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Lawmakers address salary gap

Women meet for Equal Pay Day

By Colleen Quinn
State House News Service / April 12, 2012
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Women will have finally achieved true equality when they are paid the same amount of money as men for performing the same work, a group of legislators and federal officials said Wednesday.

State Representative Cory Atkins, House chairwoman of the Caucus of Women Legislators, said there is not “any one single issue more important to women’’ during an Equal Pay Day event at the State House.

“This is where the rubber hits the road on whether women are equal or not,’’ Atkins said. “Until we get to the stage that every woman is making the same amount of money as a man for the same job, we have not achieved equality.’’

In 2010, women who worked full time made a median $669 weekly, approximately 81 percent of the $824 median for men, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The ratio has hovered in the 80 to 81 percent range since 2004.

Women in Massachusetts earn 80.5 percent to men’s annual averages, according to the Labor Bureau. By comparisson, women in Vermont make 86.2 percent, while women in New Hampshire pull in 77.1 percent and in Maine get 78.6 percent of men’s annual average salaries.

Lawmakers who gathered for the annual Equal Pay Day lamented that they still need to hold a special day to talk about the issue.

Representative Alice Wolf, Democrat of Cambridge, and Senator Patricia Jehlen, Democrat of Somerville, discussed their efforts to pass legislation that would move women toward equal pay for comparable work. A bill is currently in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, after receiving a favorable recommendation from the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.

In most instances, women do receive equal pay when working the same position as men. But their salaries are disproportionately lower in comparable jobs, according to lawmakers and officials from the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau.

Jehlen pointed to a case in Everett in which public school cafeteria workers, mostly women, fought for pay equal to the custodial staff’s. They sued the School Committee, but lost on appeal because of questions defining comparable work, she said. .

Wolf said she has filed equal pay legislation for a number of years and experienced pushback about federal laws that guarantee equal pay for equal work. “But with comparable jobs, that is not necessarily the case,’’ she said, referring to the guarantee.

Victoria Budson, chairwoman of the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, said the disparity is particularly perplexing in Massachusetts because women in the state hold a higher number of number of advanced degrees, college degrees, and advanced post-secondary education certificates than their counterparts in other states. .

Pay disparity exists for many reasons, including attitudes about women working and the fact that many women are the primary caregivers in their families, often putting family before career, speakers said. Caregivers are more likely to take time off or experience a work hiatus, and “that changes our career trajectory,’’ Jehlen said.

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