Lawmakers shortsighted with equal wage vote

State government officials are falling all over themselves to make Louisiana “business friendly,” but at some point “business friendly” becomes “business stupid.”

The Louisiana House crossed the line last week when it refused to enact legislation mandating equal pay for women. So, we’re stuck for at least another year of being the state where pay decisions discriminate against women to a greater degree than in any other – in a nation with a miserable record on pay equality.

Business supporters in the Legislature had to find some plausible-sounding reason for opposition. They hit upon the old “it’s already against federal law” trick. Unfortunately, federal law hasn’t been working too well.

Forty-six years of equal pay rules at the federal level have closed the pay gap by about 19 cents. The average female worker in the United States earned 77 cents for each $1 earned by her male counterpart in 2007. A female worker in Louisiana made only 65 cents.

Workers who turn to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission often complain about lengthy, fruitless investigations.

We might also want to consider the small but noticeable minority of women who run or have significant voices in major corporations – 12 Fortune 500 CEOs, 25 Fortune 1,000 CEOs, and 15 percent of the corporate officers in Fortune 500 companies. How eager will they be to relocate to or invest in the state with the thickest glass ceiling of all? Just going on the record with an equal pay law would have been worth something.

Women make “life choices” – having babies and staying home with them, for example – that prevent the accumulation of seniority. The trouble is that, according to an Institute for Women’s Policy Studies report, even men who spend a significant time out of the workforce make more money than women who have take the same amount of time off. Among those who spend two or three years out of the workforce in what are considered “elite” woman-dominated job sectors – teaching and nursing – the median hourly wage for men is $24, for women $22.

When the bill came up in the state House, Acadiana state Reps. Simone Champagne, Nancy Landry, Rickey Hardy and Bernard Lebas voted for it. On the other side were state Reps. Taylor Burras, Paige Cortez, Mickey Guillory, Fred Mills, Jonathan Perry and Joel Robideaux.

We suggest that the next time a pay raise for the Legislature is proposed, we support it – but only if those who voted against the pay equality bill are forced to accept 65 cents on the dollar. Maybe that will make the point at last.

– The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.