Senate democrats gathered on Capitol Hill Wednesday to push for passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation that would help close the pay gap between women and men working equivalent jobs.
Indeed, the National Partnership for Women & Families recently released an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data showing that the gender-based wage gap affects women in nearly every part of the country. In 97% of congressional districts—423 out of 435 districts—the median yearly pay for women is less than the median yearly pay for men, the analysis found. The data does not compare pay for similar jobs but for pay in all jobs between men and women.
The Paycheck Fairness Act builds upon the first bill President Barack Obama signed into law on Jan. 29, 2009, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which overturned the 180-day statute of limitations for women to contest pay discrimination, as well as the Equal Pay Act signed into law in 1963.
Senate Republicans blocked a similar paycheck fairness bill last July.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., dean of the Senate women, stated on the Senate floor Wednesday morning that 50 years after passage of the Equal Pay Act, “we are still fighting for equal pay for equal work.” The fight, she said, “continues now, and that’s why we need this Paycheck Fairness Act. Women are harassed if they even ask how much the guys get paid.”
The legislation, Mikulski said, helps close the wage gap between women and men working equivalent jobs, which costs women and their families $434,000 over their careers. Today, she said, women make on average just 77 cents for every dollar made by a man for equal work.
While closing the loopholes that allow pay discrimination to continue, The Paycheck Fairness Act will also, with Ledbetter, “provide employees the rights they need to challenge and eliminate pay discrimination in the workplace,” Mikulski said.
The Paycheck Fairness Act would require employers to show pay disparity is truly related to job performance, not gender, and prohibit employer retaliation for sharing salary information with coworkers. “Under current law employers can sue and punish employees for sharing such information,” Mikulski said. In addition, the act “strengthens remedies for pay discrimination by increasing compensation women can seek, allowing them to not only seek back pay, but also punitive damages for pay discrimination.”
The act also “empowers women in the workplace through a grant program to strengthen salary negotiation and other workplace skills and requires the Department of Labor to enhance outreach and training efforts to eliminate pay disparities,” Mikulski added.
Democratic senators from different states joined Mikulski on the Senate floor to voice their support for the Paycheck Fairness Act.
“Pay disparity still exists between men and women,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.
“One third of the families headed by women in my state are in poverty,” she said. “We must end unequal pay and level the playing field.”
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said in her comments that women in Michigan are paid only 74 cents for every dollar a man makes. “Most women are the sole breadwinners in their families,” she said. “In Michigan, that 74 cents [versus $1] difference equals over a half-million dollars in pay that’s lost” during a lifetime.
Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, the one male senator on hand, said the Paycheck Fairness Act “provides women with the tools to close this longstanding gap.”