Women rally on Plaza for fair pay legislation

Reminding passersby in the downtown Plaza that women still make 78 cents for every dollar men make, members of the American Association of University Women urged support of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which they say is stalled in the U.S. Senate.

The women sought to educate the public that women are offered less money to start, earn still less 10 years later, don't know how to negotiate pay as well as men and, in retirement, have smaller pensions and less Social Security to live on.

April 28 is observed as Pay Equity Day, because women have to work almost 16 months to equal what a man makes in a year, said Cheryl Goldman of the Ashland AAUW.

The women offered passersby home-baked oatmeal cookies with a bite missing to signify the bite from paychecks caused by gender discrimination, then handed out literature and engaged them in educational chat.

Although laws on equal pay for equal work for women were signed as early as President John F. Kennedy's administration, Goldman said, employers practice many dodges, including "occupational segregation," which means keeping females in a small number of traditionally female tasks, such as child care and nursing-home work.

"Maternal profiling" tags women for lower pay with the rationale that women, more than men, "make foolish choices" in having children and missing work to care for them when they're sick, noted Goldman.

Bessi Azari of the AAUW said progress has been slow and women's average pay has only increased by 1 cent in the past year, as a bad economy stymied wage earners.

AAUW member Jan Waitt said if women are protected by unions, they do well, but many in jobs such as professional day care get the lowest possible pay, even though they're required to have five years of college.

Goldman said as a teacher in the Bay Area, she earned less than a rapid transit driver or the custodian, even though her job should have been considered more vital to society and required more skill.

Most of the passersby engaged in conversation with the women were men — most were sympathetic.

"The problem has to do with the men who run this country," said David Lyons of Napa, Calif. "We may have come a ways, but until pay is equal, we still have a way to go. It's improving every year. Things are changing. We just elected a black man president."

President Barack Obama in January signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, rolling back the statute of limitations for filing complaints, making it date to the last unequal paycheck, rather than the first.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, Senate Bill 182, makes employers prove that a difference in pay is based on job performance, not gender, and prohibits employers from retaliating against workers who share salary information. It passed the House and is in Senate committee.

Don Sellers, vacationing from New Hampshire, said in his biomedical career, lots of women were employed at equal pay. The key, he said, is to get more women earning college science and engineering degrees.

Plaza business owner Richard Hanson said, "I don't see the disparity. I see a lot of women making more than men."

Goldman handed out fact sheets showing the average full-time male income at $45,113, while women average $35,102. Women with college degrees start at 80 percent of male pay and a decade later, it's down to 60 percent, she said, noting it comes from an old attitude that men work to support families while women work for pin money.

Women bargain less often for better pay, but, said Goldmen, studies show that women who bargain are less likely to be hired than men who bargain.

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