Women’s Equality Act

During his State of the State address on January 9, 2013, Governor Cuomo outlined a groundbreaking ten-point plan called the Women’s Equality Agenda meant to ensure women’s full participation in society and protect their health and well-being. The plan addresses:

  • Equal pay for equal work
  • Protection from sexual harassment in the workplace
  • Equitable restitution for discrimination
  • Protection from human trafficking
  • Safeguards from discrimination against families
  • Protection from tenant discrimination
  • Fair treatment when buying, renting or leasing housing
  • Protection from pregnancy discrimination in employment
  • Safety when seeking an order of protection against domestic violence
  • Protection of reproductive healthcare decisions

All of these issues are key components to giving women control over their lives and future, as well as economic security.

All of these issues are key components to giving women control over their lives and future, as well as economic security.  More than 800 organizations have joined together to support this plan, including Reform Jewish Voice of New York State. The State Assembly passed a bill (the Women’s Equality Act) encompassing all ten points outlined by Governor Cuomo, but the State Senate passed individual bills addressing planks 1-9, but refused to schedule a vote on a bill dealing with the protection of reproductive healthcare decisions. When Gov. Cuomo gave his 2014 State of the State address in January, he again urged the legislature to pass this important legislation.

On January 27, 2014, the state Assembly again passed the Women’s Equality Act (A.08070) by a margin of 88-43 as a comprehensive bill, including all ten planks. Assembly Republicans have also introduced nine separate bills that address planks 1-9. Legislation has not yet been introduced in the Senate.

Equal Pay for Equal Work

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibits unequal pay for equal or “substantially equal” work performed by men and women and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits wage discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion or national origin. In 1981, the Supreme Court made clear that Title VII is broader than the Equal Pay Act, prohibiting discrimination even when the jobs are not identical. While these laws and this Court decision seem to prohibit wage discrimination, other unfriendly Supreme Court decisions have created loopholes in these laws and enforcement of the laws is poor. The federal government has attempted, with limited success, to end wage discrimination with legislation like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act, of which only the former became law. It is time for New York State to step up and protect women from unfair wage practices.

In New York, the median full time salary for women is $41,570, while the median full time salary for men is $50,228 a year. Women in New York earn 84% of what men earn and the gap is even more severe for African American and Latina women, who earn 66% and 55% of what men earn, respectively. Over one million households in New York State are headed by women—and 27.6% of those households live below the poverty line. A wage gap is not a matter of personal choice and it exists regardless of industry and education.

This section of the Agenda will ensure that women are entitled to their wages free from gender and racial discrimination and would provide a mechanism to receive damages for back wages lost. The proposal will protect employees by prohibiting employers from terminating or retaliating against employees who share information about their wages. The prohibition of sharing wage information is how pay disparities are perpetuated.

Protection of Reproductive Health Care Decisions

In 1970, New York was one of the first states to legalize abortion, three years before Roe v. Wade was decided by the United States Supreme Court.  Much has changed over the past 40 years, and while medical science and technology have advanced, New York law has lagged behind and is woefully inadequate.  New York law does not contain the health exception for the mother or even an affirmative guarantee protecting women’s right to make private reproductive health decisions.  The women of New York State rely on the federal Constitution to guarantee those rights, leaving them vulnerable to further erosion by the Supreme Court.

The Women’s Equality Agenda proposes aligning New York law with current federal law and medical practice as well as refocusing existing statutes by moving them to the Public Health Law. The health of the woman must be a primary factor in decisions made by health professionals. New York already regulates health professionals and the standards that define what they can and cannot do. This can be clarified through the passage of the Reproductive Health Act.

Reform Jewish Values

The Reform Jewish Movement has long advocated for women to be treated fairly and equally in all aspects of life—including reproductive health decisions and pay equality.

All life is sacred in Judaism. Although an unborn fetus is precious and to be protected, Judaism views the life and well-being of the mother as paramount, placing a higher value on existing life than on potential life. Women are commanded to care for their own health and well-being above all else. The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) and the Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) have adopted numerous resolutions stating their commitment to the protection and preservation of women’s reproductive rights.

The URJ has continuously reaffirmed its commitment to reproductive health with resolutions in 1967, 1975, 1981, and 1990, stating in 1975 that “in any decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy, the individual family or woman must weigh the tradition as she struggles to formulate her own religious and moral criteria to reach her own personal decision….We oppose all constitutional amendments that would abridge or circumscribe this right.”

Jewish tradition has also long recognized the importance of paying fair wages. Leviticus 19:13 commands that, “You shall not defraud your neighbor, nor rob him; the wages of he who is hired shall not remain with you all night until the morning.” Judaism also teaches that all human beings should be treated equally because they are created b’tselem elohim, in the image of God. “And God created humans in God’s own image, in the image of God, God created them; male and female, God created them” (Genesis 1:27).

The URJ affirmed its commitment to pay equality with a resolution in 1985 stating that “Reform Judaism has a profound commitment to the principle of equality of opportunity for all persons… Women in predominantly female jobs that, even according to any employers’ own specific guidelines, are similar in skill, effort, and responsibility to those of men in traditional male jobs should be compensated with fairness and equity in those jobs” and the URJ “supports legislation calling for job evaluation studies and appropriate remedial actions on the federal, state, and municipal levels.

Download the Women’s Equality Act Memo.

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