In Montana, a woman is paid 76 cents for the same work a man is paid a dollar. That means a woman must work more than 15 months to take home the pay a man receives in 12.
The catch-up date this year was Tuesday, which brought Judy Senteny and the American Association of University Women to congressional delegation offices to offer their two bits.
“So many women are breadwinners and co-breadwinners of households,” Senteny said.
“And it’s so closely related to the poverty of children because very often it’s the woman who just shoulders the burden for whatever reason the couple is not together.”
The AAUW, represented by past and present employees of Montana State University Billings and Rocky Mountain College, pressed Republican Rep. Steve Daines and Democratic Sens. Jon Tester and John Walsh to co-sponsor the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that boosts federal regulation of wage discrimination and would also allow workers in salary negotiations to ask what their coworkers are earning.
Walsh became a co-sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act on Tuesday morning.
“It is unbelievable that at a time when women are outpacing men in the workforce and in higher education, they still face wage discrimination and are challenged if they try to correct the injustice,” Walsh said announcing his co-sponsorship. “Equal work for equal pay is not a political issue, it’s a basic right that is owed to our workforce."
The Republican National Committee called the Paycheck Fairness Act “a desperate political ploy.”
Issues important to women have taken center stage in a non-presidential election year that could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate. More than half the country’s voters are women and their support of Democrats in 2012 helped re-elect Barack Obama.
In Montana, Democrats have criticized Daines for not supporting an “update” to the Equal Pay Act, a 1963 law intended to end gender-based wage disparity.
Alee Lockman, Daines’ spokeswoman, said that updates like the one cited in letters to the editor by Montana Democrats, are more show than substance, a common tool during procedural votes that whichever party is in the House minority uses to embarrass lawmakers in the majority.
Daines said he is not against equal pay for women. Women are as concerned about jobs and economic growth as anyone, which is what Daines focuses on when talking with women about jobs.
"After working in business for 28 years, I strongly support equal pay for equal work,” Daines said. “All employees, regardless of gender, race or religion, should be compensated based on education, experience and merit.”
The wage disparity seen by women in the workplace is real, said Pam Bucy, Montana’s Department of Labor and Industry commissioner. When looking at median earnings for women and men, Montana women get 66.7 cents for every dollar paid to a man. In same-job comparisons, the difference is 76 cents.
The disparity has existed for so long, Bucy said, it’s become part of our social fabric. Even women considering other women for hire or salary increases tend to offer less.
“This isn’t in-your-face discrimination. This is so much more subtle and cultural than that,” said Bucy, who recently held a Pay Equity Summit in Bozeman that drew more than 300 women.
Montana needs to train women to negotiate employment terms better, while also training employers not to discriminate. There’s already work on those issues, Bucy said, but there needs to be more.