Gubernatorial candidates state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott and their student supporters have settled on equal pay and wage discrimination as the next key issue of the 2014 campaign.
Abbott said that as governor he would veto a state version of The Equal Pay Act or Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. Davis has attacked Abbott’s position by arguing that existing equal pay laws are insufficient. The Equal Pay Act was a federal law signed in 1963 to prevent wage discrimination based on gender. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 was a federal statute which amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and stated that a person has 180 days to file a lawsuit for pay discrimination from when they received their paycheck.
Abbott said the Lilly Ledbetter Act, the Texas Labor Code and the Texas Government Code have adequate provisions for equal pay already.
“If there are ongoing issues about equal pay, I don’t think the question is whether we need more laws. The question is whether those laws just need to be enforced better,” Abbott said in a statement.
Amy Nabozny, history sophomore and College Republicans vice president, said she thinks current equal pay laws are sufficient because it’s already illegal to discriminate based on gender.
“It’s a waste of our legislature’s time and resources to be passing redundant legislation,” Nabozny said. “If there’s any issue in how the federal courts process these claims, then they should be looking to improve it there.”
Nabozny said she supports Abbott’s decision to veto additional legislation addressing equal pay in Texas.
“We already have laws protecting discriminatory action — period,” Nabozny said. “Right now, I am ashamed how Wendy Davis is victimizing women in order to gain ground in this race.”
Michelle Willoughby, government junior and Students for Wendy Davis community outreach director, said she thinks employers should offer paternity leave. Willoughby said if employers offer benefits for their male workers, they will stop viewing maternity leave as a downside to hiring women.
“If employers thought that young male employers were equally likely to take six to eight weeks off after starting a family and possibly drop out of the workforce for some amount of time, then they would be more likely to hire and pay women entering the workforce at the same rates they do with their male counterparts,” Willoughby said.
The Davis campaign could not be reached for comment.
Sarah Melecki, graduate research assistant and former chair of the Feminist Policy Alliance, said she thinks gender equality requires a combination of policy and social change.
“If a woman in Texas experiences wage discrimination, she has to take it up on a federal level,” Melecki said.
Melecki said increasing wage equality for people of all socioeconomic, gender and ethnic backgrounds requires that state or federal governments increase paternity and family leave, provide affordable child care and increase the minimum wage.
Melecki said although she thinks the Lilly Ledbetter Act was important and necessary, it does not address the needs of many women, such as those lower income or gay women.
“The people who are affected by [the Lilly Ledbetter Act] are mostly white women who have had the educational opportunities and have gone into a field that allows them to do that,” Melecki said. “Lilly Ledbetter is great and it’s necessary, but it’s necessary to look at women on all sides of the spectrum.”