Hollywood and Silicon Valley have called renewed attention to the issue.

Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams reportedly got only a 7 percent cut of profits from the 2013 movie American Hustle, compared to the 9 percent deal for their male co-stars. More recently, Michelle Williams was reportedly paid eight times less than her co-star Mark Wahlberg to reshoot the same number of scenes for 2017’s All the Money in the World.

Silicon Valley’s most celebrated companies are also facing scrutiny for reportedly paying women less, including Uber and Nike.

Four women who worked at Google are suing the company for violating equal pay laws, arguing that the company paid women less than men for the same work, assigned them to lower-paying jobs, and promoted them less often.

Google denies those allegations, but the Labor Department’s findings seem to support the women’s claims. Auditors for DOL said they found “systemic compensation disparities against women” across the entire company. The agency is investigating Google’s pay practices as part of a routine pay audit it performs on federal contractors.

The #MeToo era has also focused more attention on barriers women face in the workplace. While most of the movement has focused largely on allegations of widespread sexual harassment, women are increasingly speaking out against other forms of discrimination, such as pay discrimination, as well.

House Democrats have noticed all this — and some believe they may have a chance to finally pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this time around.

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Oakland teachers strike: Union calls strike for pay, smaller classes




Teacher frustration keeps spreading.

Public school teachers in Oakland, California, said they will strike on Thursday, following 18 months of tense negotiations with district officials over pay raises and classroom sizes.

“We have had it. Enough is enough, bargaining with our school district has not worked,” said Keith Brown, a middle school teacher and president of the Oakland Education Association, during a press conference on Saturday. “Our schools have been starved of resources for years.”

If they don’t reach a deal before Thursday, about 3,000 teachers won’t show up to work in one of the state’s largest school districts, which has struggled from years of budget cuts and poor student performance.

Teachers say the lack of investment in city schools is hurting student performance. The cost of living in Oakland has also skyrocketed in recent years, due to an influx of high-skilled workers unable to afford housing across the bay in San Francisco, making it impossible for teachers to live there on their current salaries, Keith said. Teachers want a pay raise, smaller class sizes, and more counselors and nurses.

The strike in Oakland would come a month after teachers in Los Angeles walked off the job with similar demands — and ended up getting a lot of what they wanted. At the time, LA officials said the same thing Oakland officials are now saying: We just don’t have the money.

Oakland schools are facing a $56 million budget deficit in the next two years, so the school board wants to cut school spending, not increase it. School officials are trying to get more money from the state, but teachers are ready to walk out. And they know they have leverage.

It’s just the latest strike in what’s becoming a national trend. More than 100,000 public school teachers in six states have walked out of class in the past year, rebelling from years of stagnant wages, crumbling infrastructure, and deep budget cuts to education. The strikes in Arizona, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, California, and Colorado had broad public support, forcing state lawmakers to raise pay and fueling a national movement to boost investment in public education.

So far, that momentum shows no signs of slowing down.

Funding for public schools in California is a mess

Oakland teachers share a lot of the same frustrations that led LA teachers to walk out of class in January. They say school districts are spending too much money on privately run charter schools that have little public oversight. They also believe they are paid too little working in a state with much wealth.

California is among states spending the least on each student (adjusted for the cost of living), largely because of the state’s strict limits on property tax rates.

The Oakland Education Association, a labor union representing 3,000 educators, has been trying to negotiate a new contract since the last one expired in 2017. Teachers want a 12 percent pay raise over three years, smaller classes, and more support staff. One school counselor for every 600 students is not conducive to a student’s success, says Keith Brown, the group’s president.

The district has offered a 5 percent raise over three years.

Teachers rejected the offer.

“Unless there are dramatic changes to the district’s approach, including spending more money on students and for nurses and counselors, lower class size, and a living wage that will keep Oakland teachers in the classrooms, we will strike,” Brown said.

The school district has said it is willing to keep negotiating for a better deal to avert the strike, and would consider some recommendations from an independent panel, which found that low teacher pay, large class sizes, and school privatization were hurting Oakland schools. The report also acknowledges the state’s “complicated, flawed” system for funding public education.

“Despite our challenges, we are prepared with a comprehensive proposal to reach an agreement. If both sides are committed to settling the contract before a strike occurs —and we are — an agreement can certainly be reached without disrupting the educational experience for students, families and staff,” Oakland Schools Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said in a statement Saturday.

They have three days to try and reach a deal.

Teachers are leading a national workers revolt

A record number of US workers went on strike or stopped working in 2018 because of labor disputes with employers, according to new data released last week by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. A total of 485,000 employees were involved in major work stoppages last year — the highest number since 1986, when flight attendants, garbage collectors, and steelworkers walked off the job.

Frustrated public school teachers were behind the year’s largest walkouts, but hotel housekeepers and steelworkers also organized strikes that lasted for days.

There are no signs that worker angst has subsided. So far, in 2019, teachers in two major cities have launched their own strikes. And in January, the Los Angeles teachers strike shut down the nation’s second-largest school district for more than a week.

As part of their deal with city officials, teachers agreed to a 6 percent raise and slightly fewer students in each classroom, according to Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, a labor union that represents about 34,000 public school teachers, nurses, librarians, and support staff in the city.

Last week, more than 2,000 teachers in Denver went on strike for three days. The school district ended up giving educators and extra $23 million in pay and agreed to overhaul the compensation system, which relied heavily on annual bonuses.

Now Oakland teachers are prepared to walk out, and Sacramento teachers may follow.

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Kamala Harris’s 2020 presidential campaign: news and updates




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