Raising wages has been a top concern for working family advocates in Idaho. We’ve watched our neighboring states and many cities across the country make progress on creating a living wage for all working people, and it is past time for our elected leaders to take meaningful action on the issue as well. One way to do that would be to address wage equality for working women in Idaho.
On average, in the United States, women earn 20 cents less for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. In Idaho, women working a full-time, year-round job earn 26 cents less — which puts us in the bottom 10 states for wage equality. While 26 cents might not sound significant at first, it adds up to an annual difference of $11,605. Considering that women are the sole or primary breadwinner for 40 percent of families in the United States, equal pay isn’t just a “women’s issue,” it’s an economic issue that is negatively impacting far too many working families.
The labor movement is all about fighting for fair practices and a strong voice for working people on the job. Through collective bargaining, union members, both men and women, are able to negotiate wages that are fair and that pay enough to sustain a family. But every woman should be guaranteed equal pay, whether or not they are a union member.
Making equal pay a reality for women in Idaho will reduce poverty, lift up working families and bolster the economy of the state. Raising wages for all working people, both men and women, is a main priority for the labor movement. As long as the wages of working people remain stagnant, eliminating the wage gap will only take the improvement of women’s economic security so far.
A range of policy choices would raise wages — from increasing the state minimum wage and enacting earned sick leave law. But the best way to raise wages is by using our collective voices. Union contracts fight discrimination and provide transparency about who gets paid what, preventing hidden gender bias.
Collective bargaining through unions also narrows the pay gap between men and women significantly. A typical woman union member earns $222 a week more than a nonunion woman and is far more likely to have health and retirement security among other benefits such as child care, paid leave and a voice on the job. Yet, attacks on unions are making it harder for women to get ahead.
This legislative session, we’re calling on elected leaders to put Idaho on the path toward wage equality and raising wages for all. The labor movement strives to work with legislators to ensure that all Idahoans are able to support themselves and their families and live in dignity.
Aaron White is Idaho state AFL-CIO president.