The new Congress hasn’t taken office yet, but the writing already is on the wall. Efforts to advance women’s equality will be relegated to the back burner, or worse, actively torched. Today we witnessed conservatives in the Senate block the Paycheck Fairness Act, denying women a significant step toward finally closing the gender wage gap.
Back in January of 2009, under Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s inspiring leadership, the House of Representatives passed the Paycheck Fairness Act with a strong bipartisan vote of 256-163. But it’s a different day now, and the Senate needed 60 votes to end a Republican filibuster. Equal pay supporters were able to produce an encouraging but ultimately unsuccessful final tally of 58-41.
The Paycheck Fairness Act would have closed loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and strengthened it by creating incentives for employers to follow the law. Additionally, the act would have assisted women in negotiating for better pay and promotion, furthered skill trainings for girls and women, restarted key research on the wage gap and tracked businesses’ compliance with the law. Critically important, the Act would have prohibited retaliation against employees when salary information is shared.
Women are now half of the paid workforce, but as the recession continues, many women find that their family financial circumstances have changed. An unprecedented number of women are family breadwinners due to deeper unemployment rates among men — making pay equity essential not simply to the economic security of families but also to the nation’s economic recovery.
Today’s vote does not bode well for the next two years. The National Organization for Women is deeply concerned that women’s rights will come under attack in all the areas where we’ve been working so hard, including: advancing economic justice, securing reproductive freedom, promoting diversity and ending racism, winning LGBT rights, stopping violence against women, achieving constitutional equality and so much more.
Rather than view this vote as a defeat, we must take it as a rallying cry to stand up to the right wing and demonstrate our commitment to moving forward, despite their attempts to hold us back.