In an impassioned speech last Monday morning, gubernatorial candidate state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Forth Worth) played offense by bashing her campaign challenger, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, for not backing the state version of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a law that would grant more flexibility to women when fighting for equal pay in court. Davis also criticized Abbott for paying women in his office less on average than their male counterparts and took a shot at remarks made by GOP female leaders who, when seeking to defend Abbott, ended up digging him a deeper hole.
“I have a message for Greg Abbott today: Stop hiding behind your staff members. Stop hiding behind your surrogates. This Texas gal is calling you out,” said Davis before a crowd in Austin. “Act like a Texan and answer this question for yourself: What on earth is going on at your Attorney General’s office? Why do you think it’s OK to pay women in your office less than men when they do the same work?”
Opponents of the equal pay measure, like Abbott, have played down the issue, saying existing federal rules already protect women.
However, the Act would extend the timeframe a woman could file a complaint, making the process easier. State law requires discrimination claims be filed within 180 days of when the act of discrimination occurred, but the federal Act prolongs the window to 180 days from when the act was discovered. (So, for instance, if you receive an unequal paycheck but don’t realize it until later, you are afforded more time to lodge a grievance.)
Finding rare compromise across political lines, the state law was passed during the 2013 session with bi-partisan support from the Texas Legislature, but eventually vetoed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry who, in a cable news interview last week, said he’s under the impression the only reason legislators got behind the bill in the first place was so that he could axe it, a curious take on events considering it garnered Republican support. It was brought to the floor “for the sole purpose of politics. Let’s face it, this was passed for no other reason than to say we’re going to make you veto this bill,” Perry said, calling the entire debate “nonsense.”
So, which SA reps helped its passage and which ones opposed it?
On the House side, all SA reps voted for the state version of the Act, except state Rep. Doug Miller (Republican state representatives Lyle Larson, Harvey Hilderbran, both absent, and Speaker Joe Straus did not cast a vote). On the Senate side, all SA Senators supported it—including Tea Party darling and champion of the state’s new abortion restrictive law (considered part of the War on Women to critics) state Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels). And she’s not the only GOPer—more than 20 House Republicans and two additional GOP state senators ushered in the bill.
But the same can’t be said about U.S. congress members reppin’ SA.
While current U.S. representatives Henry Cueller and Lloyd Doggett voted for the federal Act, passed in 2009, Rep. Lamar Smith didn’t get behind it. That fact may not please women of his district, who earn about $10,000 less than men in the area, ranking 12th in equal pay in Texas, according to data compiled by the American Association of University Women. (Democratic Rep. Al Green’s Houston district came in first showing the smallest wage gap while Republican Rep. Mike Conaway’s West Texas district trailed in pay discrimination, ranking last.)
U.S. Senator John Cornyn also didn’t pledge support. For Texas, the median earnings for men amount to $44,802 compared to $35,453 for women. Overall, U.S. women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, according to U.S. Census figures. Studies show that even when other factors like marital status, education, hours worked, occupation, industry and college major are controlled, the gap still exists, signaling systemic discrimination.
San Antonio metro area women are also impacted by the pay disparity problem; on average, a woman in the Alamo City working a full-time job is paid $34,677 annually while a man with a full-time job is paid $40,828, meaning women in SA are paid 85 cents for every dollar a man earns—that totals a yearly gap $6,151, according to the National Partnership For Women and Families analysis of U.S Census Bureau data.
As a group, these San Antonio women lose approximately $1,928,516,879 each year due to the wage gap. The NPWF calculates that those funds translate into one year’s worth of food, up to five months of mortgage and utilities payment, eight months of rent or 1,742 additional gallons of gas per woman. And they point to the gap’s additional strain on economic security for the 120,642 households in SA headed by women—of those, about a third have incomes that fall below the poverty line.
San Antonio business owner and member of the National Association of Professional Women Tena Lyons-Wagner supports the Ledbetter Act. The CEO of a local resort says men in her field have been paid at least $20,000-$30,000 more than her, even though she could claim the same education and skills—a reality she “never understood.”
“It is always depressing that you sometimes do a better job and get paid less than your counterpart,” she says. “I always did more to prove I was as good or better and I worked harder than the males that I had competition at the workplace with … I started to lose the passion for what I love to do because I did not feel valued at work.”
To put a finer point on it, “We need to be able to provide for our families no matter who brings in the money. Equal pay for equal work,” she says.
Going forward, state leadership hopes to bridge the gap by taking the wage discrimination debate to the next level and prompting action. Last week, the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus—that includes your SA Dem senators Leticia Van de Putte, Carlos Uresti and Judith Zaffirini—wrote to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst requesting a study be conducted on pay equity at all state agencies and noting the failed attempt to address the issue by passing the bipartisan Act.
“There should be no controversy with the proposition that people deserve equal pay for doing the same job,” they wrote.