EQUAL WORK = EQUAL PAY?
WOMEN’S RIGHTS IN 2012
By Chris Walker
It’s been nearly 50 years since President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law. As the 2012 race for the White House heats up, disturbing new debates have many concerned about the very real threats to women’s rights that are looming on the American political horizon – including equal pay.
The past few weeks have demonstrated that the Republican Party has taken tremendous steps backwards when it comes to women’s rights in the United States. Whether through proposals requiring intravascular ultrasounds before performing abortions in Virginia, or discussions on birth control that devolve into calling a female law student a “slut,” women have been shown a clear picture of what extreme views the GOP holds when it comes to their personal freedoms.
Yet these attacks on women haven’t strictly been focused on social issues alone — on economic topics as well, women have seen proposals from the right that are making many wonder, “What on earth are Republicans thinking?
In Wisconsin, for instance, such an attack is heading towards Gov. Scott Walker’s desk for approval, in the form of a bill to repeal a law promoting equal pay for equal work for both genders within the state
Again, it’s worth asking: what on earth are they thinking??
The bill in question would still allow women to sue for back-pay if they discover their paychecks were lower than their male counterparts’ were for the same work performed. But it would remove punitive damages given to these women, essentially incentivizing the illegal action in the first place.
After all, why wouldn’t companies try to get away with this action if there wasn’t any punishment for doing so? At best, they don’t get caught and get to keep additional capital at the expense of the female employee they’re swindling; at worst, they’re found out, and are forced to pay back only the wages they were supposed to have paid all along anyway.
In fact, employers would be stupid NOT to try this, as doing so is economically advantageous and rationally sound, at least on a theoretical level. The payoff for attempting to swindle their female employees is big, while the “loss” is minimal, almost nothing at all.
The punitive damages rewarded to women serve a greater purpose: they give companies a compelling reason to avoid the mess altogether, to avoid losing additional capital because of sexist preferences. It isn’t just another way to hurt businesses; rather, it’s a means of preventing businesses from performing an act that discriminates against half of the working population in the country.
If Scott Walker does indeed sign this bill into law (as he’s expected to do), it will only add to his legacy as being an anti-worker governor in a state that began much of the workers’ rights movement. In this instance, however, one can also reasonably rope him in alongside all of the other misogynistic Republicans that have surfaced as of late, as his “reforms” in Wisconsin will undoubtedly lead to more abuse and fraud at the expense of women workers across the Dairy land.