A number of new laws are taking effect on Sunday, many of which are aimed at ensuring or promoting driver safety – whether by requiring all riders be strapped in when rolling down the highway or making sure that slower drivers don’t nap in the left lane while the interstate’s version of NASCAR takes place around them – but the most momentous is surely Alabama’s equal pay law, which requires that workers doing the same jobs be paid the same regardless of “sex or race,” barring seniority or some merit system that might warrant one person receiving a higher salary than another.
Additionally, the legislation prohibits employers from refusing to “interview, hire, promote or employ” a job applicant that doesn’t provide a wage history.
Though Alabama was late to the game in this regard, becoming the 49th state in the nation to have such legislation on the books after this year’s legislative session, like a toddler, we must celebrate its tiny steps lest it forget to continue walking.
To be sure, it seems little more than common sense that two people doing the same job should receive equal compensation – if we’re both swinging hammers or writing stories or flipping burgers or compiling data, we should indeed both be paid like hammer swingers, story writers, burger flippers or data compilers – but rarely does common sense meet legislative action in Alabama.
And while this law goes a long way in at least codifying the state’s largely symbolic support for workplace equality – after all, a “Right to Work” state knows little and cares even less about such communistic ideas – it still leaves a lot of gaps that will be much more difficult to fill.
While even the most backward and villainous conservative will relent to agreeing that black folks deserve to be paid the same as their white counterparts, or that women deserve to be paid equally to their male counterparts, what will be their response when members of the LGBTQ community demand the same protections?
Surely they are as worthy of workplace equality as anyone else, but it will surely be an uphill battle to convince Alabama conservatives – who talk small government but believe reproductive organs and sexual preferences should be legislated like narcotics or bombing threats – that these people should even be protected from losing their jobs, much less getting the same paycheck as their workplace counterparts.
Little has changed, Alabama makes it to the 20th Century just as the rest of the country is getting comfortable in the 21st Century and wonders why it’s looked down upon as backward.
In 2019, equal pay for women and minorities should not even be a topic of discussion anymore – we’ve moved on to greater struggles and should no longer be working to patch obvious problems that should have been solved decades ago, if not in the state’s founding document – as we must now expect our lawmakers to offer up legislation to comprehensively combat climate change, address income inequality, repair the state’s shoddy healthcare infrastructure, tackle poverty and subpar education.
So, yes, equal pay legislation is a good start, but will our leaders have the courage and fortitude required to adequately lead this state forward? Will the naysayers finally realize that there is value in ensuring that all people are protected from bias in the workplace, that all people deserve quality healthcare and education, that no one should be allowed to horde billions while countless others go hungry or cold?
The optimists certainly think it’s possible, but the realists have seen enough to know that the powers-that-be in this state will allow themselves to be served as entrees to a pack of malnourished lions before they will relinquish any power to the people of this state.
We must simultaneously celebrate our achievements, modest though they may be, and ceaselessly criticize our politicians and demand more from them – to do otherwise might mean that this progress, this step in the right direction, is the last we’ll see for quite some time.
Adam Powell is a journalist with nearly two decades of experience, currently working as a Staff Writer and Columnist for The Selma Times-Journal and serving as President of the Alabama chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).