Equal Pay Day shakes up Colorado state Capitol, Senate race

DENVER — Today is Equal Pay Day when groups across the country are drawing attention to the wage disparity between men and women. According to the White House, that gap means women in general earn 77 cents on a man’s dollar with even starker figures for women of color — black women make 64 cents of white guys’ earnings and Latina women just 56 cents.

“The date of Equal Pay Day symbolizes the time women need to continue working into a new year in order to earn what men did the previous year,” explained Erin Bennett of the working-woman’s advocacy group 9to5 Colorado, which along with other advocates staged a “Dolly Mob” at the state Capitol today. They dressed in Dolly Parton-style wigs and dresses in reference to the 1980 working girl’s classic and called for further steps to be taken to resolve Colorado’s pay gap — women in the state earn 80 cents on their male colleagues’ dollar.

“It’s not just about women being paid equally in the same positions as men, but that industries dominated by women tend to be underpaid industries. We also know that women make up the majority of minimum wage workers. So raising the minimum wage is a really easy way, at state or federal level, to the close pay gap,” said Bennett.

In D.C., President Barak Obama signed two executive orders in honor of Equal Pay Day. The first protects employees who share how much they earn with colleagues. The second requires all federal contractors to report salaries based on race and gender.

In conjunction with that federal activity, state Democrats offered a resolution to name today Colorado’s official Equal Pay Day and to acknowledge that wage disparities continue not just among women but virtually all minority employees.

That resolution ran into a roadblock on the Senate floor when minority leader Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs asked that the measure be amended to call out particular Democratic elected officials — specifically U.S. Senator Mark Udall and President Barak Obama — for paying the women on their staff less on average than the men.

“We want to highlight the fact that if you want to support this resolution across the country, you must first acknowledge where there are deficiencies,” Cadman said, offering his amendment and pointing out that on average the White House paid female staff 11 percent less then male staff in 2013.

The amendment threw Dems into something of a tailspin, and after taking a five minute break to talk about it they decided to lay-over the resolution until Friday. Conservative blog Colorado Peak Politics immediately jumped on the issue, saying that by their calculations Udall pays the women who work for him 25 percent less than his conservative opponent, U.S. Congressman Cory Gardner.

Bennett called no-fair on that comparison, saying that because the gender pay gap is systemic, juxtaposing individual small employers who have just a few staff doesn’t provide much relevant information.

Udall’s campaign pointed out that the Senator sponsored the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act during his first month in office and that he supports the current Paycheck Fairness Act, which comes up for a vote tomorrow in the Senate. The bill is aimed at protecting anyone who inquires about wage equality from their employer’s retaliation and making that employer civilly liable for violating the Equal Pay Act. The bill also would allow the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to collect wage information from employers.

The Republican National Committee has called the Paycheck Fairness Act a “desperate political ploy” and argues that the legislation makes it too easy to sue companies. Congressman Cory Gardner has historically opposed the Paycheck Fairness Act, although his office did not return calls inquiring about that position.

Earlier in the day, Udall’s campaign hosted a press call on the very topic, during which State Rep. Crisanta Duran caused a Twitter stir.

“Only Congressman Gardner knows why he opposes paycheck equality for Colorado women,” said Duran. “Now, as a former flamenco dancer, I can appreciate clever footwork. But Congressman Gardner needs to quit dancing around the issue and tell Colorado women why he thinks they should earn less money for doing the same work.”


[Photo by 9to5 Colorado]


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