Making Equal Pay a Reality: The Paycheck Fairness Act

By Rachel Ross, Government Relations Intern

Today, April 8, is Equal Pay Day. It marks how far into 2014 the average white woman in the United States must work to make the same amount of money that the average white man in the United States made in 2013.  Equal Pay Day is 98 days into the year. (Yes, you read that right.)

In 2014 women still get paid considerably less than their male counterparts performing the same or substantially equal work.   It is embarrassing that the wage gap hasn’t been adequately addressed in the half-century since the Equal Pay Act was passed.

Calling attention to Equal Pay Day, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing on April 1st to discuss the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA). The PFA — or S. 84 — is sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and currently has 55 co-sponsors.  The act would amend the Equal Pay Act so that discrepancies in pay rates between men and women must be based on a bona fide factor such as experience or education.  The act also prohibits retaliation against employees who ask about their employer’s wage policies or who tell others how much they make.  Nothing in the bill is controversial or unreasonable, but there are still senators who oppose it.

At the hearing, ranking member Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., claimed that the PFA would limit flexibility for working parents and called for the committee to focus on making the workplace more flexible instead.  Sen. Alexander’s claim is false.  Under the Paycheck Fairness Act, employers would still be allowed to offer different rates of compensation to employees who work on flexible schedules instead of the conventional workweek. Flexible schedules and equal pay are not mutually exclusive.  We can have equal pay and provide more flexibility for working parents at the same time.

I refuse to accept that in order to turn a profit businesses must discriminate.  The opposition to the PFA is afraid, because they know that they are guilty of promoting discrimination against women.  As ReShonda Young, an entrepreneur who testified at the hearing, said, “If other businesses are truly committed to pay equity, they have nothing to fear.”

The Paycheck Fairness Act is a necessity for working families.  Women’s wages are not just pocketbook money; they’re being used to support families.  In 40 percent of households that have children under the age of 18, women are the primary earners. As Sen. Mikulski said at the hearing, “Women are breadwinners and they are tired of bringing home crumbs.”

The time to end wage discrimination has long since passed. There is no reason that a bill with such broad popular support (84 percent of registered voters) should continue to languish in committee. Several years ago when the House was under Democratic control, the Paycheck Fairness Act passed by a large margin, but then stalled in the Senate.  Efforts to pass the legislation have been made repeatedly since then, but have always encountered serious resistance from conservative Republicans.  We need 60 solid votes in favor of the PFA to stop whatever filibuster conservatives might be planning.

You can take action by signing our petition, our online campaign with Democracy for America.

You can also call your Senators – especially if they are Republicans — and demand that they vote for the Paycheck Fairness Act; the Capitol switchboard number is 202-225-3121. Just ask for your senator’s office.  You can leave a voice mail message or ask for the staff member who handles economic or women’s issues.  Let them know this is a critically important issue for millions of working women and their families and that the overwhelming majority of voters (84 percent) support pay equity.

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