Just hours before the Easter Holiday was to begin last Thursday evening, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed into law legislation that makes it more difficult for women and other victims of wage discrimination to seek justice. SB 202, the bill signed by Gov. Walker, overturns the state’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act, which allowed wage discrimination victims to seek punitive and compensatory damages through the state’s courts, which are more accessible and less expensive than federal courts.
“Gov. Walker wants to turn back the clock on women’s rights and deny them their day in court,” read a statement by the Wisconsin AFL-CIO posted on its website. “Equal pay is an economic security issue for millions of Wisconsin women and this act threatens the livelihood of many workers.”
When Gov. Walker signed SB 202, he also signed two other bills that affect women’s health and their right to privacy. One of the bill bans abortion coverage from state health insurance plans that may be obtained through health insurance exchanges that are to be established through the federal Affordable Healthcare Act. The ban will make it more difficult for low-income women to obtain abortion services.
Gov. Walker also signed a bill that requires women seeking abortions to meet with a doctor one-on-one for the purpose of assuring the doctor that no one is pressuring her to have the abortion. The Wisconsin Medical Society opposed this bill because it infringes on doctor-patient confidentiality.
Wisconsin Planned Parenthood Advocates condemned Gov. Walker for signing all three bills. ”Governor Walker and the Republican majority have used the last 18 months to pursue the most extreme political agenda against women that Wisconsin has ever seen,” said Tanya Atkinson, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin. “We will not stand by and allow this Governor to politicize women’s health. We will not stand by as Governor Walker continues to curtail women’s access to healthcare, health information, and the ability to fight gender discrimination in the work place.”
The state’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act was passed in 2009 to help women close their pay gap with men. At the time of the passage, Wisconsin women’s wages were 75 percent of men’s. This pay gap according to the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health cost the state’s families $4,000 a year in lost pay.
At the time of the passage of the Equal Pay Enforcement Act, the Wisconsin women’s pay gap was below the national pay gap average of 77 percent. Wisconsin ranked 36th among all states in pay equality. After passage of the act, Wisconsin rose to 24th among states in pay equality, and the pay gap closed significantly to 82.8 percent.
Despite its success, many businesses opposed the act and lobbied for its repeal. Organizations supporting repeal include the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, the Wisconsin Automobile & Truck Dealers Association, the Wisconsin Builders Association, the Wisconsin Car Rental Alliance, the Wisconsin Grocers Association, the Wisconsin Hospital Association, the Wisconsin Hotel and Lodging Association, the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, and the Wisconsin Restaurant Association.
The state AFL-CIO called Gov. Walker’s decision to repeal the Equal Pay Enforcement Act shameful. “Gov. Walker is shamefully signing legislation into law that threatens the economic security of Wisconsin women,” said Stephanie Bloomingdale, Secretary-Treasurer of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO. “Repealing the Equal Pay Enforcement Act is not the Wisconsin way and shows just how disconnected Gov. Walker is with the issues facing working women in today’s economy.”