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I've decided I must be living in an alternate universe these days. There's more snow and ice than I've seen in pretty much my whole life, even after growing up in Central Pennsylvania and working for years in notoriously wintry Upstate New York. Parenting critics seem to agree that it's horrible to force feed hot sauce as a form of child discipline, but that it's acceptable parenting to deny water and bathroom breaks for less-than-perfect piano lessons. And now Minnesota, the first state ever to pass an equal pay for equal work law for public employees, may be on the verge of repealing it.
Is Johnny Depp around here somewhere playing The Mad Hatter? Because I feel like I'm living in a world where nothing makes sense anymore.
While many of us were watching and waiting with fingers crossed that the Paycheck Fairness Act would be passed by the 2010 lame-duck Congress, efforts were already under way in Minnesota to repeal the Local Government Pay Equity Act of 1984, that state's longstanding requirement that local governments pay employees equally who are in the same or similar jobs, regardless of gender. When LGPE was enacted, 90 percent of those who benefitted from the law were women. So if Minnesota was on the forefront of the equal pay issue, why is its legislature now trying to unwind that guarantee?
According to Minnesota NOW State President Shannon Drury, the impetus for the bill started with a Minnesota Chamber of Commerce report issued in December 2010. On the Chamber's website, the following passage is included in the "Legislative Priorities" section:
"The state's pay equity/comparable worth law should be repealed. Its purpose is outdated,
and requiring governments to correct perceived 'errors' in labor markets based on
bureaucratic and subjective assessments of the relative value of government jobs is an
unnecessary and costly mandate."
One of those "perceived errors" that Minnesota's Republican-controlled legislature wants to change is in how job descriptions and pay are linked. As Minnesota-based writer and law professor Jessica Pieklo points out, the current law prevents this scenario:
"A government employer used to be able to classify women as one job title at a lower pay scale than men, even if that woman was doing the same or similar work. One could be an 'administrative assistant' and the other a 'legislative assistant' -- pretty much the same job, but worlds apart in pay."
If the current Minnesota law was repealed, those administrative assistants and many others would again be susceptible to being paid less than their counterparts. The good news for the women of Minnesota is that even though its lawmakers have built up a lot of steam on this issue, it's unlikely to get far.
"Minnesota's new governor, Mark Dayton, is a vocal supporter of anti-discrimination laws," says NOW's Drury. "During his campaign, he expressed strong support for adding an Equal Rights Amendment to our Constitution. I feel certain he would veto any repeal of this common sense law."
So if you don't live in Minnesota and the repeal is likely to fail, why should we care? Pieklo believes that the GOP efforts in Minnesota are a precursor to a larger effort to roll back civil rights by chipping away at state law protections, while Drury contends it's an effort to keep discriminatory practices under the radar using the guise of fiscal responsibility.
In our current economic crisis in which women are increasingly the breadwinners, it almost doesn't matter why women get paid less. No matter what the reason is, you can't put as much food on the table or as much gas in the minivan with 76 cents as you can with a dollar. That's not pro-anybody no matter how you slice it.
You can follow Joanne Bamberger on Twitter and Facebook.
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