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Everyone deserves equal pay like the USWNT. LFG
It’s that time again – thrilling goals and saves, 2 a.m. watch parties, another chance to finally understand the offsides rule – that’s right, it’s the World Cup. And this year we are especially excited to watch the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) take on other talented teams from across the globe, because this year they are playing in their first World Cup since they won a years-long battle for equal pay in 2022.
A quick recap for folks who have been less immersed in the world of the “other” football: in 2016 players from the USWNT began a series of legal actions against the U.S. Soccer Federation to challenge the fact that they were paid less to the do same work as the men’s national team (with more success, one might add). These included a lawsuit and an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint and ultimately led to a $24 million agreement for back pay for the women and parity with men going forward.
Yet, while we are thrilled for the USWNT and so proud of their fight, their efforts shine a light on the fact that far too many women in America are still paid less than men. Stereotypes and biases mean that more than 95 percent of jobs have a gender wage gap and women are more likely than men to work in lower paid occupations like child care and housekeeping. And because of the double bind of racism and sexism, the wage gap is substantially larger for women of color. Black women’s Equal Pay Day came during the World Cup, marking the fact that Black women make only 64 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. Similarly, Latinas make only 54 cents, Native women 51 cents and some groups of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women as little as 52 cents.
The data show there is still much work to be done – and the USWNT’s efforts make clear the importance of two key steps in addressing fair pay: collecting the data and collective bargaining.
The USWNT’s lawsuit underscored the vital importance of pay information in addressing unequal pay – who among us was not shocked to find out that the U.S. men were making nearly $70,000 when they made the World Cup squad, while the women were paid only $15,000? To improve pay information for all women, the Biden-Harris Administration (who has been vocally supportive of the USWNT’s efforts, including signing the bipartisan Equal Pay for Team USA Act, which ensures all athletes who represent the United States in global competitions receive equal pay, regardless of gender) should reinstate the detailed EEO-1 pay data collection, which would allow for much more nuanced data on pay inequities by race, gender and more.
The USWNT’s victory for equal pay also highlights the importance of unions and the sheer power of representation of players. The USWNT’s union, USWNT Players Association (USWNTPA), was created nearly 25 years ago, not long after USWNT players threatened to boycott the Olympics in their fight for equal pay. The union was central in negotiating the collective bargaining agreement that obtained equal pay. In coming together, the USWNT were able to achieve their goals – but we know that even though unions close wage gaps, far too few women workers are union members.
As fans across the country are inspired by the USWNT’s victories on the pitch, let’s take the fight for fair pay off the field – or, as the team would say, LFG.
The authors are grateful to Sharita Gruberg, Maria Manansala and Gail Zuagar for their thoughtful comments.