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In Vt., AG Lynch Advocates Equal Pay for Women

  • During a question and answer period with Attorney General Loretta Lynch at the Women's Economic Opportunity Conference at Vermont Technical College in Randolph Center consultant Joy Kacik asks about resources for finding comparable salaries for men and women. (Photo by Ben DeFlorio)

  • Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy and Vermont Technical College President Dan Smith applaud the remarks of United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch as she finishes her keynote address at the 20th annual Women's Economic Opportunity Conference in Randolph Center on Saturday. Attorney General Lynch delivered the message that "When women do well, we all do well". (Photo by Ben DeFlorio)

  • Presenter Meghan Oliver runs a workshop on salary negotiation at the Women's Economic Opportunity Conference held at Vermont Technical College on Saturday. Several workshops were offered in the 20th annual conference that is presented by Patrick Leahy. (Photo by Ben DeFlorio)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/5/2016 12:11:07 AM
Modified: 6/6/2016 12:28:59 PM

Randolph — In at least one respect, the fight for equal pay for women actually has gone backward over the past generation. According to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, that’s because it has gotten harder for a woman to learn how much her male counterparts make

“It’s incredibly difficult,” Lynch said in her keynote address at the 20th annual Women’s Economic Opportunity Conference, held Saturday at Vermont Technical College. “In fact, there seems to be less information out now about comparable salary information than when I was entering the workforce,” she told the more than 200 attendees.

Lynch, a former federal prosecutor, last year became the second woman ever to head the U.S. Department of Justice.

After decades of improvements, the gender pay gap has remained stubbornly unchanged since the turn of the century, according to an issue brief prepared last year by the White House Council of Economic Advisers, which found that the median pay of a full-time year-round female worker is between 76 percent and 78 percent of the amount earned by her male peers.

According to the brief, pay secrecy is becoming more prevalent in private workplaces, where a survey showed “19 percent of employees reported their employer formally prohibits discussing salaries and another 31 percent are discouraged from discussing pay.”

Alicia Roderigue, 24, who works on social justice and equity issues as an AmeriCorps team leader in Burlington, said she was glad to have heard Lynch address issues like the pay gap so directly.

“It was really wonderful to hear somebody who is in a position of power, like the attorney general, to advocate on behalf of social justice issues that are important,” she said.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who has hosted the conference for the past 20 years, cited the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which he supported when it became law in 2009, as an example of the country taking a step forward.

The law makes it easier for those who have been subjected to wage discrimination to prevail in court by easing the time restrictions under which legal action can be taken.

“There are still steps we have to go, but please know there are legal steps under Ledbetter and other laws, and no one should be paid less than a man for doing the same job. No one,” Leahy said. “It goes against everything that we stand for.”

It’s unclear whether the solution to the pay gap will be substantially addressed by a federal fix.

A federal Paycheck Fairness Act that would mandate equal pay for women has languished on Capitol Hill since 1997; critics say corrective action to close the pay gap may not be appropriate, because some data suggest the pay gap largely may be due to a difference in individual choices being made by men and women workers.

Other steps to address pay secrecy have included a 2014 executive order from President Obama that prohibits federal contractors from retaliation against workers who discuss their paychecks. Obama also ordered the secretary of labor to establish regulations that would require those employers to disclose gender-specific pay data.

Lynch advised conference attendees and other women in the workforce to take advantage of the information they can get.

“It’s an unfortunate face that we don’t have public salary information in the private industry, but there are sources now and I think people have to be more proactive than ever,” Lynch said.

“There are a number of online resources now that at least purport to describe general salary ranges for various careers in different parts of the country,” she said. “And so I always urge people, whether they are in their career or just beginning, to arm themselves with that information.”

She also advised women to go to industry conferences and industry groups, and to seek out salary disclosures that have been made public during the course of lawsuits.

“Litigation history provides information about ranges, and can also let someone know ... what types of disparities generally wind up in resolution, and what types of disparity generally wind up in litigation,” Lynch said.

She said the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission can be a good source of such information.

One woman in attendance who said she had been moved by Lynch’s words was Valerie Wood, a Colchester, Vt., mother of two young children who said finding the right balance between family and her job with the state Department of Mental Health can be challenging.

“It can be a struggle,” she said. After hearing Lynch speak, she said, “I come away feeling revitalized, re-energized, and I take that back to my family and my workplace.”

Without federal intervention, Wood said, the problems caused by pay secrecy are unlikely to improve.

“Unless the government steps in and says we’re going to consider that free information, it’s in (employers’) best interests to keep that information secret,” she said. “That’s part of a capitalist society.”

Because she works for the state, which has public pay rates and set pay grades that don’t rely on salary negotiations, Wood said, she is able to verify that her own pay is fair.

Wood, 36, who previously has lived in New Jersey, Colorado and Virginia, said Vermont’s progressive attitudes toward civil rights issues is a big part of what attracted her and her family to the region.

“We feel like Vermont has been really progressive and on the forefront of trying different initiatives to address some of these issues,” she said.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.




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