Don't blow it, Democrats: Stand up for Iowa women

Looking ahead to the 2010 elections, I’m concerned  that Iowa Democratic leaders will try to coast on our party’s voter registration advantage and well-organized early voting effort.

As I’ve written before, I believe Democrats need to have big successes to show for 12 years of control of the governor’s office and four years of a legislative majority. Democrats have posted net gains of seats in the Iowa House and Senate for four straight elections now. Voters are going to ask what have we done for them lately, especially if the country is still in recession 18 months from now.

Trouble is, the budget outlook continues to deteriorate. Deep cuts to education and other popular programs are expected when Governor Culver submits his revised draft 2010 budget to the legislature. Iowa’s budget problems are nowhere near as bad as those faced by some other states, but they’re bad enough to prevent legislators from throwing money toward every good idea.

For those reasons and more, it’s important for Democrats not to blow it when they have a chance to do something tangible (yet inexpensive) for a key voter bloc. You know how they say, “When women vote, Democrats win?” Now Democrats in the Iowa legislature have a chance to return the favor. I enclose part of an action alert the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women sent out on Wednesday:

We need your help today to contact your legislators on all three issues.

   * SF 137 Being the first state in the nation to extend the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to the state level

(The House and Senate have passed different versions and are working to reach consensus.)

   * HF243 Tripling the number of women making decisions that impact our communities by requiring gender balance on local boards and commissions

(Passed the House and now deferred on the Senate Floor for later action. Local government officials have been contacting legislators, urging them to oppose the bill “because it would be difficult” to achieve gender balance.  Please contact your Senators!)

   * Justice Systems Appropriations bill: Keeping Iowans safe by restoring a $4 million state appropriation to fund victim services

For more information on any of these issues, please visit our policy page. Also, you might want to listen to yesterday’s Talk at 12 on Iowa Public Radio, which featured discussion on the wage discrimination and gender balance bills and the issue of women running for office.

If your representatives are Democrats, please contact them about these issues. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is a no-brainer. Frankly, refusing to pass it would be a tremendous insult to all the women who have worked so hard for so many years to elect Iowa Democrats.

It’s false to imply that Iowa lacks enough talented women to serve on boards and commissions.

There aren’t many well-organized interest groups working the phones to demand appropriation for victim services, but cutting those funds would cause real suffering.

It’s time for our leaders to step up and show that when Democrats vote, women win.

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Iowa Senate approves bill banning wage discrimination

Following up on this morning’s action alert, I am pleased to report that the Iowa Senate approved a bill ending wage discrimination today. From a Senate Democrats press release:

Today the Iowa Senate voted to outlaw wage discrimination based on age, race, religion, gender and the other protected classes cited in the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

“Your pay should be based on your job performance, not your religion, age or gender,” said State Senator Staci Appel of Ackworth, Chair of the State Government Committee and the bill’s floor manager.  “This is particularly important for the many Iowa families where women work outside the home.  When an Iowa mom is paid what she is worth, the entire family benefits.”

“Iowa voters are urging us to focus on protecting and growing the middle class,” said Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal.  “Today’s vote to outlaw wage discrimination is just this session’s first step in that direction.”

The legislation, Iowa ‘s version of the federal Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, will have particularly positive impact for Iowa women and their families.  Iowa currently ranks 37th among states when it comes to gender wage equity.  Under Senate File 127, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission would have the ability to award double the wage differential for the period of time the discrimination occurred and up to three times that wage differential in cases of willful violation.

The legislation applies only to employers who have four or more employees.  It does not apply to wage differences that result from a seniority system, a merit system, a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, or is based on any other factor other than the age, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, or disability of the employee.

The legislation now goes to the Iowa House for its consideration.

It was a straight party-line vote: 32 Democratic senators in favor, 18 Republicans opposed. Like they say, elections have consequences.

Note: when the U.S. Senate approved the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 last month, four Republicans joined all the Democrats and independents in support of the bill. That included three women Republicans in the U.S. Senate. I wonder why the three women in the Iowa Senate Republican caucus are less concerned about wage discrimination.

The Des Moines Register provides some background on the problem in Iowa:

It’s taboo in the private business world for workers to compare salaries, so Iowa women with careers in finance and insurance may not know that Iowa men earn about $78,000 a year on average, while women bring in $40,000. […]

Iowa’s female workers – both hourly and salaried – earn 78 cents for every dollar male workers make, according to data from Iowa Workforce Development.

For example, in retail home furnishing stores in Iowa, men make $36,000 a year on average while women earn $22,000, according to a study of 1.45 million Iowa workers’ 2007 wages.

In food service, men bring in $13,000, while women take home $10,000.

In Iowa hospitals, men earn $61,000, women make $37,000.

Even in elementary and secondary schools, men make $35,000 a year on average, while women earn $27,000.

These industry averages could reflect factors such as differences in experience and job skills, but also reveal a disproportionately lower wage for women overall, state officials said.

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Contact Iowa senators today on ending wage discrimination

Passing along an action alert from the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women:

The Iowa Senate is scheduled to debate SF137 — Iowa ‘s version of the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act– starting this afternoon!

Read the full text of this bill at the following link:

http://coolice.legis.state.ia….

This bill is a crucial step in ending wage discrimination in Iowa based on gender and other protected class status, like disability and race.

Please contact your State Senator http://www3.legis.state.ia.us/…  BEFORE 1:00 TODAY and let her/him know your thoughts on the bill.  Email works great, but if you’d prefer to phone, call the Capitol Switchboard at 515-281-3221.

Some facts about wage discrimination and the bill:

– Iowa is ranked 37th among states for gender wage equity, and Iowa women are in the workforce at greater rates than the vast majority of other states.

– The bill goes farther to protect Iowans from wage discrimination than the Federal law does.

– It would apply for employers that have 4 or more employees (Federal law only protects those with 15 or more employees).

– It provides a deterrent to those few employers who might be temped to discriminate from doing so in the first place, by allowing damages of up to triple the back wages owed to a person where discrimination has been found, for the entirety of the time discrimination is proved to have occurred (Federal law only provides two years of back wage differential, or in some cases, three years).    

While you’re at it, please share your thoughts on gender balance on local boards and commissions.  SF133 http://coolice.legis.state.ia…. , a bill requiring local boards and commissions to be gender balanced like those at the state level, is also eligible for debate in the Senate. A recent phone survey of all 99 counties found that, across four county economic boards and commissions, less than one in six of those appointed to serve and make local economic decisions is a woman. Our communities deserve better representation and more balanced decision making.

Email works great, but if you’d prefer to phone, call the Capitol Switchboard at 515-281-3221.

Iowa Commission on the Status of Women

Lucas State Office Building

Des Moines, IA   50319=

PH: 515-281-4461 or 800-558-4427

FAX: 515-242-6119

www.women.iowa.gov

I disagree that e-mail “works great” in these situations. A lot of legislators have huge e-mail backlogs that they never read, or don’t read in time for it to affect their opinion of a pending bill.

I would call the switchboard to weigh in on this issue.

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