Louisiana — March 8 is International Women’s Day, which will draw millions across the globe to celebrate advancements as well as the remaining challenges women face today. Here in Louisiana, one topic to be considered is one that harkens back to the origins of the holiday.
International Women’s Day is recognized for the March 8, 1857 protest of garment workers in New York City. The women working in the factories staged a protest against inhumane work conditions and low wages, according to the United Nations. Protestors were attacked by police, which prompted the first women’s labor union.
Although great achievements have been made, many feel working rights for women are still below an acceptable standard. Studies show that working wages for women are still lower than their male counterparts.
In recent years studies have shown that Louisiana ranks at the bottom of the list in pay for women. According to the 2011 American Community Survey by the US Census compiled by Forbes, the median income for women working full time in Opelousas is just under $22,000. Baton Rouge sees some of the highest pay checks for women in Louisiana. The average salary is roughly $57,000.
The National Partnership for Women and Families cites that the median pay for women working full time in Louisiana is roughly 30,600 a year, where as the pay for a man is $45,524 per year.
In 2009, Representative Barbara M. Norton (D) introduced HB 705 (Equal Pay for Women) in the Louisiana legislative session. The bill would have required employers in Louisiana to pay all workers with similar education, qualifications and job tasks equally without discrimination based on gender. The bill failed with a vote of 33 to 59.
A similar bill was also introduced in 2012 by Senator Karen Peterson. The bill was also rejected due to lack of testimony to prove an existence of gender wage discrimination. Also, the argument was made that a law already exists to protect women from such discrimination.
Although Louisiana does not have an Equal Pay Act on the books, it does maintain the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law, which prohibits employers with 20 or more employees from internationally discriminating in the compensation of any person on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, pregnancy, sickle-cell trait, or protected genetic information.
However, the National Partnership for Women and Families continues to push for the Paycheck Fairness Act. They believe it would strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963. Although the bill continues to fail in Congress, they say a nationwide poll of registered voters shows overwhelming support (84 percent) to pass the bill.