Advocates call for equal pay for women

MONTPELIER — Politicians and advocates decried what they referred to as “occupational segregation” during Equal Pay Day.

Stefan Hard / Staff Photo A supporter of workplace gender equity wears an Equal Pay button Tuesday at the State House.

A supporter of workplace gender equity wears an Equal Pay button Tuesday at the State House. (Times Argus/Stefan Hard)

Tuesday marked Equal Pay Day in Vermont and across the country, as advocates highlighted the pay disparity between wages earned by men and women.

At the State House, speakers addressed the disparity and released a report showing many jobs that pay a living wage are dominated by men, while women are more likely to be employed in fields that do not pay enough to survive, based on figures from the state’s Joint Fiscal Office.

Gov. Peter Shumlin highlighted efforts to improve the lives of working women in the state, from paid sick leave and raising the minimum wage to universal pre-K education and protections for workers who compare their salaries.

“We know that we must continue to close the pay gap. It’s outrageous that here, in 2016, we still have a situation where, for the same work performed, women get paid less than men,” said Shumlin, shortly before signing a proclamation declaring Tuesday to be Equal Pay Day.

Stefan Hard / Staff Photo Rep. Kiah Morris, D-Bennington, reads from a resolution Tuesday in support of Equal Pay Day in the House Chamber. Morris is a member of the tripartite Women's Caucus.

Rep. Kiah Morris, D-Bennington, reads from a resolution Tuesday in support of Equal Pay Day in the House Chamber. Morris is a member of the tripartite Women’s Caucus. (Times Argus/Stefan Hard)

The day was also observed on the national level, with President Barack Obama addressing the subject during a speech at the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Museum in Washington.

“Equal pay for equal work should be a fundamental principle of our economy,” Obama said. “It’s the idea that whether you’re a high school teacher, a business executive or a professional soccer player or tennis player, your work should be equally valued and rewarded, whether you are a man or a woman.”

Back at the State House, advocates discussed disparate pay by gender.

“I’m so happy to be here with you today, but I have to tell you that I’m going to be even happier the year we’re not all here today,” said Carrie Brown, executive director of the Vermont Commission on Women.

Brown’s organization, along with the Vermont Women’s Fund and Vermont Works or Women, released a report Tuesday showing that occupations that pay a living wage tend to be dominated by men, while occupations that do not pay a living wage tend to be dominated by women.

Stefan Hard / Staff Photo Women wearing red show their support for gender equity in the workforceTuesday inside the State House for Equal Pay Day in a show of strength supported by the Vermont Council on women and the tripartite legislative Women's Caucus.

Women wearing red show their support for gender equity in the workforceTuesday inside the State House for Equal Pay Day in a show of strength supported by the Vermont Council on women and the tripartite legislative Women’s Caucus. (Times Argus/Stefan Hard)

“Occupational segregation is the norm in Vermont,” said Tiffany Bluemle, director of “Change the Story: Advancing Women … Powering the Economy,” a multi-year initiative calling for pay equity and improving women’s access to the work force.

According to the report — which is based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau — 15 of the 25 most-common occupations in Vermont are either dominated by men or women. According to the report, 40 percent of the jobs most commonly filled by women pay a living wage, which is defined by the Joint Fiscal Office as $34,118 for a single person and $55,760 for a single person with a child.

Conversely, 80 percent of the jobs most commonly occupied by men pay a living wage, according to the report.

The answer to this disparity is to have more women work in occupations typically dominated by men, said Desiree Cerretani, of Brandon, who is a mechanical engineer at UTC Aerospace Systems in Vergennes.

“Gender equality is the final puzzle piece,” Cerretani said. “I consider most people diverse and open-minded, but if we do not give everyone a fair chance to learn and experience new things, then we are doing a disservice to everyone.”

josh.ogorman@timesargus.com

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