WRJ's Legacy of Championing Equitable Pay for All

March 5, 2024Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch

March 12 marks Equal Pay Day, which is intended to draw attention to the ongoing disparity in earnings between men and women (other genders' pay is not yet well tracked). March 12 marks how long it takes a woman, on average, to earn the same amount as their male counterparts did the previous year. People of Color, especially Women of Color, see an even wider gap. This day highlights the necessity of equal pay for equal work while raising awareness about the challenges and discrimination that contribute to this pay gap. Last year, I shared a d'va haftarahhaftarahהַפְטָרָהSelection from the Prophets read or chanted after the weekly Torah portion; plural: haftarot for Equal Pay Day titled, "You Shall Not Defraud Your Fellow," affirming our sacred commitment to gender equality and economic justice.

For over a century, Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) has advocated for gender equality in all facets of life, including the workplace. One of its key areas of focus has been equal pay for women, which has seen significant progress thanks, in part, to WRJ's efforts.

In 1944, WRJ established the Fair Employment Practices Commission, which asserted that every individual should have the right to earn a living without facing discrimination due to their race, creed, or color. This initiative laid the foundation for future advocacy efforts and set the stage for our commitment to fair pay.

In 1963, WRJ supported the passage of the Equal Pay Act, signed into law by President Kennedy. This legislation prohibited gender-based wage discrimination in the United States and marked a significant step forward in workplace gender equality. WRJ praised the president and Congress for taking long-overdue action to eliminate discrimination based on an employee's gender.

Throughout the decades, WRJ has continued to advocate for fair pay, recognizing that achieving true pay equity requires addressing the root causes of gender discrimination. In 1979, WRJ reaffirmed its commitment to gender equity by supporting equal employment and salaries for women. We encouraged congregational sisterhoods and our members to promote equal opportunities for women and underrepresented genders (trans and non-binary individuals) in various professions, including the rabbinate.

In 1985, WRJ noted that the Equal Pay Act could not fully end pay discrimination. We emphasized the importance of pay equity, which goes beyond equal pay for equal work, in addressing the systemic underpayment of professions that had historically been dominated by women.

In 1991, WRJ commended efforts by the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) and the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) to promote equal opportunity and economic parity for female-identifying rabbis. WRJ encouraged sisterhoods to advocate for gender-neutral policies in hiring and promotion practices, as well as pay equity policies for rabbis and Jewish professionals.

WRJ supported paid family and medical leave policies in 2015, aligning with our tradition's principles of treating employees fairly. This initiative underscored WRJ's ongoing commitment to ensuring that women have the support and resources they need to balance work and family responsibilities.

Pay equity is often regarded as a women's issue, yet we know it to be an issue of human rights and social justice. By engaging the entire Reform Movement around this issue, we reinforce the message that economic justice is at the core of our fundamental Jewish values.

In 2016, WRJ and Women's Rabbinic Network convened affiliates and partners to form the Reform Pay Equity Initiative (RPEI). The RPEI comprehensively assesses the salaries of professionals who serve Reform institutions, develop plans to address inequities, and evaluate the impact of those interventions. We share tools and strategies to combat the gender wage gap and help integrate best practices into every stage of employment.

WRJ's continued advocacy for pay equity is consistent with our values of inclusivity and diversity. By advocating for fair pay for all, we seek to create a more inclusive and equitable society where everyone can succeed.

As we reflect on WRJ's history of advocating for fair pay for women, we are reminded of the progress that has been made as well as the work that still lies ahead. WRJ's legacy serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration for all those who continue to fight for gender equality in the workplace and beyond.

Interested in learning more? The Reform Pay Equity Initiative is pleased to provide resources to support employees as they honor their self-worth and advocate for themselves during hiring, negotiating, evaluation, and promotion processes.

You can support WRJ's pay equity work by making a donation today. Please select "Equal Pay Day" in your designation. 

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