Obama addresses equal pay, students and professors weigh in

Adrian Suarez Avila/Staff Writer

Despite working diligently to acquire her degree, Tatiana Cardona fears the gender pay gap that she may be subject to in her field of study.

 “Men working in physical therapy normally earn a higher starting salary than women, and this is for doing the same amount of work that a woman is doing,” said Cardona, a senior physical therapy major.

This is a fear faced by not only FIU students, but many women entering the workforce.

On April 8, President Barack Obama signed two executive actions designed to address the pay inequality issue that has been plaguing the country even after 50 years since the signing of the Equal Pay Act.

Of the executive actions, one blocks federal contractors from punishing employees who openly discuss their salaries, and the other seeks to produce regulations that motivate federal contractors to release voluntarily to the government employee payment data based on race and gender.

The executive actions preceded attempts to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which aims to obstruct not just government employers, but all employers, from going after employees who discuss information about their salaries.

The act was struck down by Senate Republicans on Wednesday.

The president’s executive actions were interestingly signed on National Equal Pay Day, a date that draws attention to the general idea of how far into the year a woman in the U.S. must work in order to receive the same amount of money that the average American male earned the year before.

While Obama declared in a press conference that women make 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man, the Pew Research Center estimates that the correct figure is 84 cents.

The 84-cent figure suggests that progress has been made, as in 1980 women earned only 64 cents for every dollar earned by a male counterpart, according to the Pew Research Center.

“Although the legislation may not solve all the problems we have right now, I think it’s good that it’s allowing the country to have a discussion on the issue that women do make less for the same amount of work being done by a man,” said Sheri-Gaye Powell, a third-year student at the College of Law and vice president of the Women’s Law Society.

Jaclyn O’Connor, president of the Women’s Law Society, also agreed that progress is being made.

“I think it’s a great move that’s going to help women and increase their pay overall,” she said. “Secrecy was an issue in the past, so forcing employers to let workers know what they’re making will actually improve women’s salaries.”

Powell and O’Connor drew attention to a symposium hosted last year by the College of Law, which addressed the challenges that women have faced in order to ensure equal pay rights, the first symposium of its kind in FIU’s legal community.

Students have also drawn attention to the lack of representation of women in upper-level legal divisions.

“I believe that even at FIU, the majority of students are women, but as much as attorneys are starting to have equal amounts of men and women in the field, there still aren’t many women who are partners,” Powell said. “Even in the legal field we still have a while to go.”

In a recent Faculty Senate meeting, Provost Douglas Wartzok alluded to the University being second in the state with regards to gender pay equity.

Government officials in the state have also taken steps to address the pay gap.

Rep. Janet Cruz and Sen. Arthenia Joyner urged the state’s government to restore bills aimed at providing women the right to equal pay on April 8.

If passed, SB206, sponsored by Senator Joyner, would compel the Department of Economic Opportunity to assemble data on men and women’s earnings in the state in order to push efforts for equal pay.

Despite continual efforts to advocate for the legislation, neither Joyner nor Cruz have currently succeeded in getting the state’s government to push forward the bills during the 60-day government session, according to the Florida Current.

According to Cruz, women in Florida make around 84 cents for each dollar earned by a man, with the average being 58 and 62 cents for Hispanic and black women, respectively.

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