Quick Hit Aricka Flowers Tuesday April 8th, 2014, 9:15pm

Number Of The Day: 78

Illinois women make 78 cents for every dollar that a man earns, which is an especially disheartening statistic on Equal Pay Day. 

“If someone does the same work, they should earn the same pay,” said Gov. Pat Quinn, who observed Equal Pay Day with fellow lawmakers Tuesday. “Yet here we are in 2014 — 51 years after President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act — and women on average still don’t earn as much as their male counterparts in the workplace. We won’t be satisfied until all workers are equally compensated for the same work, regardless of their gender. When women succeed, our economy grows.”

In Illinois, female workers who feel their lower wages are attributed to gender-based pay discrimination can seek assistance at the Illinois Department of Labor (IDOL), which is tasked with enforcing the Illinois Equal Pay Act. Female workers across the state have been successful in getting the money due to them, according to the agency. 

“Our Department has helped Illinois workers recover wages they lost as a result of gender-based pay discrimination,” IDOL Director Joseph Costigan said. “Through rigorous enforcement, we will continue to ensure fair pay in the workplace.”

At the national level, President Obama took advantage of the spotlight provided by Equal Pay Day and signed two Executive Actions that are meant to ensure that all workers are paid equally and not discriminated against when discussing wages. Obama signed an Executive Order that prevents employers from taking action against employees that disclose how much they are paid to others. The law does not require that employers make their employees compensation public, but it does allow workers to discuss what they earn amongst themselves, which can help unveil pay discrimination.

Obama also signed a Presidential Memorandum that tasks the U.S. Secretary of Labor with the job of crafting new regualtions for federal contractors, mandating them to provide reports on employee compensation. The rules will require that contractors break the compensation data down by race and gender. 

Also this week, Congress is holding hearings on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which, among other things, requires employers to justify pay disparities for legitimate reasons, supports negotiation training for girls and women, and gets rid of inequalities in wage discrimination law. The president "believes Congress must pass [the bill] to ensure the standards put forward by the executive order ... are applied to all employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act." 

Women's rights advocates, like President of the National Partnership for Women & Families Debra Ness, say the passage of such a bill "is long overdue." 

It is unacceptable that in 2014, when women make up nearly half the workforce and are essential breadwinners in two-thirds of households, women who work full time, year round are still paid just 77 cents for every dollar paid to men. When women and their families lose thousands of dollars in critical income each year, they have less money to spend on food, gas, rent and other basic necessities, and our economy suffers as a result.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would help combat the gender-based wage discrimination that contributes to the wage gap and has plagued our nation for much too long. The bill would close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act, help to break harmful patterns of wage discrimination, and establish stronger workplace protections for women. And a 2014 survey shows that nearly two-thirds of voters support its passage.

The bill faces an uphill battle with Republicans, who called the legislation "a desperate political ploy" on Tuesday.

“The ‘Paycheck Fairness Act’ doesn’t provide paycheck fairness for women," reads a recently-released memo by the Republican National Committee. "In fact, it will cut flexibility in the work place for working moms and end merit pay that rewards good work – the very things that are important to us." Read the full memo here.

Walmart changes policy for pregnant workers

Meanwhile, Walmart took a noble step towards treating female workers better this week after announcing a new policy that will prevent employees from losing their jobs or being otherwise penalized for pregnancy-related disabilities. 

“Pregnancy can no longer be an excuse for Walmart to push women out of work,” said Emily Martin, Vice President and General Counsel at the National Women’s Law Center. “We applaud Walmart for taking this first step to update its outmoded, illegal policy, but it has more to do to comply with the law. Under this new policy, Walmart can continue to evade its legal obligations and force pregnant workers off the job when they can least afford it—by quibbling over whether they are ‘disabled.’  Walmart should heed the part of its slogan that says ‘live better’ by not making life worse for its pregnant employees.” 

The company's policy change comes just weeks after a pregnancy discrimination complaint was filed by A Better Balance, the National Women’s Law Center, and Mehri & Skalet, PLLC on behalf of a class action of female Walmart employees. The groups filed the complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and alleged that the retailer "has a nationwide policy and practice of pregnancy discrimination based on its failure to make accommodations for pregnant workers who need them." Now, the company plans to "provide reasonable accommodations" for female workers who are inflicted with temporary pregnancy-related disabilities.

And while advocates are encouraged by the step made by Walmart, they are still leery of the retail giant's practices.

“While we are enthusiastic about this policy change, it does not go far enough,” said Dina Bakst, Co-Founder & Co-President of A Better Balance. “Over and over again, Walmart has failed to accommodate pregnant workers. Many pregnant women without illnesses or complications are advised by their doctors to stay off tall ladders, drink water throughout the day, or take other steps to prevent health problems. Walmart must further update its policy to make clear that it will provide reasonable accommodations for all pregnant workers who need them, regardless of whether they are disabled. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act mandates equal treatment, nothing less, and we will continue to fight until Walmart obeys the law in full.  No woman should have to choose between her job and a healthy pregnancy.”

Image: Thinkstock/iStock

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