The Ongoing Fight for Equal Pay

By: Allison Roche ’19

“Rights. Not privileges. It’s that easy.” This was the battle cry of sewing machinist Rita O’Grady whose quest for equal pay let to a 1968 strike at the Ford Dagenham car plant in London.

The 2010 film Made in Dagenham brought O’Grady’s fight to life, depicting how she and 187 women went on strike for the right, not the privilege, of equal pay–a strike that many believe led to the Equal Pay Act of 1970 in England.

Top Photo: Getty Images Bottom Photo: TUC Library Collections Caption: Although time separates them, women’s march participants in 2017 and the female machinists at the Ford Dagenham car plant in 1968 have fought the same battle.

Across the pond, the United States Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, but 55 years later the gender wage gap is still a problem that needs solving. Although the Act states the acceptable reasons for women to be paid less than men as being “seniority, merit, and productivity,” private companies have some “breathing room by allowing them to use more vague reasons, such as personality, as a reason for less pay,” according to the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.

Today in the United States, a woman, on average, earns 21% less than her male counterpart, according to the US Census Bureau. Given that number, the US Census Bureau also reported that “21 states in the country currently have gender pay gaps that are larger than the national average.” For example, Louisiana has the largest gender pay gap, currently standing at 34.7%. There doesn’t seem to be a quick fix in sight, as the gap is expected to last until 2059.

Women of color face even larger struggles. For every dollar a white man makes, an African American woman makes 64 cents and a Hispanic woman makes 56 cents, compared to the higher numbers of 77 cents for white women and 85 cents for Asian women, according to a 2017 report from the Economic Policy Institute.

Women across all industries are affected, including the medical field. According to the Doximity medical network, a female physician is paid only two-thirds of an average male physician’s salary. In studies done across the US, the smallest gap was 19%, in Sacramento, California.

Studies also found that the gap size varies throughout the public and private sectors. In an analysis of the gender wage gap in New York City’s workforce, “women employed in New York City’s municipal government face a gender wage gap that is three times larger (18 percent) than the gap experienced by women working in the private for-profit sector (six percent), and two and half times larger than the gap experienced by women working in the private not-for-profit sector (seven percent).”

This gap has also made itself present in Hollywood.  In the reshoot for the Ridley Scott film, All the Money in the World, Mark Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million, while his female co-star, Michelle Williams made just $1,000. That’s less than 0.1% of Wahlberg’s pay.

Although some states like California have attempted to fix the gap with its Fair Pay Act, it isn’t enough.  Iceland recently made history by being “the first country to force employers to prove that they are paying men and women the same for similar work, or face a fine,” according to NBC News. For every day a woman’s salary remains less than her male counterparts, the company is fined $500.

Alexandra Miller ‘18 said, “The wage gap reinforces the subconscious bias against women in the workplace. A woman needs to be paid the same as her male counterpart. It’s not special treatment, it’s asking for equal treatment.”

Jenna Browne ‘18, supporter of Time’s Up, said, “The fact that women are still paid less than men, and women of color even less, is baffling. Until women and men are paid the same amount for the same work, we will never been seen as equals.”

In order for women to truly achieve equality, many believe that closing the gender wage gap is an essential move forward.

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