WASHINGTON - Fighters for equality called on the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to curb wage discrimination against women, and said Congress must also act on five other pending civil rights bills during the lame duck session that opened Monday.
Sending a message of fight-back in the wake of heavy Democratic losses in the Nov. 2 elections, the labor-backed Leadership Conference on Civil Rights released a list of six priority bills Congress should enact before recessing for Thanksgiving next week.
"Now that the midterm elections are over, Americans expect Congress to work together on the important needs of our country," said LCCR President and CEO Wade Henderson. "Each of these priorities will make our nation stronger and more just and they deserve to be high on the list of 'must-do' legislation before the current Congress adjourns."
Feminist Majority is holding a national "call-in" day Nov. 16 to bombard senators with demands for immediate passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act. The number is 1-877-667-6650. The organization also urged supporters to flood senators will e-mails demanding passage of the bill.
"The moment is here," said a statement by Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal and Government Relations Director Norma Gattsek. "We are within striking distance of passing the Paycheck Fairness Act. The Senate is back in session and precious few days remain for them to pass this critical bill."
The Paycheck Fairness Act has already been approved by the House and President Obama has promised to sign it. It is an essential companion bill to the Lilly Ledbetter Act, the first legislation passed by the new Congress in 2009, and signed into law by President Obama Jan. 29, 2009. That law reversed an outrageous Supreme Court ruling against Ledbetter, who missed a deadline for filing a wage discrimination complaint because she found out about the secret discrimination too late. Passage of the bill was a powerful blow for equality. Yet the Paycheck Fairness Act, needed to strengthen enforcement of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, passed the House but was blocked by Republican senators.
Feminist Majority points out that women currently earn only 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. The Paycheck Fairness Act "would deter wage discrimination by closing loopholes in the Equal Pay Act and bar retaliation against workers who disclose their wages to coworkers."
Second on the civil rights groups' list of priorities is extension of unemployment compensation, set to expire at the end of this month, threatening termination of benefits for millions of jobless workers.
LCCR called for a vote on the DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented immigrant youth to attend college, serve in the military and earn citizenship.
The civil rights alliance, closely allied with the AFL-CIO and affiliated unions, also urged Congress, before it adjourns, to repeal the Pentagon's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members of the military.
Another demand on the shortlist for action is Senate confirmation of judicial nominees blocked by Republican filibuster tactics, "obstructionism that is unprecedented in American history," the LCCR statement charged.
The group called on the Senate to ratify the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), a landmark international agreement that affirms the fundamental human rights of women around the world.
The re-election of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as leader of the House Democrats was a signal that they plan to fight the GOP's right-wing corporate agenda rather than cave in on many of these civil rights issues. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who defied the Republican right in winning reelection, is also expected to fight on these demands.