California just enacted the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, joining New York and Hawaii as states that care for those who care for the vulnerable. Domestic workers are an important part of today’s work force. These workers – 95 percent of whom are women – care for the household, the children and grandparents, the sick and people with disabilities. In the words of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, they do “the work that makes all other work possible.” And yet, they are often paid very low wages, and work in difficult conditions.
After 7 years of advocacy and two vetoes, California’s domestic workers will finally receive a very important workplace protection: the right to overtime pay. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it can be for workers who spend all day taking care of children, the elderly and the infirm. The bill of rights is estimated to cover 200,000 California housekeepers, child-care providers, and caregivers.
The Act resembles the federal Equal Pay Act. It bans discriminatory pay based on sex, with exceptions for differences bases on seniority systems, merit systems, and systems that measure earnings by quantity or quality of production. It also provides an exception for differences based on "a bona fide factor other than sex," with clear requirements that the employer must show that the factor is related to the job and that there are no alternative practices that would serve the same business purpose. By limiting the "bona fide factor other than sex" defense, the Louisiana Act avoids creating potential loopholes for employers to assert defenses so broad that they may themselves be based on sex (such as prior salary history or stronger salary negotiation skills).
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, giving us the opportunity to look back on what it took to get that landmark law in place, and what it will take to finish the unfinished business of achieving fair pay.
Efforts to end the practice of paying women less than men for work in the same job have been underway for a very long time — well over a hundred years, in fact. The 41st Congress passed an appropriations bill in 1870 — 1870! — that prohibited gender pay discrimination in federal jobs. Unfortunately, by the time it got to the Senate, it was severely watered down and only applied to new employees. Enforcement of this bill was virtually non-existent.
Even back then, the injustice of paying women less than men for work in the same job had support amongst women's rights advocates and even some mainstream press outlets. For example, in 1891 the Washington Post optimistically declared, "The working world is rapidly coming to apprehend the justice of giving equal remuneration to women who do as much and as good work as men."
In 1963, when the Equal Pay Act passed, the typical wage gap between men and women was 41 cents. Today, it stands at 23 cents.
We've come a long way. But we still have a long way to go. Yesterday, the National Press Club was packed with folks eager to hear from a five-star group of panelists about what we need to do to finally close the gap.
Marcia Greenberger described the worn-out stereotype that is still used to rationalize lower pay for women — that women work for "pin money" while men work to support the family.
Joy-Ann Reid added that although the Archie Bunker world where women's "proper place" is in the home (which, she noted, was never the reality for all women other than on tv) is in some ways far behind us, women still get paid less than men in the same job based on the bizarre-o notion that simply because they're women, they are somehow worth less.