With little fanfare, union-busting Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) yesterday signed a repeal of Wisconsin’s equal pay act, which gave people who discover they’ve been discriminated against more time to file suit and the right to do so outside of federal courts.
The Equal Pay Enforcement Act was passed in 2009 and gave workers avenues to pursue complaints about pay discrimination in the workplace and press charges where necessary. The law conferred upon workers the ability to pursue their cases in circuit court rather than the federal court system, which is costlier and less accessible to average citizens. It also expanded the window in which complainants are allowed to file their complaints relative to the time when they worked under discriminatory conditions.
Much like the federal law, known as the Ledbetter Act (which President Obama signed as one of his first acts of office), the Wisconsin law was spurred by the case of Lilly Ledbetter, who suffered decades of pay discrimination without her knowledge. After she sued her employer, Goodyear, and won, the Supreme Court threw out the case because she didn’t file shortly after the discrimination began — when she didn’t know it was happening.
The Republican dominated state Senate passed SB 202 in November of 2011, which repealed the Equal Pay Enforcement Act, followed by the State Assembly in February. Both votes passed along party lines in the currently Republican-led state bodies.
The governor quietly signed the bill into law ahead of its 5 p.m. Thursday deadline. The law is known as Act 219.
Democrats and women’s groups have protested, saying that the measure is an attack on women’s rights. The Equal Pay Enforcement Act’s authors, Democratic State Senators Dave Hansen (Green Bay) and Christine Sinicki (Milwaukee) criticized Walker on Thursday.
Hansen told Huffington Post, ““We are finally starting to see progress here in Wisconsin, yet like their counterparts across the country, Legislative Republicans want to turn back the clock on women’s rights in the workplace.”
Business associations lobbied heavily to overturn the 2009 Act, including Wisconsin Manufacturing and Commerce and the Wisconsin Restaurant Association. It is estimated that for every dollar earned by men in the state of Wisconsin, women earn 75 cents, two cents less than the national average, according to the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health.
WAWH Sara Finger called the repeal a “demoralizing attack on women’s rights, health and well-being.”
“Economic security is a women’s health issue,” said Finger. “The salary women are paid directly affects the type and frequency of health care services they are able to access. At a time when women’s health services are becoming more expensive and harder to obtain, financial stability is essential to maintain steady access.”
Walker and other state Republicans are up for recall in June.
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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