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The Paycheck Fairness Act, recently torpedoed in the Senate, addressed some glaring problems that have generated less discussion than they should. This useful post ("Why Do Bosses Want Their Employees' Salaries to be Secret?") by Michelle Chen on The Nation explains the need for protections for workers who discuss their salaries:
Lily Ledbetter had been a loyal employee of Goodyear Tires for nearly two decades before she discovered she had been underpaid for years. What angered her most wasn’t the lost pay but the betrayal of her economic dignity.Well-said, and remarkable that so many Americans accept this asymmetry so unquestioningly.
“When I was hired they let me know that if I discussed my pay, I wouldn’t have a job. So I had no way to know,” she said in a 2012 interview on One Thing New. When the 60-year-old Alabama mother realized (thanks to an anonymous tip) that she had been paid less as a plant supervisor than male coworkers, she recalled, “I felt devastated. Humiliated…. It just really made me sort of sick that all this time I had been getting awards and being told I was doing a great job, and no one had ever said I wasn’t making what I should be. I had no idea how much less.”
The struggle for fair pay isn’t captured in wage statistics; it’s part of a struggle against the asymmetry of knowledge that divides management and labor—and fundamentally, a struggle for a democratic workplace.
The National Women's Law Center has a handy PDF about what the Paycheck Fairness Act would actually do.