CHN: Paying Fair in America: Paycheck Fairness Act—Senate Republicans Block Passage

Although it has been over 100 years since the National Women’s Trade Union League was established to counter the exploitation of women  and secure passage of legislation regulating work conditions and minimum standards, women in America still struggle with equality in the workplace. Women today are paid on average 77 cents for every dollar paid to men.  And the gap is even worse for women of color—African American women earn only 64 cents and Latina women earn only 55 cents for each dollar made by males. Not all of the disparity is caused by discrimination, but generally agreed that some portion is. Yet the Paycheck Fairness bill has come up twice in election years 2010 and 2012 and failed. Most recently, on April 9, Senate Republicans refused even to allow the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 2199) to come up for debate.  The only way to advance the legislation was to vote to limit debate on whether to bring the bill to the floor; limiting debate requires 60 votes.  The legislation received 53-44 votes with all Republicans and Angus King (I-ME) voting against moving forward on the bill.
President Barack Obama spoke in favor of the bill on April 8, and showed his support for pay equity by issuing two executive orders requiring federal contractors to submit race and gender compensation data to the government and allowing federal workers to discuss their pay without reprisal.

The Paycheck Fairness Act introduced by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) amends the portion of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA)known as the Equal Pay Act of 1963 which prohibits wage discrimination by gender.  The Paycheck Fairness Act was designed to strengthen the 1963 Equal Pay Act and reinforce the principal of equal work for equal pay. The Paycheck Fairness Act provisions would reinforce the law by holding employers more accountable for wage discrimination against women.  Some of its key provisions include:

  • Prohibiting retaliation against workers who inquire, discuss, and or disclose the wages of another employee or disclose their own wages;
  • Allowing plaintiffs to recover full compensation and punitive damages and putting gender-based discrimination on the same footing with discrimination based on race or ethnicity;
  • Making employers (except the federal government) who  discriminate on the basis of gender liable in a civil action for compensatory  and punitive damages;
  • Requiring the employer to show that the pay differential is caused by something other than gender and is related to job performance and consistent with business necessity;
  • Amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to require the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) collect from employers pay data regarding the sex, race, and national origin of employees for use in the enforcement of federal laws prohibiting pay discrimination; and
  • Directing: (1) the Commissioner of Labor Statistics to continue to collect data on women workers in the Current Employment Statistics survey, (2) the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs to use specified methods in investigating compensation discrimination and in enforcing pay equity, and (3) the Secretary of Labor to make accurate information on compensation discrimination readily available to the public.

Despite the fact that women are 40 percent of the breadwinners in all households with children, it is unlikely the discussion of equal pay for equal work will be legislated anytime soon. In another attempt to get at one of the reasons women’s wages are low, Democrats are expected to push the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 at the end of April.   This legislation that would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour and tipped workers’ minimum wage from $2.13 an hour to 70 percent of the federal minimum wage. Senators argue that this bill will help women and their families and give women a raise because women account for nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers and three-quarters of all tipped workers.

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