Local Commentaries
11:31 am
Wed May 5, 2010

Bill Knight - May 6

Macomb, IL – Last week, a landmark gender-discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart was permitted to continue as a class-action case after a federal appeals court ruling. Next week, the 25th annual Working Women's Awareness Week, organized by the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), will take place.

Every week, it's time to more fully appreciate wage inequity as unjust as once-tolerated prejudices such as poll taxes preventing African-Americans from voting and discrimination in medical care.

The Wal-Mart lawsuit, called the largest gender-discrimination class-action in U.S. history when it was filed in 2001, claims that the planet's largest retailer, with 3,000-plus stores, paid women workers less than male workers and gave them fewer promotions. More than 1 million women can be included in the class, according to the 6-5 ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco.

Marquette University law professor Paul Secunda told Reuters,"It's a huge win for the plaintiffs and a tremendous loss for Wal-Mart. The amount of liability can be many billions of dollars."

Wal-Mart said it will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Out of the courtroom, on the street, unions help improve the disparity of wages that women face.

An American woman's median pay in 2009 was only 78 cents per dollar received by a man. Pay is more equal for union women, federal data shows: 88 cents per dollar a man makes.

Speaking on April 20 - when median yearly earnings of a woman worker for the prior year plus several months finally equaled the median earnings for a male worker for the year alone - Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro noted the recently passed health-care law bans insurers' discrimination on the basis of conditions, such as pregnancy, exclusively related to gender.

She said, "Finally in America, being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition. By bringing an end to discriminatory policies like gender rating and lack of insurance coverage for maternity, preventive and wellness care, our legislation puts women's health on an equal footing at long last. It is time now to do the same for women's earnings."

This year's Working Women's Awareness Week, May 9-15, coincides with National Women's Health Week and includes National Women's Health Checkup Day on Monday, May 10.

The CLUW urges working women to take part in National Women's Check-Up Day by scheduling appointments with health-care providers or contacting a participating local community health centers, hospitals, or other health care providers to schedule check-ups and screening services that day.

The coalition says, "Some women need certain screening tests earlier, or more often, than others. During their check-ups, women should discuss with their health care professionals which of the tests are right for them, when they should have them, and how often.

"Women should consider the following screening tests and suggested frequencies: Pap smears every 1 to 3 years if sexually active or are older than 21; mammograms every 1 to 2 years starting at age 40; cholesterol checks regularly, starting at age 45; blood pressure checked every two years; colorectal cancer tests starting at age 50; diabetes tests if diagnosed with high blood pressure or high cholesterol; depression screening if someone feels sad or hopeless, with little interest or pleasure in doing things for two weeks; osteoporosis tests by age 65; and chlamydia tests if age 25 or younger and sexually active."

As for the unfair difference in pay, labor activists and other advocates note improvement in the disparity between women and men, but it's still unjust - and it worsened in 2008.

In 1960 median annual earnings for women were a little more than $20,000 while men's were in the mid-$30,000 range (meaning women got about 60% of men's pay), according to the Census Bureau. By 2008 - the last year data is available - women's median annual earnings were up to $35,000, and men up to $46,000, so the ratio was closer - 78%. However, real earnings in 2008 declined 1% for men and 1.9% for women.

Debra Ness of the National Partnership for Women and Families said, "A woman has to work for a year plus nearly four months in 2010 for her wages to equal what a man was paid in 2009. In this recession, with families facing crushing economic pressure, women's earnings are more vital than ever to the economic security of their families. Nearly 4 in 10 mothers are primary breadwinners."