Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., left, and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., right, walk from a policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) Thom Tillis, Richard Burr
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., left, and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., right, walk from a policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The gender pay gap is real in North Carolina. But NC’s two GOP senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, voted against a federal pay gap bill.

Mount Holly resident Onica Foster worked for years at a small company in Gaston County, determined to take care of her five children after a divorce. In conversation with her coworkers one day, she discovered a discrepancy in salary between herself and her white, male counterpart. 

“I had the same amount of skills and experience in the position, and I was there longer than he was, but he was paid more than me,” she said.  

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The experience was so demoralizing that Foster, who is Black, eventually left the company and launched her own business. She thinks the federal Paycheck Fairness Act, Democrats’ proposed solution to lingering gender pay gaps in the US, could have ameliorated the situation.  

“I feel like the protections would have at least meant the company had to say why,” Foster said. “Having to explain would eliminate a lot of discrimination.” 

The legislation would’ve closed wage gaps that are still prevalent for all women but wider for women of color. In 2021, for every $1 white men earn, white women earn about 82 cents. Black women earn 63 cents, American Indian and Alaska Native women earn 60 cents, and Latinas earn only 55 cents. As Gina Navarette, a social justice advocate from Charlotte, wrote in The Charlotte Observer in March, the median annual earnings for women in North Carolina was about $9,000 less than men, ranking the state 32nd in the nation for women’s pay.

The bill would require companies to step up oversight of potential discrimination by mandating they provide an explanation for notable salary disparities among employees of similar qualifications. It would also end the practice of asking applicants about salary history, and beef up protections for workers who discuss their pay.

Although the legislation passed the US House in April, Republicans in the Senate blocked the bill from going forward this month. Both North Carolina senators, Republicans Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, voted against it, and Foster’s local representative, US House Rep. Virginia Foxx, also a Republican, has been a long-standing opponent. Foxx called it a “liberal plot” against Republicans in 2013 and recently framed the wage gap as the result of women seeking lower-paying jobs. 

“The difference in earning between men [and women] comes down to choices made regarding careers and parenting,” the American Independent quoted Foxx as saying in April.

Gender Pay Gap in North Carolina
Onica Foster, a constituent of US Rep. Virginia Foxx, blasted her federal rep for voting against a bill intended to dismantle the gender pay gap. “I totally disagree,” Foster told Cardinal & Pine.

“I totally disagree,” said Foster, who now works in a doctor’s office. “I know so many people who are go-getters and are … hitting walls and sometimes can’t figure out why they can’t get ahead. They aren’t aiming low or for low-paying jobs. They need to close that gap like we deserve.” 

The procedural vote in the US Senate to consider the pay bill fell 11 votes short of the 60 needed to advance, with all but one Republican from Pennsylvania voting against the legislation.