According to the U.S. Census Bureau, median annual earnings for women in Tennessee are almost $8,000 less than men.
State Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, introduced equal-pay legislation each year since he was elected in 2014, and said securing equality for all workers is the right thing to do.
“This legislation and this issue is about equality; those are two of the most important Tennessee values that we all hold dear,” said Clemmons. “There’s absolutely no excuse for women to be paid less than men, all things being equal.”
Clemmons’ legislation includes a provision that would increase wage transparency to make sure workers who discuss their salaries don’t face retaliation by their employers, and giving a woman the right to pursue redress if she learns that a coworker is being paid more when she is equally qualified.
Opponents of equal-pay legislation, including the National Federation of Independent Business, have said there already are ways to address salary complaints and believe equal-pay legislation makes it difficult for small businesses.
President of the National Organization for Women Toni Van Pelt explained pay inequality impacts women their entire careers, affecting vacation time, retirement savings and other aspects of life.
“Equally as important is that if women are kept in a state of constant economic insecurity, they are more liable to feel that they must put up with sexual harassment and sexual assault, in the workplace and in their education,” she said.
According to Clemmons, such groups as the NFIB provide talking points to committee members to fight equal-pay legislation every time he introduces it. But he said the recent displays of civic activism make him hopeful.
“There will be a shift when – and only when – people who aren’t beholden to special interests and special-interest organizations are chairing subcommittees when I present this legislation,” he said.
The pay gap is worse for women of color, with black women earning only 63 percent of what their white men counterparts are paid and Latino women just 60 percent.
There is still no guarantee of equal rights based on gender in the U.S. Constitution, since states have failed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment on multiple occasions.