On Equal Pay Day, what can you do to bridge the gender wage gap?

As a heavy equipment operator for the city of Dayton, Ohio, Kelly Yeaney says women who choose this line of work often feel they must prove themselves to their male counterparts. 

“When you’re working around 25 men, it really matters how well you back up that truck,” says Yeaney, a member of AFSCME Local 101 (Council 8). “You definitely have to carry your weight.” 

But although Yeaney works in a male-dominated field, one thing she doesn’t have to worry about is equal pay for equal work. As a member of AFSCME, she is covered by a union contract that treats every worker the same. 

“Thanks to our union contract, you can do snow plows, use the front-end loaders, and you’re paid equally. Your gender doesn’t matter,” Yeaney says. “There’s no little-boys club. My union contract closes the gap on pay, but we need to keep working, and we need equal pay for everyone.” 

March 14, 2023 is Equal Pay Day, the date that represents how far into this year women must work to earn what men earned in 2022. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), women’s median weekly earnings last year were just 83% that of men’s.  

The difference is even greater for some women of color. In fourth quarter 2022, BLS figures (see Table 2) show median weekly wages for Black ($856) and Latino ($774) women were just 73% and 66%, respectively, of what men ($1,176) earned. 

But there is good news: labor unions narrow the gender wage gap. Women who were union members last year made 90 cents for every dollar earned by male union members, according to BLS data (Table 2). (Median weekly wages for unionized men were $1,273, compared to $1,146 for unionized women). 

What’s more, women union members had near wage parity with male workers in general (both union and nonunion): their median weekly earnings were 99% that of men. 

“The facts are simple: unionized women earn higher wages,” writes the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “Women covered by a union contract earn, on average, $203 per week more than non-unionized women, a 21.9% increase. And it’s not just about pay. IWPR research also shows that women in unions have stronger employer-sponsored benefits: they’re more likely than other women to have an employer-sponsored pension or retirement plan, and more likely to receive health insurance from their employer.” 

Over the last two decades, the gender wage gap has proven to be stubborn. As a new Pew Research Center analysis shows, it was about the same in 2022 as what it was in 2002: women made 82 cents and 80 cents, respectively, for every dollar a man earned. 

It wasn’t always this stubborn. The same analysis shows that if we go back four decades – to 1982 – women earned just 65 cents for every dollar a man made. 

As the Pew Research Center points out, there is “no single explanation for why progress toward narrowing the pay gap has all but stalled in the 21st century.” What makes this even more puzzling is that the pay gap persists “even though women today are more likely than men to have graduated from college.” 

But we don’t need a full explanation of what’s causing the gender pay gap to do something about it. We know the union difference is real: it means higher wages, better benefits and so much more. 

On Equal Pay Day, it helps to remind ourselves that we can do something to bridge the gender wage gap right now, and part of the solution is within our grasp: join a union.