WLP Speaks Out in Support of Philadelphia’s Prior Wage/Equal Pay Ordinance

Rupali Patel Shah of Philadelphia United for Progress (Philly Up) speaks out in support of Philadelphia’s prior wage/equal pay ordinance at Philadelphia City Hall (Photos via @PhillyWeRise)

Advocates gathered at Philadelphia City Hall today to express support for Philadelphia’s prior wage/equal pay ordinance, and the city officials who are fighting against the current attempt to obstruct it.

After a hearing in which Women’s Law Project and Pathways PA, members of the Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health, testified in support of the bill, Philadelphia City Council unanimously voted to pass the ordinance, sponsored by Councilman Bill Greenlee and Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, into law.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer: After the legislation passed in Council, the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia and Comcast Corp. began privately lobbying against the bill, trying to persuade Mayor Kenney to veto it. When Kenney signed it, the chamber filed suit in early April.

WLP’s Tara Murtha at Philadelphia City Hall.

The city has agreed to hold off on enforcing the law pending a judge’s decision on whether to grant a preliminary injunction in the case.

Today, Tara Murtha of the Women’s Law Project spoke about the issue at a press conference at Philadelphia City Council, alongside Melissa Robbins of the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization for Women, Rupali Patel Shah of Philadelphia United for Progress, Daisy Cruz of SEIU 32BJ, Laura Wentz and Kathy Black of the Philadelphia Coalition of Labor Union Women, and Ejaz Momen of the Student Power Network and Drexel University.

Here are Murtha’s remarks:

My name is Tara Murtha, and I am the communications director at the Women’s Law Project, the only public interest legal center devoted to the rights of women and girls in Pennsylvania.

First, I want to thank Councilman Bill Greenlee, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, Mayor Jim Kenney and all the other Philadelphia officials who are working to make Philadelphia a better place to live for women and families. By better, I mean better than yesterday, and better than Pennsylvania at large, which I’ll talk about more in a minute.

I was here last month, to help declare May 23 Unequal Pay Day. May 23 was the day that Philadelphia’s prior wage ordinance was scheduled to go into effect, but as we all know, it is being blocked.

There is a lot of data about equal pay. Most relevant today are two facts: One, the gender wage gap begins right after college, and then typically widens throughout a women’s career. Two, the wage gap is really gender and racial wage gaps, because sexism and racism intersect to create what seems like an insurmountable wage gap for Black women and women of color, especially.

Except, it’s not insurmountable. Simple policy fixes exist that would help narrow the gap, but they are ignored—in the case of the Pennsylvania Legislature–or obstructed, as is happening in Philadelphia with the Chamber of Commerce suing to block the ordinance.

Every day, I work with the Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health. We’re a collaboration of more than 55 organizations working together to call for evidence-based policies to improve women’s health and economic security in Pennsylvania. We work from the understanding that you cannot separate these issues. Women’s health informs our economic security, and our economic security informs our health.

I want to talk a bit about where Philadelphia’s prior wage equal pay ordinance fits in the big picture, in the context of what I’ve taken to calling life on the wrong side of the womb in Pennsylvania.

More than half of all pregnancies in Pennsylvania are unplanned. Consider that fact alongside the poverty rate, and it is unlikely a pregnant woman in Pennsylvania has extra money on hand when she discovers she is pregnant.

Let’s say she decides to carry the pregnancy to term. Her job that requires physical labor. Her doctor advises she needs to drink extra water to stay hydrated, but her boss won’t allow her to keep an extra bottle on hand. Now she is forced to choose between following doctor’s orders, or her boss’ orders. This happens because Pennsylvania is one of the few states in the Northeast that has not implemented workplace accommodations for pregnant workers—but Philadelphia has.

She gives birth, and goes right back to work … because, of course, we don’t have paid leave in Pennsylvania.

Now she’s back at work, not even physically healed from childbirth yet. Because breastfeeding reduces infant mortality and has health benefits for the mother, medical experts urge her to breastfeed. And she wants to. But her employer refuses to make the necessary minor, temporary workplace accommodations, so she has to stop. This happens because Pennsylvania has not passed workplace accommodations for nursing workers—but Philadelphia has.

While working, she has to pay for childcare. And maybe she’s getting paid less than her male coworker for a comparable job. Maybe it’s because she was asked her previous salary, and the company made an offer based on that, instead of based on her qualifications and the job’s requirements.

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Equal Pay Act hasn’t been updated since 1967, when it was amended to apply to fewer people. There are proposed bills, including a bill that includes a prior wage provision, but we are waiting for that to pass, and given the climate, we may be waiting a long time, on top of the 50 years that have already passed.

My point is that the perpetual failure of the Pennsylvania Legislature to address workplace equality makes Philadelphia’s efforts all the more important, and all the more necessary, and all the more appreciated.

I am grateful that Philadelphia continues to lead on pro-family issues, and hope that the state follows our lead, because all women deserve workplace equality, and all women deserve to be compensated according to our skills and talents–not a lowball estimate that locks us into a pattern of perpetual discrimination throughout our working years.

Pay equity is a workplace equality issue, it is a discrimination issue, and it is a health issue.

Thank you all for being here today and for your support.

We will keep you posted.

The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

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About womenslawproject

The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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