Equal Pay Day and Jewish Values: Paying Fair Wages Is a Matter of Justice

April 14, 2015Rachel Chung

Today we celebrate Equal Pay Day, the symbolic day in the new year until which women would have to work to earn what their male counterparts earned in the previous year. In the United States today, women on average earn 78 cents for every dollar their male counterparts make. Women of color face an even greater disparity, with African American and Latina women earning an average of 64 and 54 cents on the dollar, respectively. The gender wage gap persists at all levels of education, within occupations and across industries. The pervasiveness of this disparity indicates that deeply embedded pay discrimination, rather than women’s occupational decisions, is responsible for the injustice of pay inequity.

In March, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-3) reintroduced the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 83/H.R. 1619), a key piece of legislation to address the persisting injustice of gender pay discrimination. The bill would take steps to correct pay discrimination by closing loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and by barring retaliation against workers who disclose their wages. In addition, the Paycheck Fairness Act would allow women to receive the same remedies in court for pay discrimination as those subjected to discrimination based on race or national origin—a critical tool for ensuring pay equity for American women.

The injustice of unequal pay extends beyond the United States. In Canada, women on average earn 81 percent of what their male counterparts make. The Reform Movement has long supported an end to the indignity of pay discrimination, including the Paycheck Fairness Act for its key protections to ensure women receive equal pay for equal work. Take action today: Contact your senators and representative today to urge them to support the Paycheck Fairness Act!

Jewish tradition teaches the importance of paying fair wages as a matter of justice. In Leviticus 19:13, we are taught that to withhold a worker’s wages is to defraud her, an act akin to robbery. In Genesis 1:27, we learn that all human beings are created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of the divine, and are thus deserving of equal rights and treatment. Together, these teachings compel us to fight for fair wages for all people. In anticipation of Equal Pay Day, use the Equal Pay Living Talmud to explore these ancient texts, along with modern commentary and secular sources to spark conversation about the critical importance of equal pay to the Reform Jewish community and to our society as a whole.

On Equal Pay Day and every day, we must heed our tradition’s call for equality so that gender no longer prevents anyone in our society from earning just compensation for their work.

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