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A new era for ERA?

MinnPost photo by Doug Grow
Lauren Lutgens, a St. Ben’s sophomore, and Katie Spoder, a year out of the College of St. Benedict, holding ERA signs during Thursday's rally at the Capitol.

It was hard to tell if it was the past or the future being played out Thursday at the state Capitol when a few dozen women rallied on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment.  

If you are of a certain age, or you’ve taken an American history course in the last few decades, you’ll recall that the Equal Rights Amendment was designed to constitutionally protect the rights of women, from the workplace to the homefront. In 1972, the amendment passed through Congress and was forwarded to the states. Thirty-five states, including Minnesota, quickly ratified the amendment — but 38 were needed to make it part of the Constitution.

In the end, the amendment was defeated by fear. If the ERA passes, we’ll have unisex bathrooms. If the ERA passes, men will lose their God-given authority to be heads of households. If the ERA passes, women will be forced into combat. If the ERA passes, government will be telling businesses they have to pay women as much as men.

Rosemary Rocco, retired from a career in health care, was among those attending Thursday’s rally. She shakes her head at all the old fears that eventually ground down the ERA’s momentum.

Recently, she said, she did some bottom-line analyzing of what the failure to pass the ERA cost her in the ensuing decades. Statistics show that women are paid 78 cents to every dollar paid to a man. That means, she said, the pay disparity cost her a minimum of $375,000 over the decades. And because Social Security is based on earnings, she figures that women like her are still are being shortchanged compared to men.

But Rocco looked around the room where the rally was being staged and saw hope. Not only were there old-timers from the first ERA fight present, but there were a substantial number of collegians. “This is an issue that seems to be getting the attention of the millennials,’’ Rocco said. “They understand it. Look, young women are coming out of college with the same debt that young men are. They have the same debt, but they still will get paid less.’’

A cross-section of women — young, old, women of color, politicians, military vets —  were at the rally, which Kathy Magnuson, a publisher of Minnesota Women’s Press, said represented “the most excitement” she’s seen around the ERA in years. But the political mountains in front of the effort to revive an old idea are huge.

For starters, there are no Republicans in Minnesota outwardly supporting the effort — one national, one statewide — that was begun Thursday. Betty Folliard, a former DFL legislator who’s a founder of ERA MN, said that initially at least a few House Republicans were ready to publicly support the effort, but that they pulled their names from authorship of bills because of pressure from their caucus leadership. The scuttlebutt is that anti-abortion elements of the GOP still oppose the ERA.

Given the GOP’s majority control of the Minnesota House, there can be no progress on ERA without GOP support. “But we are going to get this conversation going,” said Folliard. “People have been working on this for 93 years, we’re not going to stop now.”  (The ERA was proposed by Alice Paul in 1923.)

Here’s the process that has begun in both the House and Senate in Minnesota: Resolutions are being presented “memorializing Congress to remove the deadline for ratification of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment.’’

In the 1970s, a “sunset’’ provision became part of the ERA process, a provision that essentially said that if the amendment was not passed by 1979 (later extended to 1982), the actions of the 35 states that had ratified the amendment would be erased.

Just a wild guess here, but it seems unlikely that Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will embrace any resolutions tht bring the ERA back to life. “But we’re in this for the long haul,’’ said Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul.

The second part of the ERA push in Minnesota will be for the state legislature to pass a proposed state ERA amendment. (It takes a majority in both houses to put an amendment proposal on the ballot.)

Again, because the GOP controls the House, such a proposal seems unlikely to pass. On the other hand, opposing an ERA amendment does present political problems for Republicans, given the importance women play in Minnesota elections, not to mention the party’s efforts in making inroads with working class voters.

As Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, pointed out, women of color are hit hardest by the pay disparities between men and women. The income gap between white women and men is 20 percent, Moran said. The gap between Asian American women and white men is 26 percent. It’s 38 percent between black women and white men, and a staggering 43 percent between Latino women and white men. Moran pointed out that the U.S. is one of three industrialized nations that don’t guarantee paid paternity leave.

Many of the women present Thursday are long-time soldiers in this fight. Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, was a first-term state representative who had the opportunity to cast a vote supporting ratification of the amendment in 1973. 

