I know from firsthand experience how important equal-pay protections are.
This is why I’m alerting Mississippians: Don’t be duped by two equal-pay bills that are currently moving through the Mississippi Legislature—SB 2451 and HB 770. These bills actually risk widening Mississippi’s gender wage gap while simultaneously stripping Mississippians of their rights.
I worked as a supervisor at the Goodyear tire plant in Gadsden, Ala., for nearly 20 years. Towards the end of my career, I began to suspect that I wasn’t getting paid as much as men doing similar jobs. Pay levels were a secret, so it was impossible to be sure. But an anonymous person left a note in my work mailbox one day comparing my pay to that of three male managers. It turns out I earned only 70% to 85% of what my male colleagues were getting for decades. These losses added up, shortchanging my family’s quality of life then, and shortchanging my retirement pay now.
My case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and with bipartisan support in 2009, Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, allowing workers to challenge every discriminatory paycheck—not just the original act of discrimination. Neither SB 2451 nor HB 770 allows workers to challenge every discriminatory paycheck, which should be the baseline for state protections.
|Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable’s Executive Director and co-convener Cassandra Welchlin speaks with Marc Lamont Hill on “Black News Tonight” about equal pay for the state of Mississippi.|
Current Legislation Fails To Address Racial Wage Gaps
The alarming deception of these bills doesn’t stop there.
HB 770 rubber stamps employers’ decisions to pay women less for equal work, meaning employers would have the green light to pay women less than men in the same job by relying on prior salary history. Extensive research reveals that relying on past salary history locks in and perpetuates pay disparities that trail women from job to job.
Also hidden inside the bill is another disturbing provision: Any Mississippian who chooses to use the protections in HB 770 will be left with fewer rights than they have now because the bill forces them to waive their more protective federal rights.
SB 2451 will also make it even more difficult for a victim to access justice. Under this bill, an employer is incentivized to violate the law because, if caught, they only have to pay an employee what they should have paid her to begin with—without fully compensating a victim for the harm suffered.
Both bills leave Black women out by failing to address racial wage and gender wage gaps, although Black women and other women of color face the largest wage gaps in the state. Frankly, HB 770 leaves many Mississippians, including the many women who work part-time, without any protection at all.
The Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable and its partners are pushing for a real equal-pay law that fully protects all Mississippi workers, bans employers from relying on job applicants’ salary history, and protects employees from retaliation for exercising and enforcing their rights.
At age 83, I’m living the long-term economic repercussions of unequal pay and employment discrimination that makes my retirement financially challenging. I urge Mississippi legislators to swiftly amend these two bills so that all workers in this state can work with dignity and the security of real, meaningful equal-pay protections. Mississippians literally cannot afford anything less.
This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an essay for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and factcheck information to [email protected]. We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.