OP-ED | On Equal Pay, If You Aren’t Part of the Solution, You’re Part of the Problem
Earlier this week, legislation regarding wage equality proposed by Rep. Derek Slap made it out of committee by one vote. But it was shelved a day later amidst insults and arguments between the Democratic and Republican caucuses.
“We haven’t given up,” said Slap, a West Hartford Democrat. “We’ve been reaching out to Republicans from the very beginning, and given them lots of opportunity to weigh in and make suggestions ... Whenever it’s put on the board, I do think we’ll have Republicans voting for it. It’s not like Connecticut is an outlier. Forty states are considering equal pay legislation.”
As Slap points out, it’s not just women who suffer from what is known as the “wage anchor” when they are asked about their previous salary during a job interview. It also hurts anyone who graduates college and gets their first job during an economic downturn, and thus has to take a lower-paying job.
The previous salary question also hurts high-paid workers who are laid off in a downturn, because employers assume they will just leave at the first sign of an upturn for better-paid work. It also hurts workers looking at a mid-life career switch — and in an economy that seems to be in a permanent state of “disruption,” such flexibility is going to be increasingly necessary.
The Connecticut Business and Industry Association is against the idea, according to their counsel, Eric Gjede:
“We have significant concerns with the two bills as currently proposed and those concerns reflect a vast majority of comments from our members on the issue,” Gjede said. “Our opposition to these bills has to do with their unintended consequences, not their stated goal of equity. Current state and federal laws prohibit gender-based pay disparities. CBIA (and I) support those laws and believe they should be enforced. Further, our organization urges employers to develop and apply their compensation policies consistently and without bias. We don’t have all the answers on this complicated issue and in this instance, we are simply responding to two bills that we believe are not the solution.”
My question to Gjede, as it so often is to organizations like CBIA, is: “If this isn’t the solution, then what is your proposal?”
As we’ve seen from watching eight years of Republican attempts to overturn the ACA and are now observing them actually trying to put together a healthcare plan that works for the majority of people, it’s a lot easier to be “The Party of No” than the party of constructive solutions.
One of the CBIA’s arguments against the bill’s prohibition against employers asking about previous salary (until an offer with compensation is made) is this: “Employers typically ask about salary history for a variety of reasons. They usually have a wage range in mind for a position. When prospective employees answer this question, their current pay rate indicates how valuable they are to a prior employer.”
Other business owners have argued that it’s the only way to know if they can afford the person applying for the job.
Both of these seem like arguments aimed at ensuring employers have all the negotiating power. In the first case an Institute for Women’s Policy Research survey found that “pay secrecy is much more common in the private sector, where 61 percent of employees are either discouraged or prohibited from discussing wage and salary information.” A free market works if all information is transparent. But employers want transparency to be a one-way street, putting all the negotiating power in their hands.
Regarding the second argument, if a small business owner advertised for the job opening at a certain salary range and the person applied, then clearly that person is willing to take the job within that range — so why would the business need to know the prior salary, unless they are trying to get an employee at a bargain rate?
It seemed telling that on Equal Pay Day, Gjede retweeted this from an organization called “The Independent Women’s Forum”: “#EqualPayDay — a day when some cont to rely on the faulty #wagegap stat to trick women into thinking America is sexist.”
I emailed Gjede to ask him if this was his own opinion or if it expressed the views of the organization he represents.
“My retweet without comment of the Independent Women’s Forum’s tweet was not an endorsement by CBIA or me personally,” Gjede said. “Not a single article I have written for CBIA on this issue suggests that is our view. The written testimony I submitted for both bills at the public hearing does not suggest that either. In my oral testimony, I described a business that would pay someone less based solely on their gender as ‘reprehensible’.”
So why would you retweet that on Wage Equity Day if you don’t endorse it — especially since it’s from an organization that has some extremely controversial positions on domestic violence and sexual assault and harassment during National Sexual Assault Awareness month?
Gjede conceded he was unaware of the controversial background of the Independent Women’s Forum, which started in 1992 to defend Justice Clarence Thomas against allegations of sexual harassment and other improprieties.
“CBIA could not be more clear where we stand on this issue and why. Given the information you’ve shared with me about that organization, I wouldn’t have retweeted. Thank you for calling it to my attention,” Gjede said.
Dr. Ronnee Schrieber’s book, Righting Feminism: Conservative Women and American Politics, which refers to the group as “reactionary” on these particular issues, states: “IWF argues that federal anti-violence laws create obstacles for women who wish to realize their own potential freedom from government interference. It contends that feminist policies regarding domestic violence, date rape, and sexual harassment not only promote feminism and scare women, but also waste tax dollars, enable ‘big government,’ and hurt businesses — all concerns of economic conservatives.”
President Trump’s spokeswoman KellyAnne Conway is one of their supporters. Why doesn’t this surprise me?
When an organization supported by KellyAnne Conway (of “alternative facts” fame) tells intelligent, educated women like myself that we are being “tricked,” it’s not just insulting; it’s way more sinister. It’s what’s known as gaslighting, from the 1944 film.
“Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality,” writes Dr. Stephanie Sarkis in a post for Psychology Today. “It works much better than you may think. Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders.”
I’m asking CBIA, Republicans, and anyone who says there are problems with pay equality legislation and the kinds of hard-won protections for women that President Trump has just signed away — what are your solutions? How can you negotiate to make it better? If you aren’t part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem. And please — don’t insult my intelligence by telling me there isn’t one.
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU (and as such is an AAUP member), and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.
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