Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

New push to add ERA to state’s constitution

Elyites mark “equal pay day” with events

Keith Vandervort
Posted 4/4/19

ELY— Representatives from ERA MN were in Ely this week to promote state efforts to add an Equal Rights Amendment to the state constitution. Heather Allison, ERA MN president discussed the topic at …

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New push to add ERA to state’s constitution

Elyites mark “equal pay day” with events

Posted

ELY— Representatives from ERA MN were in Ely this week to promote state efforts to add an Equal Rights Amendment to the state constitution. Heather Allison, ERA MN president discussed the topic at Tuesday Group.

According to Allison, the ERA amendment has passed the state House, and is waiting to be taken up in a Senate committee before a floor vote on the measure. Following an affirmative vote in the Senate, the amendment will be placed as a resolution on the 2020 ballot so that citizens can make the final decision on whether or not to add the amendment to the state constitution.

Minnesota was the 26th state to ratify the federal ERA in 1973. Now, 46 years later, women are still not a protected class in either the Minnesota or national constitution, she said.

Allison talked about the history and current status of the ERA, both in Minnesota and nationally and why it is needed now more than ever. Participants learned more about the roadblocks that have stopped it from passing and that still hold equality at bay, and received information on how to get involved to help clear away those barriers.

“The Equal Rights Amendment fits everything,” she said. “You can tie in so many issues that are happening right now into one single topic.”

The federal ERA amendment reads, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

Congress originally passed the ERA in 1973. By 1977, 35 out of the required 38 states had ratified the constitutional amendment, but the early momentum behind the initiative faded without approval of the remaining states. The seven-year deadline to have at least 38 states ratify the amendment expired in 1979, and a time extension expired in 1982 without ratification. A precedent was established with the Congressional pay amendment that no deadline adheres to the passage of constitutional amendments, according to Allison, which is why a new push for ERA ratification is underway now.

The ERA is still not part of the Minnesota constitution. “Every year since 1982 the bill for ratification of the ERA here has been on the legislative agenda,” Allison said. “This is about equality. The ERA is about creating equal opportunity under the laws. Our state constitution has pieces in it for protecting hunting, gambling, fishing, but not gender.”

In the last two years, two more states ratified the federal ERA amendment, including Nevada and Illinois, meaning just one more state is needed. “Virginia’s effort just died as a result of one white man who voted against having a hearing,” she said. “Arizona is picking up a ton of steam. A number of states in the south are really working hard as well.”

Equal Pay Day

Individuals across the country also joined together on Tuesday this week to mark Equal Pay Day. According to Bureau of Labor statistics, it takes until that date in April for women to earn a salary comparable to their male counterparts’ previous year’s salary.

The day was marked in Ely with an “Unhappy Hour” at Northern Grounds. The event was sponsored by the Ely branch of American Association of University Women, and the Ely Rotary Club, in cooperation with Northern Grounds.

Caroline Owens, AAUW public policy chair, said “It was an opportunity for community members to talk about the issues surrounding equal pay. At this year’s event we had much to celebrate. For the previous two years of this event, our Congressional District has ranked dead last in the state in pay equity. But with the most recent statistics, the district has risen from eighth to fifth. We are also celebrating the 87 local businesses who have joined in support of equal pay for their employees by signing an Equal Pay Affirmation.”

Ely AAUW chapter members also passed out equal pay information and cookies, signifying the pay gap between men and women, at Vermilion Community College on Monday.

Owens added, “There are pay differences because of the type of jobs women have traditionally chosen and because women often take time off from work for child-rearing. Those differences do not, however, account for the disparity in pay when you compare the pay differential between men and women in substantially the same job with substantially the same education and experience.”

The Equal Pay Act was signed into law by President John F. Kennedy on June 10, 1963. The law mandates that men and women receive equal pay for “substantially equal” work at the same establishment. A year later, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that added protections against discrimination based on an individual’s national origin, religion, race or sex.

“The issue isn’t so much that laws mandating pay equity don’t exist, but that the mechanisms for monitoring and enforcement are not in place,” Owens said. “Education on pay equity issues will help both employers and employees in ensuring adherence to the say and pay equity for all.”

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