obama-mccain.jpg“I am the worker messiah.”

Both John McCain and Barack Obama are using workers in their ads and rhetoric. They are both claiming to be advocates of the working stiff.

With so much information for all of us to digest every day, I’ve decided it might be a good idea to take a good look at the endless assertions the presidential candidates are spewing and offer some background on exactly what they’re talking about.

So, I’ll be dissecting ads and speeches from time to time. I also want to hear from you guys. Email me your questions about the candidates. Anything specific you want to know about what they say, or their voting records as it relates to workers. (TellEve@gmail.com)

For my first dissection I’ve decided to take a look at Obama’s new ad on equal pay for women. Here he tells us what we all probably know — women make 77 cents on the dollar of what men make. He points to McCain’s voting record, saying the senator from Arizona was opposed to the Equal Pay law that would have leveled the playing field.

Here’s the ad:

So what the heck is the Equal Pay Act anyway?

In 1998, Lilly Ledbetter, a long-time employee of a Goodyear Tire plant in Alabama, filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint after she realized she had been paid less than her male counterparts for decades, but in 2007 the Supreme Court justices ruled that she missed her window to file the complaint. The justices interpreted existing labor laws, which include a 180 day window to file, as starting when the first payroll decision was made to pay an employee less. That means, even though Ledbetter was unaware of the pay discrimination going on for decades, she was out of luck.

Many Democrats vowed to pass legislation that would give employees two years to file a complaint, and that’s why the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was born to amend title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The bill passed in the House, but a Senate version, co-sponsored by Obama failed.

Before the vote, Obama was quoted as saying:

“Passing this bill is an important step in closing the pay gap, something I helped to do in Illinois, and something I’ve fought to do since I arrived in the Senate. I’ve co-sponsored legislation to ensure that women receive equal pay for equivalent work and to require that employers disclose their pay scales for various kinds of jobs. This information will allow women to determine whether they are being discriminated against - information they often lack right now.”

As for Obama’s claims in the ad, it turns out McCain never actually voted against the bill. He skipped a vote on the bill this past April while he was campaigning for the Republican nomination. But he did make it clear that he wasn’t big on that particular piece of legislation.

This from an Associated Press story in April:

“I am all in favor of pay equity for women, but this kind of legislation, as is typical of what’s being proposed by my friends on the other side of the aisle, opens us up to lawsuits for all kinds of problems. This is government playing a much, much greater role in the business of a private enterprise system.”

An ominous quote I know given the government is now contemplating the biggest bailout of private enterprises in history, but McCain stressed that it was provisions in this bill that gave him pause.

The ad also negatively points to McCain’s belief that more education and training would help boost women’s wages.

I do think there is something to McCain’s claims. Often times women I speak with who are working in the corporate sector find themselves competing with men who have MBAs or some sort of higher degree. Many believe if they had another degree or two then they’d end up bringing home as much bacon as their male counterparts.

And you all know how strongly I believe women have to be their own advocates when it comes to demanding more money. In the training camp, if women could be mentored to be more aggressive when it comes to going after what they want, that pay gap would definitely shrink a bit.

Unfortunately, education and training is not enough. Clearly there’s discrimination out there when it comes to women’s pay. In the Ledbetter case, the Supreme Court didn’t dispute her claims she was screwed out of money she was owned.

Too often supervisors decide to pay men more because, rightly or wrongly, they believe the men are the main breadwinners in most families, or they just don’t think women deserve comparable salaries.

And there are professions like teaching and nursing that are predominately female and have lower overall pay scales despite the fact that these professionals are typically highly trained and educated. The only way to get salaries in these areas to rise is for society to start really valuing these jobs. How you do that without legislating and regulating a bit I don’t know.

While the bill would have gone a long way in helping women seek justice after being victims of pay discrimination, it’s unclear how much bills like these do to really change a disparity that has almost become institutionalized. With so few women in leadership positions across industries, we’ll still be relying on a male-dominated work world to start divvying up some of the spoils more fairly.

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