April 17 was commemorated as Equal Pay Day at the Madison state capitol by women protesting the recent repeal of Wisconsin’s Equal Pay Act. The April 17th date reflects the extra 4 ½ months women had to work to earn what men earned in 12 months.
Representative Kelda Helen Roys (D-Madison) held an event in the rotunda today highlighting this aspect of the Republican war on women. She singled out Senator Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) who was recently awarded Steven Colbert’s “Lady Hero” award for saying that “money is more important for men.”
A crowd of about 100 people gathered to listen to speeches by Attorney Linda Roberson, UW Social Work student Lauren Fahey, and Sara Finger, executive director of Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health.
Roberson commented on how long the struggle for women’s pay equity has been. "It's been 49 years since we've had a law on the books that requires equal pay for equal work and we're not there yet. A right without a real remedy is not really a right."
Wisconsin’s Equal Pay Act afforded women such a remedy by allowing them to file suit in District Court for claims of wage discrimination. Since its repeal, the only remedy is through state administrative processes or the federal court system, which is difficult to access and has long waiting periods.
Roberson also noted that Wisconsin women lose a total of $10 billion per year, or $11,000 per family, due to this wage gap where women earn $.75 on the dollar as compared to men. She contended that this gap is due to a systematic bias that the Republicans are now exacerbating with laws attacking women. “Women voting for Republicans are like deer voting for the NRA. They have us in their sights,” she quipped.
Sara Finger tied the wage gap to unequal health outcomes and increasingly negative effects on children and families. “Economic security is a women’s health issue since it determines the type and frequency of healthcare services they can access.”
Finger decried the “unprecedented attack on women” by Wisconsin legislators and Governor Scott Walker that includes massive budget cuts to health care programs and newly passed laws restricting women’s access to health care and good quality information about reproductive health issues.
In closing, Rep. Roys urged attendees to demand action and leadership at both the state and national levels, specifically asking people to tell their Congressional representatives to support the Paycheck Fairness Act. She then invited several dozen regular Solidarity Sing Along members and led the group in a rendition of “We Shall Overcome” that included a final verse, “Equal pay for equal work.”
Rebecca Kemble is an Anthropologist who studied decolonization in Kenya. She serves on the Board of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and is a founding member of the Wisconsin Citizens Media Cooperative.