One of many women participating in efforts to recall Scott Walker. Photo by marctasman.

Workers are under attack and women are bearing the brunt of it when it comes to pay. Who’s to blame? Corporate-backed politicians typified by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Last week, in the dead of night, Walker signed a piece of legislation that rolls back progress on pay equity in his state, where women make only 75 cents for every dollar a man earns doing the same job. (Wisconsin’s rate was already worse than the disheartening national average of 77 cents on the dollar.) Walker’s legislation repeals a 2009 law that made it easier for victims of wage discrimination to have their day in court.

His action adds another to the growing list of reasons Wisconsin voters want to recall him this June.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has yet to denounce Walker’s anti-worker, anti-women action. Recently, Romney’s campaign officials were stumped by a reporter’s question on the topic. The reporter asked if Romney supports the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first law President Barack Obama signed, making it easier for women to sue in wage discrimination cases. Campaign officials were silent, then said only, “We’ll get back to you on that.”

No public official should have to stop and think about pay equity. It’s the right thing to do. And it’s the smart thing to do. When women do not get paid fairly, we all suffer.

Yet in places like Wisconsin, the systematic attacks on women’s pay and voices continue. Walker’s so-called “budget repair” bill passed last year broke the livelihoods of many women in the state, where the resulting layoffs and pay cuts disproportionally hit working women.

Leah Lipska, a member of AFSCME Local 1 in Wisconsin, told her story in a letter to the Washington Post. She wrote, “Aside from my full-time job with the state, I have been forced to take a part-time job at a local pizza place. Even that’s not enough to make up for my decrease in pay since Governor Walker’s law. I got so far behind on my car payments, I had to ask my parents for help. I’ve even had to go to the local food pantry. [Walker] is no hero; he’s stolen our American Dream.”

Nationwide, the reality of pay inequity for women of color is even bleaker. African-American women make about 72 cents for every dollar earned by a white man. Latina women, only 62 cents.

In the 1970s, pay equity emerged as one of the most significant issues confronting women. AFSCME members in San Jose, Calif., staged the first pay equity strike, and AFSCME members in Washington state reaped the benefits of the largest pay equity court settlement to date. We have made some strides as a nation, through pay equity agreements at the bargaining table and in state and local legislatures. But progress has been far too slow and much too scarce.

Today, pay equity remains so troubling an issue that President Barack Obama talked about it in this year’s State of the Union address. “An economy built to last is one where we encourage the talent and ingenuity of every person in this country,” Obama said. “That means women should earn equal pay for equal work.”

Wisconsin gubernatorial recall candidate Kathleen Falk echoed these words recently. “As a woman, as a mother who worked full-time while raising my son, I know first-hand how important pay equity and health care are to women across Wisconsin.”

Today, AFSCME members across the country are wearing red. We are wearing red because we, like Falk, know how important pay equity is. We are wearing red to stand in solidarity with the women we work with every day, the women who make America happen. We are wearing red to get women out of the red.

“Another day, another 77 cents on the dollar,” doesn’t have a nice ring to it. We must finish what we started in the 1970s. We must stop the corporate-backed politicians who are trying to rewind history. We must make sure women earn equal pay for equal work.

Gerald McEntee

Gerald McEntee

Gerald W. McEntee is the International President of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), one of the most aggressive and politically active organizing unions in the AFL-CIO. Since 2006, 145,000 women and men have changed their lives by forming a union with AFSCME. McEntee was first elected AFSCME President in 1981 and was re-elected in July 2008 to another four-year term.

As a Vice President of the AFL-CIO and chair of the Political Education Committee, McEntee is a key leader of the labor movement and its political efforts. Under McEntee’s leadership, the federation created its highly successful and much imitated voter education and mobilization program, which increased the number of union household voters to a record 26 percent of the electorate in 2006.

McEntee has long been a leader in the fight to reform the nation’s health care system. He chairs the AFL-CIO’s Health Care Committee and is a co-chair of Health Care for America NOW!, a national grassroots coalition that has launched a $40 million campaign to guarantee quality, affordable health care for all Americans.

McEntee is a co-founder and chairman of the board of the Economic Policy Institute, the preeminent voice for working Americans on the economy. He led the successful fight to stop President Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security, was an outspoken proponent for increasing the federal minimum wage, and is one of the nation’s leading advocates for America’s vital public services.

For his efforts to improve the lives of working families, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights presented McEntee with its prestigious Hubert H. Humphrey Award in 2004.

Before assuming the presidency of AFSCME, McEntee began his distinguished career as a labor leader in Pennsylvania in 1958. He led the drive to unionize more than 75,000 Pennsylvania public service employees, which at that time was the largest union mobilization in history. He was elected Executive Director at the founding convention of AFSCME Council 13 in Pennsylvania in 1973 and an International Vice President of AFSCME in 1974.

McEntee holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from LaSalle University in Philadelphia. A native of Philadelphia, McEntee and his wife Barbara live in Washington, DC.