Madam President, I rise to support the Paycheck Fairness Act that we are going to have a chance to vote on tomorrow. I hope my colleagues will support the effort of my colleague Senator Mikulski in allowing S. 3220 to move forward. I congratulate my colleague Senator Mikulski for her incredible leadership on behalf of women’s issues. She has done that throughout her entire career, and we knew she would be in the forefront of this effort for paycheck fairness. I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with her in this fight for basic justice in our Nation, to provide equality of pay in this country based upon a person’s work and not a person’s gender.
It builds on the Equal Pay Act of 1963 that was signed by President Kennedy. Yes, 1963 was the year Congress first spoke and said we are going to have equal pay for equal work in America, that America would show leadership internationally to say: Let’s end discrimination against women in the workplace.
That legislation fought sex discrimination in employment wages, including the fact that such discrimination not only depressed wages and living standards for female employees, but it affected our entire labor resources here in America, holding back the development of our country. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from engaging in discrimination against their employees based on gender.
Today, women still face a pay gap. In 1963, women made 59 cents for every $1 made by a man. Those were the numbers in 1963. Today, women make just 77 cents for every $1 made by a man for equal work or comparable duties. That means a woman has to work 4 days to get 3 days’ pay. That is not acceptable. I understand we have made some progress since 1963, but one would think that within a 50-year span we could have done better.
The Paycheck Fairness Act will allow us to reach our goal of equal pay for equal work. Estimates indicate that the wage gap costs women, on average, $434,000 over their careers. While I am pleased we are making progress, this progress is just too slow, and we need to move more aggressively to close this pay gap in the year 2012.
Congress took another important step forward for equal rights for women by passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The legislation allows plaintiffs to sue for wage discrimination based on each new discriminatory paycheck they receive. In this case, Congress overturned a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court which held that women were only allowed to sue their employers within 180 days after the discrimination began, even if the women were not aware the discrimination was occurring, as a result of not knowing their coworkers’ wages.
Quite frankly, I think the Supreme Court decision defies logic. How can someone possibly bring a case within 180 days if they do not know about the discriminatory pay differential? Congress did the right thing. But basically we held the line on allowing enforcement rather than advancing what we need to, to make sure we have an effective remedy for discrimination against women in our workplaces.
That is exactly what the Paycheck Fairness Act does. It provides for an effective enforcement so women, in fact, can hold their employers responsible if the disparity is based upon their gender, which should not be in America.
The Paycheck Fairness Act would require employers to show pay disparity is truly related to business justifications and job performance and 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, this legislation strengthens remedies for pay discrimination by increasing compensation women can seek.
The Paycheck Fairness Act also would strengthen the ability of the Department of Labor to help women achieve pay equity by requiring the Department of Labor to enhance outreach and training efforts to work with employers to eliminate pay disparities and to continue to collect and disseminate wage information based on gender.
The purpose of this act is to avoid discriminatory pay, not to sue employers after the fact. Therefore, this bill, the Paycheck Fairness Act, is well balanced in providing remedies, yes, if, in fact, an employer is discriminating on pay based on gender but to provide help to employers so they can take the appropriate steps to make sure, in fact, their workforce is fairly paying their employees.
The legislation makes clear that employers are liable only for wage differentials that are not bona fide factors. Bona fide factors include items such as education, training or experience and must be job related and consistent with business necessity. Employees will also be able to argue that employers should use alternative employment practices that would serve the same business purpose without producing the wage differential.
The legislation is crafted to avoid any undue burden on small businesses. I think the Presiding Officer and I both understand the importance of small businesses with the work we do on the Small Business Committee. This act is delayed from taking effect until 6 months after its passage so the Labor Secretary and EEOC can develop technical assistance materials to assist small businesses in complying with the new law, and the agencies are charged with engaging in research, education, and outreach on the new law.
The EEOC is charged with issuing regulations to provide for the collection of pay information from employers. The law specifically states that these regulations should “consider factors including the imposition of burdens on the employers, the frequency of required data collection reports ….. and the most effective format for data collection.”
We have heard about the cumulative information: Why can’t we simplify it? Why can’t we combine it? Why can’t we be sensitive to small businesses? The Paycheck Fairness Act in our language makes it clear these regulations must be sensitive to the special needs of small businesses to make sure, in fact, this bill provides an effective remedy without excessive burdens on the business community.
In my own State of Maryland, the gender pay gap is 14.6 percent, according to the Joint Economic Committee. In Maryland, women’s median weekly wage for full-time workers is $822, while men’s is $962. That is not right. In Maryland, over one-third of married, employed mothers are their families’ primary wage earner. Maryland women contribute, on average, over 40 percent of family wages and salary income to their households. It is time for women who live in Maryland–or who live in any State in our Nation–to get fair pay for the work they do.
I have the opportunity to chair the subcommittee on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that deals with international development assistance. I have worked very closely with Secretary of State Clinton to deal with gender issues internationally.
We have discovered something that should be pretty obvious, but it is something that is very telling. The way a nation treats its women will very much be a barometer as to how well that nation is doing–how well they are doing with economic growth, how stable their government is. The United States has been a leader in working with countries around the world to treat women right, to do land reform so that the women who work the fields also own the property they are working, to make sure they share fairly in the fruits of their labor. We have been a leader internationally. I am proud of the progress we are making. I am proud of what Secretary Clinton and President Obama have done in showing the world that it is in a nation’s interests to make sure women are properly dealt with, that they have proper education, that they are included in the system for education, for health care, for job training, for all of those issues, and are treated fairly when it comes to the economic rewards for the work they do. But it starts with us doing what is right in America.
Fifty years is too long for women to wait for equal pay after Congress took action in 1963. 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, they will be paid fairly for the work and not 77 cents for every dollar of their male counterparts.
I am proud to stand with Senator Mikulski in this fight to finally ensure that equal pay for equal work becomes a reality for all women and men. I am pleased that this legislation is endorsed by a large number of organizations that have been in the forefront of fighting for equal justice in America. It is time to act and pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.