WASHINGTON – At a press conference today in the U.S. Capitol, U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Al Franken (D-Minn.) along with representatives of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF) and the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) urged the Senate to immediately take up and pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation which will help close the wage gap between women and men working equivalent jobs, costing women and their families $434,000 over their careers. Senator Mikulski, a senior member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, reintroduced the legislation on Tuesday.
Today, almost 49 years after the Equal Pay Act was passed on June 10, 1963, women still face a pay gap. In 1963, women made 59 cents for every dollar made by a man. Today, women make just 77 cents for every dollar made by a man for equal or comparable work.
The Paycheck Fairness Act builds on the Equal Pay Act by closing loopholes that have kept it from achieving its goal of equal pay. The bill would require employers to show pay disparity is truly related to job-performance – not gender. It prohibits employer retaliation for sharing salary information with coworkers. Under current law employers can sue and punish employees for sharing such information. In addition, it strengthens remedies for pay discrimination by increasing compensation women can seek. So not only can they seek back pay, they can also seek punitive damages for pay discrimination. Finally the bill empowers women in the workplace through a grant program to strengthen salary negotiation and other workplace skills.
State-by-state data on the wage gap is available here.
“As a father and grandfather of strong, intelligent women, pay equity is a personal issue for me. I want my two granddaughters to know that when they grow up that they will be paid fairly for their work and not 77 cents on the dollar to their male counterparts,” said Senator Cardin. “I’m proud to stand with Senator Mikulski in this fight to finally ensure that equal pay for equal work becomes reality for all women and men.”
“On the eve of the 49th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, women still get paid less than men even though it costs more to be a woman. I want to tell the women of America we will not let that stand,” Senator Mikulski said. “I’m proud to introduce the Paycheck Fairness Act so that women will no longer be on their own in fighting for equal pay for equal work. Equal pay is not just for our pocketbooks, it’s about family checkbooks and getting it right in the law books.”
“When women aren’t paid what they deserve, middle class families and communities pay the price,” said Senator Murray. “As a mother and a grandmother, I want my children to live in a country where our daughters can expect to earn just as much as our sons. It’s time to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to tackle this issue head-on and continue working to close the pay gap for working women and their families.”
“Whether you’re a two-parent income family or single mom, equal pay for equal work can mean the difference in paying the mortgage, a college fund for your children, or filling up the gas tank. It is critical that we continue the important work started in 2009 with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to make sure every American has the opportunity to earn a fair paycheck to help provide for their families,” said Senator Stabenow.
“In my home state of California, women are paid 84 cents for every dollar paid to men, and full-time working women in California lose approximately $36 billion each year due to the wage gap,” said Senator Feinstein. “Women in the workplace, women who head households or earn the only paycheck in a family, know the gender wage gap is not a myth. It is wrong, it hurts families, it hurts the economy, and the Paycheck Fairness Act is our chance to fix it.”
“The women of America need the protections of the Paycheck Fairness Act,” Senator Boxer said. “It is long past time that we ended the practice of shortchanging half the country – and their families.”
“Ensuring that women have equal rights in the workplace makes our businesses more competitive and strengthens our economy – and it’s the fair thing and the right thing to do,” said Senator Franken. “In the last few decades, we’ve made a lot of progress – female entrepreneurs have started successful businesses all over Minnesota and a record number of women head Fortune 500 companies – but even with all that progress, many women still make significantly less than their male counterparts. We need to put an end to gender discrimination in the workplace, and that’s why I support the Paycheck Fairness Act.”
The legislation would require employers to demonstrate that wage gaps between men and women doing the same work have a business justification and are truly a result of factors other than gender. The bill would prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who share salary information with their co-workers.
The Paycheck Fairness Act also would strengthen the Department of Labor’s (DOL) ability to help women achieve pay equity by requiring DOL to enhance outreach and training efforts to work with employers in order to eliminate pay disparities and to continue to collect and disseminate wage information based on gender. The bill would also create a competitive grant program to provide negotiation skills training programs for girls and women.
“Skeptics say there is no pay gap—that somehow it’s all a product of our imaginations. These critics prefer to blame women, saying if a gap exists it’s because of choices we make. That’s absurd. Government economists say a significant percentage of the pay gap remains unexplained even after adjusting for life choices—assuming that such ‘choices’ themselves are not constrained by discrimination. Excuses are excuses; facts are facts. We have a pay gap that can’t be explained away or justified by lame stereotypes. AAUW challenges every member of Congress to listen to what their constituents are saying about equal pay and to take action by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act,” said Lisa Maatz, Director of Public Policy and Government Relations for the American Association of University Women (AAUW).
“Women and the families who depend on them cannot wait any longer for equal pay. It’s critical both to the country’s economic recovery and to our principles of equality and fairness, that all workers bring home what they have rightfully earned,” said Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. “Among its many important protections, this bill would also ban retaliation against workers who inquire about their wages – allowing workers to discuss their salaries, without fear of losing their jobs, will help women to take steps to ensure they are being paid fairly.”
“Women are now the primary or co-breadwinners for two-thirds of families in this country, which means they cannot afford to lose critical income – and neither can our economy,” said Judith L. Lichtman, senior advisor at the National Partnership for Women & Families. “If lawmakers fail to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, it will be nothing less than Congress turning its back on America’s women and families.”
“For some employers, pay discrimination is simply part of the cost of doing business,” said Fatima Goss Graves, NWLC Vice President of Education and Employment. “As long as it pays to ignore the problem of wage discrimination—and wages owed to women are pocketed with almost no repercussions—the wage gap will not budge. After almost a half century, it’s past time to pass these commonsense proposals that will make a real difference to millions of women and their families.”
The legislation builds on the historic Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act signed into law by President Obama in 2009, which overturned the 180-day statute of limitations for women to contest pay discrimination. It was an important down-payment in ending the pay gap and keeping the courthouse doors open. The Paycheck Fairness Act will close the loopholes that allow pay discrimination to continue in the first place.