Local Democrats gathered Wednesday for a roundtable on the issue of pay inequality between men and women, a situation described as both a drag on the economy and morally faulty.
“it’s certainly a moral issue because we need to do right by the people of New York. People need to be rewarded for hard work," said state Senate candidate Justin Wagner (D-Croton-on-Hudson). The roundtable, held at the Mount Kisco Public Library, also included U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Harrison) and state Assemblywoman Sandy Galef (D-Ossining).
The officials described the state of women's issues as one being under assault, whether from the state Senate's not passing proposed pay gap legislation or in conservative Republican members of Congress trying to defund Planned Parenthood.
“So, it’s not just a campaign slogan to say the Republicans have a War on Women," Lowey said of her counterparts in Congress.
Studies indicate that there is a gap in earnings between men an women. The U.S. Census Bureau, reported in 2010 that the ratio is for women earning 77 percent of what men make. The findings looked a median earnings for full-time, year-round workers.
Also, the Institute for Women's Policy Research, a group focused on the issue, pegs the figure at 77.4 percent, based on a study released in early 2012 on that same year-round metric. Another metric, the ratio in full-time earnings on a median weekly basis, shows slightly higher results for women, at 82.2 percent of men's earnings, the Institute announced in the same study.
In making his case for closing the pay gap, Wagner argued on both moral and economic grounds.
“It’s certainly a moral issue because we need to do right by the people of New York," he said. "People need to be rewarded for hard work.”
He added, “If we want to unleash the economic growth that everyone talks about, one way to do it is to make sure that everyone in the work force knows that their work will be rewarded and that incentives are there."
Wagner also touted proposed state legislation called the Fair Pay Act, which bans firing or retaliation against women who share their work compensation. The act has passed the assembly, he said, but not through the state Senate.
Galef argued that another piece of legislation, a proposal to raise the state's hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50, would especially help women.
“So we are talking about pay equity for women at the much lower end," she said.
Lowey feels that more work at the federal level is needed, but touted the 2009 Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed by President Barack Obama shortly after taking office. The law was meant to overturn a 2007 Supreme Court decision that ruled Ledbetter, who was a Goodyear manager but argued that she was underpaid relative to a what a male would make, waited beyond the existing statute of limitations to contest the issue. Lowey argued that this argument from the court was unfair because Ledbetter did not know until long after of the issue.
“If not for the Fair Pay Act, the Supreme Court’s wrongheaded interpretation would have been the law of the land," she said.
The politicians also emphasized the lifetime impact of lower earnings and how it can inhibit paying for expenses.
“This adds up to a mortgage on a house, college tuition, health bills," Lowey said.
The political trio was joined by a group of supporters, including Muriel Fox, a co-founder of the National Organization of Women (NOW) a major feminist group.
“I was a lieutenant of Betty Friedan," she said, referring to the women's rights leader.
Fox praised Wagner, calling him intelligent and "a wonderful feminist. She also blast his opponent, incumbent state Sen. Greg Ball (R-Patterson), calling him “really disturbingly unprincipled.”
The group also talked strategy for how to engage people on the issue.
Galef suggested that panels such as theirs is one way, along with email and people contacting each other. She also suggested that working with women business leaders and chambers of commerce is another.
Fox argued that conservative Republicans have become more hostile on women's issues since making state legislative gains in the 2010 midterm elections. She feels that getting people organized is a way to counter them.
“It’s the only way that we’re going to combat all this money," she said.
The Republican opponents were asked to comment in response to the event, which they did through their campaign officials.
Joe Bachmeier, Ball's press secretary, gave the following statement, and blasted Wagner's employer, law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges:
"While a member of the Assembly, Senator Ball voted yes on the New York State Fair Pay Act five times, including A3911-2010, A6712-2010, A3911-2009, A6712-2009, and A7407-2008, and is now the author and sponsor in the Senate on equal pay legislation, S7057. Women and voters in this Senate District need to know that the same corporate attorneys putting thousands of dollars in Wacky Wagner’s campaign chest have lobbied Washington against closing the pay gap while defending big corporate clients against gender-based pay discrimination. Senator Ball, a leader on equal pay, again urged Equal Pay to be brought to a vote during a special session of the New York State legislature, just yesterday. A day after Senator Greg Ball's most recent efforts to end gender-based pay discrimination, Wacky Wagner is now playing political catch up. This is a weak attempt to cover up the bombshell news that his employer, from whom Wacky Wagner has already accepted $39,467 in campaign contributions, has successfully lobbied to defeat national Equal Pay legislation and defended the Bank of America against charges of gender-based pay discrimination."
Steve Napier, Wagner's campaign manager, responded in kind. He noted that Ball voted twice against an iteration of the Fair Pay Act, in 2007 and 2008.
Bill O'Reilly, a spokesman for Rye Town Supervisor Joe Carvin, Lowey's Republican challenger, released the following:
"Nita Lowey has been in Congress 24 years and her legacy is $16 trillion of federal debt and staggering unemployment. Round tables like the one she attended today make nice photo ops, but they do nothing to get people back to work or reduce the debt load on our children. We would all like to see people paid as well as possible, but they need jobs first. Ms. Lowey might want to concentrate on that first."
Nick D'Angelo, a campaign official for Kim Izzarelli (R-Briarcliff Manor), Galef's challenger, argued that she will be a strong voice on women's pay:
"Kim believes that women, and all individuals, deserve equal pay for equal work, and it won't take her two decades to work hard for workplace equality in the State Assembly."
All six candidates are running in districts that have been redrawn in reaction to 2010 Census data for population changes. Lowey and Carvin are running in a district that includes central and northern Westchester County and all of Rockland County; Ball and Wagner are contesting a district that spans from central and northern Westchester, to eastern Putnam and Dutchess counties. Galef and Izzarelli are running for a district that includes northwestern Westchester and western Putnam.