Kamala Kracks Down on Pay Disparity

Democrat presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris

Democrat presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris
Earlier this month during a CNN town hall, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris broke bad on companies who pay their female employees less than males doing the same job. If elected president, Harris would enact a mandatory federal “Equal Pay Certification” program, under which companies who don’t comply, would pay hefty fines. Said Harris, “Under our plan, for the first time in American history, companies will be held responsible for demonstrating they are not engaging in pay discrimination.”

By requiring companies to participate in the certification program, Harris’ plan represents a paradigm shift in the battle to end pay disparity. “What I am proposing is we shift the burden. It should not be on the working women to prove it. It should instead be on that large corporation to prove they’re paying people for equal work equally.”

Harris, a former prosecutor and California Attorney General, could be on to something. That’s because as an expert in enforcement, her plan purports to actually have teeth. Other federal reforms have netted disappointing results.

Take for instance the Equal Pay Act, which was signed into law by President Kennedy in 1963, a year when women made 59 cents for every dollar earned by a man. The problem is that, at first, the Act only applied to women in blue-collar jobs. Moreover, a woman with a grievance about pay had to file a sex discrimination claim, and then provide proof that she was being paid less money than a man in her plant who was doing the exact same work. And keep in mind that a woman who filed a grievance almost always had her case reviewed by a male supervisor. Talk about a stacked deck.

In 1972, the Equal Pay Act was finally amended to include women in white-collar jobs, but even then, progress was slow, and the pay disparity gap wasn’t closing fast enough. In 2009, President Obama introduced the Fair Pay Act, but it too failed to move the needle significantly. One reason? The FPA lacked any real punitive action against violators. Another obstacle is that most corporations were (and still are) run by male executives who don’t tend to see reduction of the pay gap as a top priority. According to a 2015 report by ThinkProgress.org, there are only 48 female CEOs heading up the top one thousand companies. That means in a society where women outnumber men, only 4.8% of the top jobs in America are held by women. Again, I’m not saying that male executives don’t care about pay disparity, but figures don’t lie. For example, in 2018, the American Association of University Women conducted a study of pay disparity in every state, and the news wasn’t good for working women. Nationally, white women make about 80 cents for every dollar a man earns doing the same job, but that number falls to 61 cents for black women, and 53 cents for Latina women. Here in North Carolina, women fare a little better than the national averages, or about 84 cents for every dollar a man makes, but that’s only up by a penny from four years ago. Even worse, the pay gap isn’t expected to close until the year 2060.

If the latest poll numbers hold, Senator Harris isn’t likely to be the Democratic nominee for president in 2020, but that doesn’t mean her proposal won’t gain traction in the next session of Congress. Let’s hope that the Equal Pay Certification plan will survive her candidacy, and that women won’t have to wait forty more years for something they should have had in the first place.

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