The decades-long fight for women’s equal pay in New York is finally gaining traction, spearheaded by Governor Andrew Cuomo and encouraged by his supporters.
Cuomo made women’s pay equity one of the 10 goals in the Woman’s Equality Act he announced over the weekend -- and a recent Quinnipiac survey showed many New Yorkers stand with him. Fifty-three percent of those polled said that equal pay for women should be the highest priority for the state legislature, with another 36 percent saying it should be a high priority. Only 10 percent considered it lower priority.
A report released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in December indicates that in 2011, New York State female full-time wage and salary workers made median weekly earnings of $760 -- or 85 percent -- of the $894 median weekly earnings for their male counterparts.
Beverly Neufeld, the director of the Equal Pay Coalition NYC, believes now is the time for pay equity reform.
“There is talk on all state levels about economic security, understanding that women are a driving force in the economy and businesses do better when they have routine loyal and committed workers,” Neufeld said.
Elizabeth Mason, an employment lawyer in Manhattan currently represents a client who was overlooked for a promotion. Although she had as many work responsibilities and was more educated than her male co-worker, she made significantly less money.
“It was very clear from the supervisor’s comments, and even the male individual, that she was not being treated equally and fairly because of her gender,” Mason said.
This case and others got Mason thinking about the reasons pay equity hasn’t already been enacted.
“From a pragmatic standpoint, the reason why there is this feeling of unequal pay is because employers have been allowed to get away with it due to an employee’s inability to know what her co-workers are making. Until the playing field is leveled, women employees are a distinct disadvantage,” Mason said.
Women’s rights experts give a range of reasons for why women aren’t paid the same as men, including the fact that historically men have always made more, the different career paths a woman might chose to go into, whether they took time off to raise a family or not, and whether women may be less likely to ask for a raise.
Linda Hartley, 58, the vice president of New York Women’s Agenda who works full-time as the president of Hartley Consulting, said she faced pay discrimination in the 1980s when she worked at a fundraising development office. Although her boss told her she was much more effective than the man who previously held the position, a colleague told her that she was making to 20 percent less than the man when he worked there. Hartley said that after bringing the matter up with her bosses, she finally earned a significant raise, although still less than her predecessor.
Her experiences with pay inequity informed her women’s rights work today. “This isn’t something we should be talking about anymore,” she said. “We should be done. Move on. There are other things that deserve our attention.”
It hasn’t been easy to move on, but Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women New York City, said she thinks Gov. Cuomo can make it possible.
“There are certainly very strong players in the business community that can lobby against these basic inequity reforms and there has been a lack of political wealth to fix this problem,” Ossorio said. “Our current governor appears to be making up a lot of that. If we want to see our daughters earn their fair share, we need to act now. We need to do it or we’re going to see another generation being underpaid.”
$74,215 Average salary for a man in New York City, according to PayScale.com, which collects salary info
$58,360 Average salary for a female in New York City