Below are opening remarks and responses to questions from Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg at a December 8 press conference. She has spent nearly 30 years serving in the state legislature and is the prime sponsor of the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act, universally acknowledged as the strongest state law protecting against salary discrimination.
It’s with mixed feelings that I am appearing at this press conference. First, as you say, [the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act] was one of the first bills that Governor Murphy signed, just as the Lilly Ledbetter Act was one of President Obama’s first actions when he became president. And Lilly Ledbetter was with us at Governor Murphy’s signing. So it is with pride in that law that I come here today.
But at the same time, it is with a little bit of chagrin and embarrassment that I am at the state university of the state of New Jersey—the home of the Center for American Women and Politics, which I go to as a resource on so many issues affecting women and elected office, and the home of the Center for Women and Work, which we go to so often as a resource on bills like this—to laud the professors, two of whom have the distinct title of distinguished professor, who have the ability, the integrity, and the support to stand up and speak out on issues about pay equity in our higher education system.
We should be the leader in this area. We in the state of New Jersey are already the leader in this area in terms of the law we’ve provided. And now our state university should be a leader in the area.
I know we have a comparatively new president with Dr. Holloway. I know how COVID has distracted everybody over the last number of months, and he has had to deal with this when he came in as a new president.
But I’m hoping that this press conference will help call attention to the fact that we need his help in following these programs that Rutgers originally signed with the union—so that we are able to move ahead to make sure that this kind of inequity doesn’t exist in the state university of New Jersey.
So to the professors who are going to follow me, to the professors who have stood up and spoken out: thank you for your courage and your integrity. And I am here to support you in whatever way I can. Thank you for including me, and I look forward to hearing them speak.
Obviously, the pandemic has overtaken so much else. But just as we are doing this press conference on Zoom, the legislature has found ways through Zoom—I’m going to be participating in a regular legislative committee meeting this afternoon—for the business of government to carry on.
As both Professor Wolff and Professor Kumar pointed out, 50 years ago, we were talking about this. Almost three years ago, we passed a law to help outlaw this kind of inequity.
Let me just add a footnote: I think Professor Kumar talked about being underpaid over the years by hundreds of thousands of dollars. That is reflected not only in salary or take-home pay, but it’s reflected in the kind of pension retirement income that you have, so when you retire, you have the lifestyle that you had while you are working. There are so many things that can’t just be attributed to the lesser dollars that you’re being paid.
The only way we can keep things moving is by taking an action. I think you were all very responsible by trying to work out a program with the Rutgers administration, and now you’ve had that drag on for a year with no response. You’re taking an action which will hopefully provide equity under the law.
And while you’re doing it, it keeps a spotlight on where these inequities still exist. They run the gamut from academics, like those of you represented here, to some of the front-line workers who we cherish and celebrate in today’s pandemic.
It’s important that you’re standing up. So how can we keep it going? It’s by what you’re doing here today. Hopefully, with a comparatively new administration, under Dr. Holloway, there will be some guarantees that we don’t have to, 50 years from now, conjure up the spirit of a Supreme Court Justice or of Lilly Ledbetter or Diane B. Allen or Loretta Weinberg or any of the others gathered here—because this will just be considered the way we do business.
We already have a pretty strong law under which they are filing their lawsuit. But I think I will use the bully pulpit, though, that I’m using by being here today. Resisting the urge to make a few snarky comments, when Professor Wolff talked about evening the playing field, I thought that if everybody became kickers on the football team, they might not have any problems with collecting the kind of pay they deserve.
When we talk about how the resources of the university are invested, they should be invested in the academic side of the university, as well as in the sports side. And they should be invested in the good offices to make sure that this university stands up for what we believe in New Jersey, starting with the governor’s office, and going through the administration in the state university of the state of New Jersey. And that is equity and inclusion.
So I don’t think we’re going to need any more laws. But we might need a few more spotlights, and a few more press conferences like this.
This morning, I participated in a Zoom meeting with women senior leaders of one of the big corporations in the state of New Jersey. That was one of the issues they brought up in terms of pay equity: how do they really know what’s going on in their corporation? Rutgers, in first of all negotiating this kind of groundbreaking program, in understanding a little bit about pay equity here, has already become a leader.
You should be the resource that the kinds of companies I met with this morning and other places in the state of New Jersey can turn to, in order to help alleviate this problem in the future.
We have years of catching up to do. There’s no denial. When I first got involved with this, God knows so many years ago, we were talking about 75 cents to a man’s dollar. We’ve got a lot of ground to catch up with.
We’ve set up the framework, and now it is up to business—and most importantly, our state university—to become the leaders and not the followers, to set the standards, hopefully outside of future court actions, and become the place we go toward to figure out how to do it in other places.