04/17/2012 06:03 pm ET Updated Jun 17, 2012

Let's Get Women Out of the Red

Workers are under attack and women are bearing the brunt of it when it comes to pay. Who's to blame? Corporate-backed politicians typified by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Last week, in the dead of night, Walker signed a piece of legislation that rolls back progress on pay equity in his state, where women make only 75 cents for every dollar a man earns doing the same job. (Wisconsin's rate was already worse than the disheartening national average of 77 cents on the dollar.) Walker's legislation repeals a 2009 law that made it easier for victims of wage discrimination to have their day in court.

His action adds another to the growing list of reasons Wisconsin voters want to recall him this June.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has yet to denounce Walker's anti-worker, anti-women action. Recently, Romney's campaign officials were stumped by a reporter's question on the topic. The reporter asked if Romney supports the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first law President Barack Obama signed, making it easier for women to sue in wage discrimination cases. Campaign officials were silent, then said only, "We'll get back to you on that."

No public official should have to stop and think about pay equity. It's the right thing to do. And it's the smart thing to do. When women do not get paid fairly, we all suffer.

Yet in places like Wisconsin, the systematic attacks on women's pay and voices continue. Walker's so-called "budget repair" bill passed last year broke the livelihoods of many women in the state, where the resulting layoffs and pay cuts disproportionally hit working women.

Leah Lipska, a member of AFSCME Local 1 in Wisconsin, told her story in a letter to the Washington Post. She wrote, "Aside from my full-time job with the state, I have been forced to take a part-time job at a local pizza place. Even that's not enough to make up for my decrease in pay since Governor Walker's law. I got so far behind on my car payments, I had to ask my parents for help. I've even had to go to the local food pantry. [Walker] is no hero; he's stolen our American Dream."

Nationwide, the reality of pay inequity for women of color is even bleaker. African-American women make about 72 cents for every dollar earned by a white man. Latina women, only 62 cents.

In the 1970s, pay equity emerged as one of the most significant issues confronting women. AFSCME members in San Jose, Calif., staged the first pay equity strike, and AFSCME members in Washington state reaped the benefits of the largest pay equity court settlement to date. We have made some strides as a nation, through pay equity agreements at the bargaining table and in state and local legislatures. But progress has been far too slow and much too scarce.

Today, pay equity remains so troubling an issue that President Barack Obama talked about it in this year's State of the Union address. "An economy built to last is one where we encourage the talent and ingenuity of every person in this country," Obama said. "That means women should earn equal pay for equal work."

Wisconsin gubernatorial recall candidate Kathleen Falk echoed these words recently. "As a woman, as a mother who worked full-time while raising my son, I know first-hand how important pay equity and health care are to women across Wisconsin."

Today, AFSCME members across the country are wearing red. We are wearing red because we, like Falk, know how important pay equity is. We are wearing red to stand in solidarity with the women we work with every day, the women who make America happen. We are wearing red to get women out of the red.

"Another day, another 77 cents on the dollar," doesn't have a nice ring to it. We must finish what we started in the 1970s. We must stop the corporate-backed politicians who are trying to rewind history. We must make sure women earn equal pay for equal work.