POTSDAM - Donna E. Seymour has a simple argument for why she supports the Fair Pay Act, a piece of state legislation touted by some as a way to end historical diiscrimination against women and described as Marxism by others.
Fair pay is a good thing, said Ms. Seymour, a Potsdam resident and the soon-to-be director of policy for the states American Association of University Women.
The AAUW has been pushing for fair pay since 1955, Ms. Seymour said, and its clear the organization hasnt achieved its goals. According to the U.S. Census, female median income still lags behind male median income.
There are certain statutes that are available at the state and federal level that are not adequately enforced, Ms. Seymour said.
The legislation, which Democratic Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell helped pass in her chamber, would give the state Department of Labor greater oversight over cases where companies pay women less for doing the same job as men and doing it by calling the job something else.
For example, said Mrs. Russell, if two people are cleaning a hotel room, the woman could be called a housekeeper, and the man a maintenance worker. But if theyre doing the same job, they should be paid the same.
There are laws that essentially say you cannot discriminate, but there are tools and techniques that we would like to use to ensure are not being used to circumvent these types of laws, Mrs. Russell said. Were essentially looking to close a loophole and get rid of these technicalities.
But business groups and Republicans oppose the measure because they say it will lead to frivolous lawsuits and an overreach of power in the Department of Labor.
This has absolutely nothing to do with equal pay for equal work, said Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River. This is nothing more than a job-killing bill.
Mr. Blankenbush the originator of the Marxim comparison said that the Department of Labor shouldnt be able to come into a business and categorize workers.
Its just a bad bill, Mr. Blankenbush said.
The debate on the bill in Albany where its almost certainly dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate mirrors a larger national debate over womens issues in general, and womens pay issues in particular.
The Paycheck Fairness Act, a federal law under consideration, would prevent retribution against women who seek information about how much their male colleagues are being paid, according to the Washington, D.C., publication The Hill. Senate Democrats are planning to use the issue to politically trap likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
The New York Federation of Independent Business, an advocacy group that touts itself as the voice of small business, opposes New Yorks version of the effort to equalize pay for doing the same job.
The group believes it will lead to frivolous lawsuits and a degraded business climate.
Clearly, adequate remedies for pay discrimination already exist under current law, the organization said in a memo opposing the bill, which passed in April. This proposal would open employers to frivolous lawsuits, and result in driving up the costs of products and services for consumers.
State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, said in a statement in mid-April that she hadnt made up her mind about the legislation.
Of course, people should get paid the same for doing the same job, and I know there are laws already in place to protect the rights of women and all workers to be treated fairly in the workplace, she said. I have not had a chance to review the Assemblys proposal, so I will reserve judgment until that bill comes before the Senate.
Ms. Seymour said it was unlikely for the bill to pass in the Senate, but that the bill would accomplish an important goal: advancing the issue further on the fight thats lasted more than half a century, with still more work to be done.
The senators see this is something that not a lot of people care about, she said, but the legisation will help put fair pay on the front burner.