There are no safe assumptions about any bill – even a bill named the “Pay Equality Act”.
The name aside, the Pay Equality Act only applies to a small group of people – non-civil service state and local employees; translation - elected officials and political appointees.
All other working women are protected by federal law; the equal pay provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Administered by the EEOC, the penalties are harsh – even jail-time.
Over the years’ various lawsuits excluded certain state and local government employees from the federal act so in 1974 Tennessee enacted state law to protect these employees from equal pay discrimination.
For several years a bill has run in the state legislature to expand this law in ways that would make it very litigious. Encouraging employees to discuss their wages with each other, removing the provision that the jobs being compared for an equal pay violation need be in the same department, and allowing class action status.
This bill dies every year because programs and departments have different budgets funded by different sources of revenue which might mean that an employee in the Attorney General’s office might not be paid the same as an employee in the department of Commerce who is performing essentially the same job.
Last Wednesday the bill sponsor arrived to committee with community organizers and protestors – the organizers took photos and video of the hearing. He proceeded to generalize his presentation making it about all women in our state. I reminded him that all women are protected by the federal equal pay law. He cited statistics which I refuted by noting the Obama Administration’s own study from 2009; using myself as an example of the type of data examined in the study.
When the bill failed the sponsor, community organizers and the protestors went out in the hall and became more disorderly and louder than I have ever seen any crowd become inside the legislature's halls. The capitol police tried to calm the group. I was asked to leave through a back door.
Unknown to me, for two days’ women on social media were incited to great anger by the community organizers due to the failure of the Pay Equality Act…they were led to believe that the Act applied to all Tennessee women - not just elected officials and political appointees. I did not know because I was blocked from seeing the social media posts.
Of late, conservative speakers invited to universities, presidential candidates and I suppose now committee hearings are drowned out by young people roused by activist community organizers. Their rhetoric does raise emotion. My father cautioned me not to follow the crowd - to believe only 10% of what I hear - not to act emotionally but if something mattered to me, research the facts for myself. I still believe this is good advice so I will continue to do what I have always done – read the bills and consider what they do regardless of what they are named.