But also on hand were such people as Katie Spoder, a year out of the College of St. Benedict, and Lauren Lutgens, a St. Ben’s sophomore. Spoder, laughing and holding an ERA placard, noted that until recently, the ERA was “just something we talked about in a history course.”

Comments (21)

  1. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 03/06/2015 - 09:15 am.

    Redundancy at its best…

    Just another feeble attempt to pump up the DFL base with another made up crisis and a big government solution.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 03/06/2015 - 09:17 am.

    After reading this article

    my orbital muscles are sore from the continuous eye-rolling.

  3. Submitted by Richard Callahan on 03/06/2015 - 10:25 am.

    This always puzzles me

    It has been illegal to pay men and women differently for the same job and circumstance for decades. Isn’t the discrepancy in average pay explained by the differing circumstances of average length of time in the job, average age, job categories, etc?

    Did you know that women have outnumbered men in STEM college degree programs for the last fifteen years?

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/07/2015 - 09:04 am.

      I’ve been employed in engineering for longer than 15 years. I can count the women I’ve worked with, and for, on one hand.

      Although I have read women are making themselves known in computer science related careers, I don’t see much of a change in any other area of engineering.

      I aver I percieved a definite sense of defensiveness in woman I have worked with years back, and probably for good reason. But the few I’ve worked with more recently seemed as confident as anyone else. They were also being paid as much as any man with similar backgrounds and experience.

      Although I don’t claim it as being in any way definitive, the NYT did an interesting report recently.

      • Submitted by Richard Callahan on 03/08/2015 - 10:57 am.

        I had seen this article before and it’s less a report than an opinion piece written by a creative writing professor who I think obscures the statistics. She cites the percentage of women getting PhD’s in physics which of all the sciences is the one least sought by women by choice. She then goes on to imply that these same ratios apply to the other STEM areas of study when they do not. Women, in fact, outnumber men in undergraduate STEM programs in the United States. At higher levels leading to PhD’s the number of women declines relative to men but in any biological or related area still remain the majority.

        If your area of engineering has few women than I suspect it is one of those areas that does not interest women as much as bio-medical engineering or even chemical engineering would.

        In any case I think the data shows women have made more progress than generally viewed and reported in the media and to keep fighting battles designed to win a won cause is like beating a dead horse. This energy could be better spent on other unmet needs.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/13/2015 - 11:21 am.


      And, despite the laws that say that they can’t be discriminated against based on their gender, women are still paid less for the same work with the same experience. Some people will argue that women choose to take less challenging jobs, or work shorter hours, or take breaks in their careers. Even if that’s true for some, it’s not true for all. Yet, the pay is different. One of the easiest careers to make an apples to apples comparison is law because actual work (billable hours) and actual experience are recorded, as well as actual billing to clients (value). I did some research with regard to pay and value of patent agents a couple of years ago. An organization called AIPLA takes a survey of various information with regard to the economics of intellectual property law, including lawyers and agents in house and in firms. For patent agents in firms, for the same experience level, same education, and same value (within a percentage point or two), female patent agents were paid significantly less (around 20%). AIPLAs report even let me look at area of expertise–biotech, engineering, chemistry, etc. Doesn’t matter. Despite providing the same value to clients, women’s work was valued less by firms. Interestingly, the same did not hold true in house.

      I have since looked at statistics from the food industry. The difference in pay for men and women with similar experience and educational backgrounds is disturbing, as well.

      The difference is definitely not because women aren’t doing equal work. Clearly, the laws don’t have sharp enough teeth. If there was a Constitutional requirement for equality, the courts would have a harder time being as lenient as they are on gender discrimination.

  4. Submitted by Kurt Anderson on 03/07/2015 - 03:11 pm.

    Good Luck, but …

    It easily passed 2/3rds of each house of Congress in 1972 and sailed to within one or two states of the 3/4ths needed to ratify it. In 1973 it hit a brick wall and all that happened for the next six years were states trying to rescind their ratification. What happened? In January of 1973 the Supreme Court stepped in and struck its own “blow” for women’s rights. Remember the details? Would that still be an obstacle?

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