Dem-run House passes pay equity over GOP, biz opposition
Women demonstrate for equal pay. | americanprogress.org

WASHINGTON—With strong worker, labor and women’s groups’ support, the Democratic-run U.S. House voted March 27 to strengthen the 56-year-old U.S. pay equity law, giving women and minorities more tools to fight back when businesses discriminate and short their paychecks, compared to men.

Passage along party lines, 242-187, followed the usual screams from corporate lobbies and their GOP puppets, who oppose equal pay for equal work and have for years. Seven Republicans broke ranks and joined all 235 Democrats in voting for pay equity.

The median weekly wage for a working woman is 77 cents-80 cents for every dollar of the median wage for an equivalent working man, depending on the data analyzed. That ratio, persisting for decades, cost millions of women $900 billion yearly in lost pay, and, later, lower Social Security benefits. The median is where half of all women are above and half below.

The exception: Median pay for unionized working women is $968 weekly, 86 percent of the median ($1,123) for unionized working men. The union woman’s median is 109 percent of the median ($886) for all workers – men and women, union and non-union – combined.

One big reason for the gap: Roadblocks erected by business and the courts to working women who find themselves on the wrong end of the pay gap. The legislation, HR7, the Paycheck Fairness Act, by veteran pro-woman and pro-worker Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., gives the women and minorities more tools to close the chasm.

“At its core, this bill is about a simple principle: Women and men working in the same job deserve the same pay,” she said. “We have fought for more than two decades to make that principle a reality by strengthening the Equal Pay Act. Equal pay is a matter of right and wrong, and pay discrimination is unacceptable. It is critical for working families, and we are all diminished when we fall short.”

“Too often, women are paid less than men for doing the exact same work,” added Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. “House Democrats passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009 to strengthen worker protections against pay discrimination, but additional action is required to help close the wage gap. On average, a woman still makes only 77 cents for every dollar earned by her white male equivalent. The wage gap varies based on race and is especially acute for women of color.”

AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel, AFSCME Legislative Director Scott Frey, and other unions and women’s groups strongly backed HR7 and its Senate counterpart, S84. Whether the GOP-run Senate will listen this time is another matter. The House passed Paycheck Fairness twice before, a decade ago, but Republicans deep-sixed it once and it fell victim to a business-promoted GOP filibuster the other time.

“The Paycheck Fairness Act is a long overdue remedial measure that responds to demonstrated inadequacies of the 1963 Equal Pay Act,” Samuel wrote solons. “When women endure pay discrimination, entire families suffer. We urge you to support final passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, and to oppose any amendment that would weaken this important and long overdue legislation.” Hoyer said paycheck fairness, and pay equity, would add $900 billion yearly to women’s pockets, while reducing cutting poverty in half.

“Fifty-six years after President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law, women earn less than men,” Frey’s letter to lawmakers said. “This shortchanges many working families and creates little upward mobility in compensation to meet basic household needs.”

“This trend is not only troubling for women’s career and financial success but also limits their ability to save for retirement,” Frey added. AFSCME, which is heavily female and minority, “strongly supports the Paycheck Fairness Act and encourages swift passage to alleviate gender-based wage discrimination, and ensure women receive equal pay for equal work.”

“Women and workers from communities of color continue to face significant pay disparities,” Sarah Fleisch Fink, general counsel of the National Partnership of Women and Families added in her endorsement letter. “The wage gap persists across different industries, occupations and education levels, and exists in nearly every congressional district. The Paycheck Fairness Act is a much-needed update to our nation’s equal pay laws.”

A DeLauro fact sheet says HR7 would “strengthen the Equal Pay Act by holding employers accountable for discriminatory practices, end the practice of pay secrecy, ease workers’ ability to individually or jointly challenge pay discrimination” in court, “strengthen remedies for wronged employees, and prohibit employers from seeking the salary history of prospective employees.” Bosses use past salary history and discrimination to perpetuate it.

Predictably, right-wing Republicans and corporate interests – led by the worst offenders, such as the National Federation of Independent Business and the National Retail Federation – screamed. So did the Chamber of Commerce.

The retailers claimed HR7 “would establish unlimited punitive and compensatory damages under the Equal Pay Act and significantly expand regulatory burdens on employers.” It also “would place restrictions on hiring and greatly impede employees’ ability to negotiate higher pay either before being hired or during employment,” the group charged, with no proof.

“The Paycheck Fairness Act is a bill for trial lawyers, not a bill for working women,” the House Republicans alleged.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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