Crowd urges closure of pay gap


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When U.S. Sen. John McCain opposed a fair pay bill this week, saying it could lead to more lawsuits, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton retorted: "Women are earning less, but Senator McCain is offering more of the same."

The pay gap between men and women is the subject of local debate, as well.

By snuffing out legislation making it easier for women to sue for pay discrimination, "the Senate of the United States decided to screw us once again," said Jeanne Clark, a local volunteer with the National Organization for Women, speaking yesterday at a Equal Pay Day rally in Market Square, Downtown.

"Nice girls finish last," she told a crowd of about 150, and "we have been too nice for too long."

Women in southwestern Pennsylvania make 69 cents for every dollar a man makes, trailing national and state averages. A study released earlier this year attributed the local disparities to a sluggish economy, stagnant population growth and a legacy of heavy industry. Also, women hold 10.9 percent of the board seats at the region's publicly traded companies and 11.1 percent of the executive spots, according to a Post-Gazette analysis released last month, also trailing national marks.

A 25-year-old woman, on average, will lose more than $583,000 to unequal pay during her lifetime, local Urban League President Esther Bush noted at yesterday's rally. Put another way, that woman has to work more than 15 and half months to earn what a man makes in 12.

"Does that sound fair?" she said.

"What are we going to do about it?"

Heather Arnet, organizer of yesterday's rally and executive director of the Women and Girls Foundation, has been trying to build local support for the pay-gap issue, as well as a "zero no more" campaign designed to place a woman on the board of every publicly traded company in the Pittsburgh area. If the gap does not close, Ms. Arnet said yesterday, young women will leave southwestern Pennsylvania for more equitable cities such as New York, Chicago and Atlanta, making this an "economic development issue" and not simply a "woman's issue."

After Ms. Arnet's first pay gap rally last year, Pittsburgh City Council President Doug Shields was instrumental in passing a council request for research into pay disparities among government employees. That request has since broadened to an evaluation of overall wage and compensation practices for the city, with overview from a citizens review panel. The Women and Girls Foundation may pay for a piece of the study.

This, Ms. Arnet said, was a "direct result of last year's rally," attended by Mr. Shields, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Council member Bill Peduto. The mayor was not there yesterday, but Mr. Shields and Mr. Peduto were, both clutching cardboard "Will Work for Equality" signs distributed by the Women and Girls Foundation.

"Thank you for making Pittsburgh the city it should be," Mr. Peduto told the crowd.

Added Allegheny County Council President Rich Fitzgerald: "In 2008, we shouldn't need this rally, but we do."

Mr. Fitzgerald promised to support the city's pay equity evaluation and "take it to a further reach throughout the county."

"We are going to win this fight."


Dan Fitzpatrick can be reached at dfitzpatrick@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1752.


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