April 08, 2014

Paycheck Fairness

Mr. CARDIN. I thank Senator Shaheen for her leadership on these issues and so many other issues in the Senate. I listened to the Senator's comments and I fully concur in the information the Senator has brought forward, that paycheck fairness is not just a matter of fairness for women, it is a matter of fairness for our country. Not only will women benefit, our economy will benefit and our country will benefit by making sure that equal pay for equal work is what happens in our country. I thank the Senator, and I yield.

 

Mrs. SHAHEEN. I thank Senator Cardin of Maryland and point out that I know this is an area where he also has worked very hard over many years. It is the kind of issue that men and women should be able to agree on. This is something that is not fair for women, but it is also not fair for their husbands and their sons. I know the Senator feels that way. Because when your wife isn't getting what she deserves, then you and your family are also hurt as a result.

 

 

Mr. CARDIN. It is not just my wife, I also have two beautiful grandchildren, granddaughters, and they are going to do just fine, but I want to make sure they are treated fairly in the workplace--and I want all people treated fairly in the workplace. I thank Senator Shaheen As I said; equal pay for equal work, Paycheck fairness is truly an American value. I thank all our leaders here. I particularly want to acknowledge Senator Mikulski, my colleague from Maryland, for her extraordinary leadership on pay equity issues, on this particular issue of paycheck fairness, and for the work she has done throughout her whole career as a real leader on gender issues.

 

As Senator Shaheen pointed out, today is Equal Pay Day, and the reason for that is women, on average, earn about 77 percent of what a man earns for doing the same work. We are not talking about different work, but we are talking about doing the exact same work that women are discriminated against in the amount of compensation they receive. So on average women have to work 3 additional months every year to earn the same amount of money a man earns for doing the same work. That is not right and it needs to change.

 

Today I was at the White House with the President and some of our colleagues. Lilly Ledbetter was there. I know the Presiding Officer recalls that Lilly Ledbetter has been one of the real leaders on pay equity. She worked at Goodyear for over 20 years, and after being there for two decades she found out from one of her coworkers--who anonymously passed along information to her about what people were making--that for 20 years she was receiving less compensation for doing the exact same work her male counterparts were doing. She had no idea about this. There was no justification for the difference. So she decided she would do something about it, not just for herself but for those who are in the workplace and should be treated fairly.

 

So she filed an action and she took this case all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, but guess what the Supreme Court did. They said: Lilly Ledbetter, you are right. You were discriminated against. You were paid less because of your gender, but guess what. Because it has been going on for so long, you don't have any remedy. Now that is absolutely ridiculous, that 5-to-4 decision of the Supreme Court.

 

That cost Lilly Ledbetter hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost compensation as a result of that discriminatory action. So Congress took action and changed that, and I was proud to be part of the Congress that cast that vote. It was the first bill signed by President Obama shortly after he took office, and I remember the pride we all had that we were able to take a major step forward on behalf of an enforceable right for women to be paid equal pay for equal work.

 

But the job wasn't done. Tomorrow we can take another giant step forward by advancing, and I hope enacting, the Paycheck Fairness Act. I hope colleagues on both sides of the aisle will support this legislation so we can continue to make progress down this road of equal pay for equal work.

 

In the White House today President Obama took action on his own. As he has said he would, he used his Executive power to do what he can to advance the cause of equality in this country. So he signed two Executive orders. The first is what we call the sunshine executive order that will require Federal contractors to allow their employees to share information about their salaries. They can no longer take retaliatory action because coworkers share their salary information. The second Executive order will require contractors to provide information to the Department of Labor as to what their salary and compensation amounts are based on gender so there can be a record to make sure employers that are doing work for the Federal Government and that are benefiting from the U.S. taxpayers are doing the right thing as far as equal pay for equal work.

 

These are two very important changes the President has instituted through the use of the power of the White House. We can do something permanent about it by the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act. That is our responsibility, and I hope we will get that done. It will make a better America. As we pointed out, yes, it is about women being treated fairly in the workplace, it is about my two granddaughters being treated fairly in the workplace, but it is also about our economy and it is about our values. It is all of the above.

 

I might also mention that it affects retirement security. Because women aren't paid as much, they do not have as much money when they retire. They are more strapped when it comes to how they spend their money. They have less money available for their retirement security. Women over the age of 50 receive only about 56 percent of what men of similar age receive in pension benefits because they haven't earned as much. A good part of that is because they are not being paid fairly in the workplace. Paycheck fairness will certainly help.

 

We want to give a fair shot to every woman in this country. Many are the sole support for their families. Eliminating the wage gap will provide $450 billion of additional income into our economy. You know what that goes for. It goes to buy a new car or help pay for their children's education. It provides the wherewithal so women can go out and pay their rent, their mortgage payments, and the wherewithal to take care of their families. They can even put money away for retirement so they have the security they need after they retire. It helps to grow a middle class in this country, and that is what we all should be about.

 

So paycheck fairness helps give women a fair shot of equal pay for equal work. It requires employers to demonstrate that wage disparities between men and women holding the same position and doing the same work are not related to their gender. That seems simple enough. Doing different work, obviously the pay is different. Same work, why is there a difference?

 

The bill ensures the remedies available to victims of gender discrimination are similar to the remedies available to those who are discriminated against based upon their race or national origin. We have in place a way we can correct this. We know how to use those tools. Let us also use them for those who have been discriminated against in their pay because of their gender.

 

The legislation updates the Equal Pay Act to make it more in line with class action procedures available under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This gives us an effective remedy to take care of a class of workers, who have been discriminated against in the workplace, and it also prohibits employers--this is very important--from punishing or retaliating against workers who share salary information. 

 

That is what the President did today with the stroke of his pen for those companies that do business with the Federal Government. We can make it universal in the workplace. We can shine a light on what is happening. As former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis observed:

 

``Sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant.'' We strive for greater transparency in our government because we know that will help provide a better government. So we allow our workers to share information without fear that they will be discriminated against or that actions will be taken against them by their employer.

 

Our mission as Senators is clearly written in the first few words contained in the preamble of the Constitution. Our mission is to ``form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.''

 

Paycheck fairness is essential for our carrying out that mission. I urge my colleagues to support this very important legislation.