Pay Equity’s Success Remains Fragile, Underappreciated

Nina Rothchild

Despite its achievements, pay equity didn’t accomplish everything supporters expected. The state does not require pay equity for outside contractors, for example, the same way it does on affirmative action. As the nation’s ongoing gender pay gap shows, the public sector hasn’t dragged the private sector along, And, at least in lower-wage jobs, pay equity hasn’t ended most of the job segregation between men and women.

But supporters warn not to take its success for granted – because opponents are very aware of that success.

“I’m always very entertained by younger women having so little sense of what life was like before the women’s movement,” says Nina Rothchild, who was head of the Legislature’s Council on the Economic Status of Women, then commissioner of the Department of Employee Relations. “The triumphs of that time, I guess, are too long ago for people under the age of 50 to have been very aware of.”

As recently as 2012, legislators tried to eliminate pay equity requirements for local units of government. They again attempted to document compensation differences between state employees and their private-sector counterparts.

Mandatory salary comparisons like that can become a back-door way to eliminate pay equity, Rothchild says. “If you’re comparing salaries with the private sector, you’re going to compare them with a discriminatory system,” she argues. “You’re simply perpetuating it.”

“The biggest single reason some state salaries are out of sync with the market is that we have pay equity,” says Peter Benner, former executive director of AFSCME Council 6. “For the people AFSCME represents, a return to the market means undoing pay equity and a return to getting screwed.”