Transcript: Mechanical engineer Kerri Sleeman’s testimony on the Paycheck Fairness Act – April 1, 2014

Partial transcript of the testimony of Kerri Sleeman, Mechanical Engineer in Houghton, Michigan, on the Paycheck Fairness Act. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing was held on April 1, 2014:

Thank you, Sen. Mikulski and everyone here today, for having us.

In 1998, I began work in an engineer company in Michigan.

When I was offered the position, they told me the company did not negotiate salaries.

I took the job and worked there or 5 years as a design supervisor. I managed several other workers, mostly males, and I always received glowing reviews.

My company – an automotive supplier – was forced into bankruptcy in 2003. Not only was I out of a job, but the employees of the company had to go through bankruptcy court to get our final paycheck and back vacation pay.

I signed up to receive updates about the court’s list of claims and was stunned by what I found. All of the men I had been supervising while at the company were paid more than me. It was heartbreaking. It was embarrassing. And it was infuriating. And it will affect me and my pay for the rest of my life.

When I finally got my wits about me several months later, I asked my former supervisor about it, and he said that the men I supervised were the breadwinners for their wives and children and that was probably taken into account.

The company paid those men more than me not because of their qualifications, not because of their experience, not because of their performance or their productivity but because they were men and I was a woman.

I was shocked and saddened. I never thought that this could happen to me. In my testimony, you’ll hear a little bit more about my rave performance reviews so that you could understand why this was so shocking.

I didn’t know I was being discriminated against when I worked there. I was rebuffed in my attempt to negotiate. I received rave performance reviews. What more could I have done?

You can’t fight back when you’re not privy to the rules and you can’t negotiate your way around this kind of discrimination.

What happened to me is happening across the country, and that’s why we need the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

We’re more than 50 years past the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and still dealing with a sizable pay gap. This clearly points to the fact that the current law is not strong enough to get the job done.

It’s well overdue for a makeover. Our economy has changed. Family structures have changed. And working women have changed. It’s time for the pay gap to finally change as well.

My coworkers and I didn’t talk about our wages because we didn’t know what would happen if we did, and none of us could afford to get fired.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who share their salary information with coworkers or ask employers about wage practices. I think this is very important.

Workers – and especially women – need this protection.

The American Association of University Women did research that drilled down beyond the infamous 77% stat. They found that women just one year out of college working full-time were paid on average just 82% of their male counterparts.

Even after controlling for factors commonly understood to affect earnings, the gap remains even amongst those in the same major working in the same occupation. In fact, one-third of the pay gap remains unexplained.

This gap begins early in women’s careers and is even larger for mothers and women of color.

I’ve lost more than $10,000 in pay and retirement benefits. That’s money lost directly to gender-based pay discrimination.

What could I have done with this money? I might have lowered the re-financing on my house. I know I would have been able to pay the copay for my husband’s heart surgery out of savings rather than using a credit card. Or I might be able to help my parents and my in-laws as they start their journeys into retirement.

Given the landscape, women cannot close the pay gap by ourselves. We need policymakers to do their part ensuring that the protections and technical assistance of the Paycheck Fairness Act are there to help both employees and employers work together towards a more equitable workplace.

No one should have to go through what I’ve gone through. No one.

For the women and the families that you represent, I urge you to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act without delay.

Thank you.

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