THE PROGRESSIVE: Business lobby fights equal pay for women

September 26, 2014
Jenni Dye
news photo

Is thinking that I should be paid the same as a man if I do the same work a radical, anti-business threat? According to the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce--the largest business lobby in the state of Wisconsin--it most certainly is. 

This “threat” appears to be a compelling reason for businesses across the state to open up their checkbooks and donate to the WMC Issues Mobilization Council, Inc. 

Right now Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is soliciting contributions for a fall media campaign to make sure big business “voices are heard.” A graphic intended to promote checkbook-opening fear amongst corporate CEOs includes the ominous silhouettes of protestors and their signs. Among the slogans characterized as a real threat, radical and anti-business, is one that simply says: pay equity now.

Based on their fundraising appeal, it is apparently quite urgent that WMC send a strong message to Wisconsin women and that we be put back in our place - that place is apparently the 1950s, prior to pay equity laws. 

Not that the politicians that are currently running the state haven’t already heard WMC and the big business lobby’s voice loud and clear on the issue of pay equity.

In 2009, a state law was enacted to allow women, seniors and others who felt they were the victims of wage discrimination to pursue legal remedies via state courts, instead of more costly and time consuming federal litigation.  In 2012, with Gov. Walker and the legislature in Republican hands, this law to hold the bad actors who would discriminate in the workplace based on gender and cost Wisconsin families fair wages accountable was repealed. 

According to state lobbying records, the WMC, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Businesses, the Wisconsin Grocers, the Wisconsin Builders, Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, Wisconsin Restaurant Association and other “business voices” registered in favor of the repeal of the state equal pay law.

Through their various associations’ political action committees (PACs), conduits, “issue advocacy” and donations to other groups like the Republican Governor’s Association and Wisconsin Club for Growth these groups have spent over $8 million in support of Gov. Walker -- who signed the repeal of the state equal pay law -- since 2009.

Women in the workplace, their families and the vast majority of the people of Wisconsin agree that men and women should get paid the same for doing the same work. They’re not, as WMC’s latest fundraising pitch alleges, espousing a radical or anti-business agenda; they’re using common sense.

Based on their past behavior, it’s not unexpected that the state big business lobby is attacking supporters of a higher minimum wage or workplace rights of employees. 

But calling the men, women and families of Wisconsin threatening, radical and anti-business because they have the temerity to support measures to help make sure that people, regardless of gender or age, get paid the same for doing the same work is a message that’s not just sad and out-of-date, but downright offensive.

I have been working my entire adult life. I have a law degree, I volunteer in my community and I’m an elected official. I don’t consider myself a threat, radical or anti-business. But I have no intention of heeding WMC’s voice essentially telling me to “get back in the kitchen” and that I’m worth less than a man in the workplace. Pay equity is not anti-business. It’s pro-family and pro-equality, two things we should all be able to agree on.

Here’s hoping WMC’s fundraising pitch and the discriminatory voice they’re hoping to broadcast falls on deaf ears.

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