People rallied around Equal Pay Day across the country on Tuesday, and Duluth was no exception as roughy 75 people, mostly women, showed up outside City Hall to press the issue.
Metrics illustrating pay discrepancy between genders in the workplace came from multiple speakers, including Mayor Emily Larson, who said her two sons were aghast when she explained it to them.
Women earn 80 percent of what men earn, the speakers said. It took white women until April 4 to catch up to what their male counterparts earned last calendar year, and it will take Native American women until September to reach the same figure. That example drew an audible gasp from the crowd.
For Zabelle Stodola, a retired American-literature professor who lives in Duluth, correcting the imbalance is what she called "a no-brainer." Stodola recalled being hired to teach in Arkansas and coming into her university the same time as two male colleagues. She had her doctorate degree, but they were working on theirs. She learned later that she still was paid less than each of them. Her career reconciled and over, Stodola still wasn't about to give up the fight.
"If this is a progressive society," she said, "it needs to be defended. There are a lot of threats - even in Minnesota, a progressive state - and this is one of them."
Susan Willis got out of the local banking industry to start her own business in web design and social-media marketing. The discrepancies she found in banking - added titles that came with no commensurate raises in pay or benefits - are things her working grandchildren and nieces still experience.
"What people need to do is research companies and find out their philosophies and values," she said. "We all have spending power."
When President John F. Kennedy thought equal pay was a no-brainer, he signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963. Now 54 years later, Gay Trachsel, of the League of Women Voters and American Association of University Women, informed the crowd that 4-in-10 women are primary breadwinners in their homes yet have less leverage than a similarly positioned man when it comes to home-buying or securing tuition, health insurance and her own retirement.
"There are real consequences," Trachsel said.
One sign at the rally read, "At this rate your great, great, great granddaughters might have fair pay."
That was too long a wait for Larson, who said, "When you put it in plain and simple terms, it doesn't make sense. To request and demand equal pay is within our purview and our right."
Abigail Mlinar, founder of the local Feminist Action Collective, led the rally that featured representatives from 10 local women's organizations. They were also pushing for deeper equalities going beyond pay. If 50 percent of the population is female, Mlinar asked, then 50 percent of its leaders ought to be female too. She called on Duluth to reach 50 percent status in boardrooms, management positions and elected offices by 2025.
"It feels so normal to me," she said, "like everybody should care about this stuff as much as I do."