One for the Women

As with whistleblower protections, sometimes creating safer environments in which to seek justice is as important as enshrining fair values in the letter of the law.

Today, President Obama acted to provide some of that additional support to women who seek to claim their right to equal pay, as it was upheld in his very first Executive Order as President: the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.

While the right to equal pay was theoretically reinforced through the Fair Pay Act, women were still, for the most part, unable to ascertain whether or not they had been the victims of discrimination.  That’s because any business that did not want its compensation inequities discovered could simply make it a firing offense for workers to disclose the amount of their compensation to another worker.  And many of them did just that.  

With unreasonable time limits established as to how much time could elapse following an incident of discriminatory pay before the victim could no longer claim compensation, the system still seemed rigged to protect the victimizers rather than the victims.

Happily, the “rigging” was somewhat undone by the President’s action today.  While employers still cannot be compelled to reveal to a female employee how a male doing the same job is compensated; if one employee chooses to reveal the level of his compensation to another, he (or she) cannot be punished for doing so.

Furthermore, some of the time restrictions governing how much time a victim has, in which to file a claim of inequity, have been liberalized.

It will still take pluck and more than a little cooperation from a female worker’s male counterpart to force lasting change in the jurassic practices of wage discrimination, but it’s a healthy step in the right direction, which we can all celebrate.

Compensation “secrets” have long protected the world’s largest retailer, Wal Mart, from the kind of cold-eyed scrutiny that might make many a community turn them away when they come knocking at the permit door.

While trying to organize resistance to the location of the St. Albans Walmart, we who opposed the store found it very difficult to get any hard figures with which to challenge the retail giant’s rosy predictions of prosperity for the hosting town.  

We learned that Walmart does not share its sales figures for individual stores; nor does it reveal precise numbers of employees, their status or their compensation; and employees are naturally forbidden to reveal these figures themselves.

Nevertheless, their discriminatory wage practices rose to such a level that nearly 2,000 female “associates” managed to gather enough data to file a massive class action lawsuit against the company.

I  look forward to the opportunity provided by President Obama’s historic act to learn a great deal more about Walmart’s employment practices; particularly close to home in St. Albans.  These new protections should mean that Walmart employees will be more inclined to share and compare the specifics of their individual compensations.

…and I’ll be all ears.

About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

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