Equal Pay Day Still Doesn't Come Soon Enough!

Hotel Voice, Spring 2020

March 31 is the year 2020's Equal Pay Day, an event designed to heighten awareness about the disparity in wages between men and women. Although equal pay has been the law since 1964, the truth is that women still receive less pay then men who have similar education, skills and experience. Today, women on average receive about 80% of the wages a man receives for the same work!

The gap in wages between men and women covers just about every non-union job classification imaginable. The damage caused by this gap is huge. An AFL-CIO survey conducted a few years ago found that 64% of the women interviewed were providing at least half of their family’s income Not only that, but today a full 42% of working women in the United States are the sole breadwinner for their families! This means that if all women were to get equal pay millions of families would benefit. In fact, the Department of Labor's own statistics show that more than 25 million children in the U.S. would benefit greatly from closing the gender pay gap.

Call it pay discrimination. It is a situation where laws including the Lilly Ledbetter Act signed by President Obama in 2009 have brought about improvement but have not completely solved the problem. In the most recent measurement of pay discrimination, women were receiving 80 cents for every dollar men received on the job. The difference of 20 cents on every dollar really mounts up. It means that, depending on occupation, the average 25-year-old working woman could lose between $200,000 and $700,000 to unequal pay during her working life!

The difference in pay between men and women creates other problems. Because women are paid less, they have less money to save for the future and, in many cases, they will receive lower Social Security payments when they retire. Statistics also show that women in non-union jobs receive smaller pensions than men, if the employer has a pension plan at all. In fact, in the last year this statistic was measured women’s private pension benefits were less than half those of men!

The statistics are even worse for women of color. African-American women earn only 61 cents for every dollar African American men earn. Latinas earn 53 cents for every dollar that Latinos earn. Asian Pacific American women earn at least 20% less than Asian Pacific American men.

When pay discrimination between women and men is classified by career, it shows how widespread and unfair the problem is. Women doctors earn about $500 less per week than male doctors. Non-union women clericals receive about $100 less per week than male clericals. The 90% of nurses who are women earn $30 less per week than the ten percent of nurses who are men. Women lawyers earn nearly $300 less per week than male lawyers. Women accountants earn $200 a week less than men in the same job.

The same is true in the non-union hotels and restaurants, where pay discrimination is often rampant. Room attendants, cleaners, food servers, bartenders and cashiers are all positions in non-union hotels and restaurants where women are often paid less than men. These aren’t our statistics, they are statistics that were gathered by the U.S. Department of Labor. And they are clear proof that union membership makes a huge difference for women, as well as men.

There is other proof that union membership makes a huge difference for women, and it can be found right here in the Hotel Trades Council. As many of you may know, there was a long period of time when room attendants were paid less per week than their male counterparts who are called housemen. It took a long and difficult fight by our union that included arbitrations, federal lawsuits, rallies and other steps, but it finally resulted in the equalization of wages between room attendants and housemen in 1990. For room attendants who were 25 years old in 1990 and who expect to work until retirement age, this battle the Union fought on their behalf will mean a difference of at least $50,000 in pay. But while we can all celebrate our own union’s successful fight for equal pay, we must not forget that even today there are millions of non-union women in the United States who suffer pay discrimination every week.

Equal Pay Day calls attention to the persistent moral and economic injustice working women face. For a woman to earn as much as a man, she has to work a full year, plus 91 extra days, all the way to March 31—which is why that date is Equal Pay Day in 2020. Yes, it used to be worse. In 1963, when President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, women were paid only 59 cents for every dollar men made. So, while it can be said that progress has been made and that Equal Pay Day came much sooner this year than it did when the Equal Pay Act was enacted, it isn’t soon enough. It will only be truly Equal Pay Day when men and women at all jobs in all industries and professions are paid equally!