I am part of a coalition of organizations — the Legislative Agenda for Women (LAW) — that is advocating for equal pay in the workplace. Two weeks ago, a meaningful equal pay bill passed the state Senate with a landmark bipartisan vote. Unfortunately, that rare spirit of working together to solve a serious problem was short-lived when the House Labor Committee voted 8-5 along party lines to kill the bill.
As someone who believes strongly in the right of women to expect equal pay for equal work, I find it especially disappointing when our female legislators fail to support women. If you have Valarie Hodges, Julie Stokes or Lenar Whitney as your representative, you should let them know NOW how disappointed you are in their vote!
Despite the defeat, we must thank the 21 senators from both parties for their bold efforts, as well as the five House committee members who tried to keep those efforts alive!
However, the 16 senators and eight House Labor Committee representatives need to be held accountable. Two senators where I live on the north shore — Sens. Jack Donahue and A.G. Crowe — not only voted against women getting equal pay but spoke against it with some misinformation about current law and the bill the LAW coalition supported.
Sen. Donahue claimed that the bill he passed last year is a full “codification” of federal law. It is not. His bill requires an employer to have the “intent” to pay unequal wages. Federal law does not have an “intent” requirement — it bans the payment of unequal wages to men and women in the same jobs, plain and simple.
Our coalition believes that Louisiana law should provide the same rights and it should protect women from retaliation for questioning whether they are being paid equally. The bill allowed differences in pay as long as they are based on rational business criteria. Establishing these reasonable standards will ensure fair pay practices.
Despite scare tactics, this bill would not open the door for lawsuits. In fact, it offered a process to manage complaints, promoting dialogue between employee and employer to help remedy a complaint and avoid costly lawsuits. The Louisiana Commission on Human Rights (LCHR) could be brought into the process to help facilitate agreements. The LCHR is not, as Sen. Crowe implied during debate, the feds coming down on the heads of businesses.
Louisiana has the lowest average ratio of what women earn compared with men in the country! That will not bring talented women or new businesses to Louisiana. Please take action to bring about the change we need for equal pay because equal pay benefits everyone, not just women, and will need the support of all women as well as our fathers, sons, brothers and husbands to make equal pay a reality in Louisiana!
advocacy vice president, New Orleans Chapter of Hadassah