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Respecting Women With Equal Pay for Equal Work

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As the nation marks Equal Pay Day -- the average date into 2013 women must work to make what men earned in 2012 -- we must recommit ourselves to closing the wage gap. As President Barack Obama said in his stirring Second Inaugural Address on January 20, 2013: "Our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts."

Here in my home state of California, women have narrowed the wage gap on paper but not in our daily lives: overall we make 85 cents for every dollar males earn, above the 77 cents national average -- but totals are lower for women of color and lowest for Latinas, who make an unconscionable 43 cents for every dollar earned by white males.

Equal Pay Day is still weeks away for women of color in California and across America. That is a disgrace and must be addressed through better economic policy at the national and state level.

We take great pride that the first bill that then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Congress passed and President Obama signed in 2009 was the Lilly Ledbetter Law allowing women to seek compensation for wage discrimination.

The next step in our journey is to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to update the 45-year-old Equal Pay Act. We must close a loophole in affirmative defenses for employers, allow for reasonable comparisons between employees within clearly defined geographical areas, prohibit employer retaliation for discussing wages -- a provision particularly relevant to Lilly Ledbetter who was forbidden by Goodyear policy from discussing wages and thus delayed discovery of discrimination by more than a decade; improve remedies, increase training, research and education, reinstate the Equal Opportunity Survey rescinded by the Bush Department of Labor in 2006 and establish salary-negotiation skills training.

This salary negotiation training must not be overlooked. Indeed one of the first pieces of advice I give female friends when seeking a job is "don't get Lilly Ledbettered. Find out what the guys are paying each other and make sure you get all the salary and benefits men receive." This includes cash payments, healthcare, pension contributions, personal time, sick leave, and vacation days as well as the intangibles made tangible in practice such as flex time for parenting with kids respected to the same degree as flex time for golfing with friends.

At entry level jobs, we can take steps on our journey by raising the minimum wage to a decent living wage, ensuring the ObamaCare Medicaid expansion and insurance exchanges, expanding access to STEM (science tech engineering and math) education and manufacturing jobs, and passing comprehensive immigration reform to bring women workers out of the shadows and up from wage exploitation.

Today, the president can also take an immediate step forward on our journey to equal pay by signing an Anti Retaliation Executive Order to prohibit retaliation against employees of federal contractors -- 26 million Americans -- for discussing or inquiring about their wages.

Our California legislators can pass -- and Governor Jerry Brown can sign -- a Domestic Workers bill of rights for caregivers, nannies, maids, and other workers. They must also expand access to quality affordable child care so that working families can thrive.

As Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren wrote in our California Democratic Party Women's Caucus March 2013 newsletter:

Child care providers are engaging working parents of all stripes -- entrepreneurs and execs, students and service sector workers alike -- and bringing their front-line experiences to Sacramento to collectively negotiate the improvements California's working families need ... and make sure our littlest citizens get the exposure to a stimulating early learning environment to prepare them to become the next generation of creators and innovators and societal contributors.

Women are the primary or co-breadwinners in two-thirds of American households. Americans must be about respecting women in deeds, not just in words; in real life, not just on paper. We know the steps needed on our journey to equality -- we must summon the courage and political will to take them. Respecting women with equal pay for equal work will bring us closer to our American ideal of liberty and justice for all.