Chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, David Pepper and other leaders speak out in downtown Akron on pay equity for women and minorities
words and photos by M. Sophie Hamad
At 10 am this morning, one could barely squeeze between the people in Sweet Mary’s Bakery in downtown Akron. And it wasn’t just because the owner was giving away free cookies to women for Equal Pay Day, though she does make a mean cookie.
The bakery was packed because a crowd had gathered to hear what chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, David Pepper had to say about income inequality.
Summit County Clerk of Courts Sandra Kurt started the discussion, mentioning that “it really should be ‘Unequal Pay Day.’” This press conference was held as a “call for action for legislation at both the state and federal levels to address this inequality and to ease the burden placed on Ohio women who have to work extra hard to support their families.”
Kurt stated that in Ohio, women are paid 78 cents for every dollar paid to men. For women of color, it’s 66 cents for every dollar a white man makes. Kurt said, “because of this wage gap, Ohio women lose out on hundreds of thousands of dollars over their careers.” Kurt experienced this herself in her former career.
“At one point, I took a lateral transfer to a new department, and after I got in there, my new manager gave me a very significant raise…I was happy to hear that, but then he explained that he had looked at how I was being paid compared to my male peers, and I was not being paid anywhere near what they were being paid. And even with this raise, that didn’t get me to an equal level, but it was as much as he could do,” Kurt said.
Kurt stated that the benefits for closing this wage gap include “greater economic security for those families, lower poverty rates, and more money to spend on goods and services that will help drive Ohio’s economy for everybody.”
Next up to the podium was Deanna Rice, registered nurse and CEO of the DaSuga Foundation for Diabetes. Rice is a woman of color, a single mom, and a registered nurse, and she believes her profession is a prime example of the wage gap in effect.
“When we work in the nursing field, there are hundreds of patients that we take care of, and even though nursing is predominantly a women-driven field, men still make more. And it doesn’t make sense to me,” Rice said.
“Your parents do not get less sick when a woman comes around than when a man takes care of them at night.” Rice explained that discrimination, a struggling economy, Ohio’s failure to adopt family friendly workplace policies especially affect women of color. Rice continued, “the passage of equal pay legislation will put more money into the pockets of working women of color and lift families out of poverty.”
David Pepper opened with a declaration that we should be mourning this day. “The fact that we even have this day is honestly unacceptable,” Pepper said. He praised President Obama for signing the Lilly Ledbetter Act as his first act in office.
“Before the Lilly Ledbetter Act, the Supreme Court had ruled that you could only bring a case for unfair pay if you did it within 180 days of the decision that was made by the employer to pay you a different wage than a man,” Pepper explained. “So basically you had no chance of winning the case…because of course, it’s very hard to figure out, especially when employers don’t want to share this information, that you’re actually being paid less than the person down the hall who does the same job.”
Pepper condemned Senator Rob Portman for having voted against the equal pay act in congress five times. “This is the act that would actually bring transparency so employers would actually have to show and not make it a state secret how much they’re paying,” Pepper said.
“The key to all this is transparency. We also have a bill in the State House to do the same kind of thing, to bring transparency. I hope it passes, but my worry is that, just like Rob Portman and others won’t let it happen in DC, it will be very hard to have it happen here.” The legislation would also forbid retaliation toward women who are fighting for equal pay.
Pepper also denounced Governor Kasich for his comments on equal pay. He called out Kasich for saying that the problem isn’t equal pay, but rather paid leave–that paid leave makes women less competitive in the workplace, and that if only mothers would telecommute instead of taking maternity leave, they would have equal pay.
“That’s the culture, and that’s the mindset that we are trying to fight,” said Pepper. There are a lot of jobs where telecommuting isn’t going to work very well. Almost all of them–teaching, nursing–good luck with that, right? There also are clearly many, many women who aren’t mothers who are also systematically underpaid.”
Akron city councilwoman Veronica Sims also had a strong message about the wage gap. Sims said, “I am both elated and devastated today that we are having this conversation. Elated because as women, we are boldly calling this thing what it is: a human tragedy and a grave injustice. But we stand and are ready to evoke and to usher in a much needed change. My devastation, however, stems from the fact that in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, we have not yet the fortitude to put this injustice to bed for once and for all. Equal pay just makes great dollars and good sense.”
Now, if women can attend the same trade programs, colleges, universities…like their male counterparts…if women can acquire the same level of experience, often more, in education and excellence as our male counterparts…as we accumulate the same level of education training debt in our pursuits of a better quality of life, as our male counterparts, surely equal pay makes great dollars and good sense,” Sims continued.
“Equal pay, plainly put, is just good policy. We must not continue to debate as countless women wait, endeavoring to keep shelter over their heads and food on their baby’s plate.”
In response to a question about why equal pay legislation repeatedly gets voted down, Pepper said, “you know the whole Lilly Ledbetter thing, that was a fight because people didn’t want to pay for the costs of litigation all that it would open up and all the unpleasantness that would come with really taking on this issue.”
“So I think that you have a whole lot of people who are just out of touch with the issue, or who are living in an old-school notion of what women in the workplace are supposed to be doing and because of that old-school notion, accept it,” Pepper continued.
“But I also think that you have more economic interests of people who, the more you talk about this, the more you subject businesses to potentially more costs and paying more people, and for the same reason you have people fighting increasing wages generally, those same forces may not like this because it means a whole lot of people are going to make more money,” Pepper said.
“I think we should expect more of those we elect, to take the time to understand all the factors, and to not hide behind these antiquated theories and norms, and to actually step up and be leaders,” Pepper continued. “If you’re elected to congress, or you’re elected to State House, you should take this more seriously than just voting ‘no’ every single time it comes up.”
Sims responded to the question saying, “I would say, the moment you really start this discussion, we have to really open that pandora’s box and talk about race. We still live in America, where we don’t really want to have that conversation, but when we get down to it, when you open that box, that’s the conversation we’ve got to have.”
Another question asked had to do with the role of average citizens and of those with gender or racial privilege when it comes to income inequity, and what they can do to help close the wage gap.
Pepper answered that citizens should “speak out in your own community, speak out in your own workplace, and frankly, if your own employer doesn’t seem to be getting it done, do it there as well.”
“But especially when there are these solutions on the state and federal level, make this an issue that you fight for as a political citizen, and make sure it’s something that is important to you, and that everyone you know–you help them understand this is in front of our legislator and let’s make a whole lot of noise and make it happen,” Pepper said.
Sandra Kurt answered the question about privilege in depth: “When you are somebody with privilege, whether it’s me as an elected official, or someone whose skin is white or is perceived as white, or a man or perceived as man, your peers will listen to you, where they might be nervous listening to someone who doesn’t look like you or look like them.”
“So…for those of us with privilege, it’s our responsibility to help educate people, to help them say, ‘for me as a woman, yeah, I’m not being paid the same, or I haven’t been in the past, but it’s even worse for a woman who doesn’t look like me.’”
Check your privilege, Akron. And don’t forget that feminism isn’t about women being better than or getting more than men. It’s about equality for everyone. Let’s keep fighting for equal rights for all.