HELENA — Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester decries the so-called “Republican War on Women,” but new data show he’s a part of it himself.
According to a recent report in the Washington Free Beacon, Tester is among a number of Democratic senators who are pushing for equal pay for women through federal legislation, but don’t practice it themselves.
In fact, Tester’s female Senate staff members are worse off than the national average.
According to the May 24 report, Tester’s female staffers took in 34 percent less than his male staffers in fiscal year 2011. That means for every dollar one of Tester’s male employees earned that year, his female counterpart made about 66 cents.
The U.S. Census Bureau says women make 77 cents for every man’s dollar, while the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics pegs it at 81 cents. The National Organization of Women says the figure is 78 cents. Tester’s campaign website puts the number at 73 cents for Montana women.
Whichever number one uses, it’s seemingly a condemnation of Tester and his pay practices.
The Montana Democrat wasn’t the worst among his colleagues. Avowed socialist U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, paid his female staffers 47.6 percent less than men.
Overall, women working for Senate Democrats made, on average, about $6,500 less per year than their male colleagues.
The report notes at least one possible reason for the disparity: The Democrats studied preferred placing men in more important, higher-paying jobs. Senators surveyed preferred men as chiefs of staff over women.
Tester might fit that bill.
Here’s a list of Tester’s five top earners in 2011, according to LegiStorm, an online congressional staffer salary tracker:
- Tom Lopach, chief of staff, $163,851;
- Bill Lombardi, state director, $133,510;
- Jim Wise, legislative director, $116,958;
- Susan Cierlitsky, administrative director, $103,389;
- Dayna Swanson, Montana staff director, $96,799.
Men were three of the senator’s top wage earners in 2011.
Aaron Murphy, Tester’s campaign spokesman, did not respond to a request for a comment on this issue.
Despite the disparities in pay, Tester co-sponsored the federal Paycheck Fairness Act that would require equivalent pay for equal work. Last week, the bill failed to gain the 60 votes needed to break a Republican-backed filibuster threat.
The Democratic senator, in a tough re-election fight with U.S. House Rep. Denny Rehberg, a Republican, is quick to trumpet his support of women’s right and fair pay. On his campaign website, Women for Tester co-chairwomen Holly Kalecyz and Stacy Rogge write a brief column on Tester’s favor.
“Jon voted for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act because unlike Dennis Rehberg, he doesn’t think we deserve less pay than men for the same day’s work,” the duo writes.
Tester supported the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in early 2009, while Rehberg voted against the bill. According to the federal law, the 180-day statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit alleging pay discrimination resets with each new discriminatory paycheck.
Dustin Hurst is a reporter for the Montana Watchdog, which is affiliated with the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.