Congressional Democrats observed Equal Pay Day on Tuesday by reintroducing legislation to provide women more fairness in the wages that they earn.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) joined Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) in introducing the Paycheck Fairness Act to strengthen federal pay equity laws and ensure equal pay for equal work. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced the bill in the House of Representatives. Equal Pay Day is the day that represents how far into 2011 women have to work to earn what men earned in 2010.
“Women make this country run –- we are business leaders, entrepreneurs, politicians, mothers and more,” Mikulski says. “We also bring home a growing share of the family pocketbook. But we earn just 77 cents for every dollar our male counterpart makes, and women of color get even less. Inexplicably, these disparities exist across all levels of education and occupation. In Maryland, the average woman has to receive a bachelor’s degree before she earns as much as the average male high school graduate. This is unacceptable, and with many Americans earning less and operating on smaller family budgets, the issue of pay equity is being felt now more than ever.“
Supporters of the legislation cite U.S. Census data which indicate women are still paid 77 cents on the dollar for the same job as men.
The Paycheck Fairness Act would build on the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and help close the pay gap by empowering women to negotiate for equal pay, closing loopholes courts have created in the law, creating strong incentives for employers to obey the laws and strengthening federal outreach and enforcement efforts.
The Paycheck Fairness Act isn’t new, however. Democrats, including DeLauro, attempted to pass it in the last Congress, without success. Previously, DeLauro’s Connecticut colleague, Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd, was a key supporter of the measure. Dodd has since retired.
Specifically, the legislation would:
· Clarify the ‘any factor other than sex’ defense so an employer trying to justify paying a man more than a woman for the same job must show the disparity is not sex-based; is job related and is necessary for the business.
· Prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who discuss or disclose salary information with their co-workers.
· Strengthen the remedies available to include punitive and compensatory damages. Under the Equal Pay Act currently, plaintiffs can only recover back pay or, in some cases, double back pay. The bill would ensure that women can receive the same remedies for pay discrimination that are available under other laws for discrimination based on race and national origin.
· Require the Department of Labor to improve outreach and training efforts to work with employers in order to eliminate pay disparities.
· Enhance the collection of information on women’s and men’s wages in order to more fully explore the reasons for the wage gap and help employers in addressing pay disparities.
· Create a new grant program to help strengthen the negotiation skills of girls and women.
In the current Congress, the Senate bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.