Elections matter. Just ask the people of Iceland, who in 2017 elected a government led by a proud and outspoken 42-year-old feminist, the Left-Green Movement’s Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who announced that “Closing the [gender] pay gap is doable. We have said that we are going to implement the equal-pay standard in five years.”
Iceland had already taken some of the boldest steps in the world to address the wage gap between women and men—with groundbreaking legislation and social advocacy—when Jakobsdottir became prime minister. But the new leader, who had championed the legislation as a member of Iceland’s national parliament, signaled that she was determined to use the whole power of her position to move the needle from promises to practices.
Declaring that she wants to “accelerate the process of change,” Jakobsdottir has been working to implement pay-equity standards on a faster timeline than has been dictated legislatively. The prime minister does not stop there. Arguing that equal pay for women must be recognized as an essential economic and social-justice issue, Jakobsdottir has made it clear that a societal shift is the goal. She says, “I don’t think it is as simple as achieving a gender equality goal and then sitting back and relaxing.”
It is a big deal when elected officials are determined to use all the power of their positions to make real the promises of their campaigns. And that is especially true with issues like pay equity, where rhetoric and action have not always been so closely linked as need be.
This is one of the reasons New York attorney-general candidate Zephyr Teachout has placed workplace issues so high on her campaign agenda—right up at the top with her pledges to take on “Trump Lawlessness and Corruption” and to “Clean Up Albany.”
Teachout is running in a competitive Democratic primary on Thursday, facing able rivals. In this competition, the Fordham Law School professor and former national director of the Sunlight Foundation has identified herself not just as legal scholar but also as a legal activist who is prepared to apply the rule of law to the most powerful corporations in the world.
“It is no coincidence that the more power we give large corporations, the less empowered their workers become. This is especially true for those workers who have been historically disenfranchised: including women, people of color, and immigrants,” says Teachout, a veteran advocate for initiatives to address corporate power and to protect worker rights. “It is imperative to hold these corporations accountable when their workers’ rights are abused.”
In addition to pledging to “investigate wage theft, especially in vulnerable sectors like the service industry” and to “ensure that workplace safety regulations are enforced,” Teachout is highlighting a commitment to “Investigate any company doing business in New York that violates the New York State Fair Pay Act or the [federal] Lilly Ledbetter Act. No employee with the same job should be paid a different wage on the basis on sex, race or national origin, and their claims should never be barred by a statute of limitation.”
Teachout recognizes that change does not just happen because good laws are on the books. Those laws must be enforced, aggressively and enthusiastically. “To close the pay gap for women and people of color in New York,” she says, “we need an AG who will vigorously pursue violations of these laws.”