COLUMBIA HEIGHTS, Minn. - Former state worker Ruth O'Dell has been at the front lines of a wage war in Minnesota for decades.
She spent 30 years working for the state of Minnesota, starting as a clerk typist earning $3.82 an hour. At the time, she thought that was good money, but about a year into her job, she got discouraged.
"We found out that the janitors were being paid more than the clerical people," she said.
Janitors were paid $200 a month more because they were men, O'Dell said.
Fifty years after President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, women still have a ways to go, according to Debra Fitzpatrick, director of the Center on Women and Public Policy at the Hubert Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.
Currently, women make 77 cents for every dollar men make, Fitzpatrick said. The positive side is that each year the wage gap is closed by half a cent, but even at that rate it will take another 40 years before parity is reached.
Fitzpatrick said more good news is that Minnesota is leading the charge for equal pay. The state's Equal Pay law, signed three decades ago puts the state ahead of many others in the nation.
"One of the things that the Minnesota law does is make it more transparent and put in place systems to be regularly checking to see if there are disparities and to fix those disparities," Fitzpatrick said.
For O'Dell, who was featured in a newspaper clip from 1983 after the state law passed, the battle has never been easy.
"The general public seemed to think that I should be paid less and that kind of puzzled me because I'm doing work just as important as a janitor or some other jobs and I should be paid the same," O'Dell said.
She hopes other women see their own value and continue the fight.
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