Senate candidate Thom Thillis (R-NC) stumbled when confronted with his poor record on equal pay for women in a debate Tuesday night with Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC).
Hagan called Tillis out for blocking a paycheck fairness bill when he was Speaker of the state legislature, asking him why he did not support equal pay legislation. Tillis responded that the laws already on the books covered women, and proceeded to list female relatives as evidence of his support for equal pay.
“Men and women — my mother, who worked hard to help us actually make ends meet. My wife, my daughter and a number of other people — women — deserve the same pay as men,” Tillis said. “Let’s enforce the laws on the books, versus some of the campaign gimmicks that are going to put more regulations on businesses and make it more difficult.”
Throughout the tight campaign, Tillis has tried to moderate his pitch to female voters, who have thus far favored Hagan by massive margins. He even recently endorsed over-the-counter birth control pills. But Hagan and women’s rights groups have hammered Tillis for killing the state’s equal pay bill and overseeing a slew of harsh abortion restrictions in the legislature.
Hagan continued to push Tillis Tuesday night, pointing out that North Carolina women earn 82 cents to the dollar compared to men working the same jobs. Hagan also noted that she sponsored the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. “Speaker Tillis, I think you need to read reports. Women in North Carolina earn 82 cents on the dollar. I didn’t raise my two daughters to think that they were worth 82 cents on the dollar,” she said.
“I absolutely think we should give equal pay to equal work and those employers that don’t do it should bear the consequences based on the laws that are already on the book,” Tillis said.
“Then you should support an equal pay bill,” Hagan shot back. “My mother worked hard. My grandmother was a single mom. My grandfather died during the Depression era where she had to work every single day,” Tillis said. “I know she was discriminated against and that was wrong, that was why the Equal Pay Act was passed. We need to make sure my daughter, who will start nursing next year, she better get paid the same as a man of the same skill-set or there should be consequences. What we don’t need to do is put another regulation in place like Obamacare and all these other regulations killing jobs and harming women in disproportionate numbers in our state.”
Though Tillis insists that the laws already on the books are sufficient, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 has not done enough to prevent pay discrimination. Though the pay gap narrowed somewhat after the law was passed, gains have stalled and women still make significantly less than men across professions for doing the same work. Part of the reason for the persistent pay gap is that employers are often not transparent about wages, so women often don’t discover they are being shortchanged. The federal Paycheck Fairness Act, which was recently blocked by Senate Republicans, would ban salary secrecy, tighten the definition of a justified pay gap, and toughen penalties.