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War On Women Extends to Their Paychecks: Senate Republicans Refuse to Pass Paycheck Fairness Act

The Paycheck Fairness Act would give women a shot at making the same as men for the same work--but the Senate GOP wouldn't even allow a vote on it.

Imagine a country where men don't out-earn women by almost 25%. Where parents are able to hug their daughters and tell them to aim for the moon because they might just get there. Where employers can't get away with answering women who show they’ve been getting paid less than the men with a silent shrug of the shoulders. You have just imagined Canada and Australia. Now imagine it happening in the US, where Census numbers from 2008 show that women made 77 cents on the dollar compared to men for doing the same work.

Backed by an array of women's rights organizations, Congressional Democrats—currently led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) in the House and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) in the Senate-- have been trying to make equal pay for American women a reality since 2005. President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, the first sweeping gender pay equity law, in 1963. That's forty-nine years the Equal Pay Act has gone without an update. The Paycheck Fairness Act, Mikulski and DeLauro’s bill that would provide the necessary updates, came close to passing in 2009 and 2010, when it passed the House but was defeated in the Senate.

But last Tuesday, June 5, all Senate Republicans voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act as one, like the Borg using the power of collective thought to liquidate the entire Starfleet armada. The final tally of "Yea" votes was 52, eight votes shy of the number needed to overcome a filibuster.

Re-applying her lipstick as a battle-hardened field general for American working women, an "enormously disappointed" Mikulski told the press after the vote that "we will be back. Though we lost the vote today, we are not giving up." Mikulski told women interested in seeing equal pay for equal work to "suit up" for the next Congress. There, she plans to introduce the Paycheck Fairness Act, which first went to Congress in 2009, again.

Fatima Goss Graves is vice president for education and employment at the National Women's Law Center, a Washington, DC-based group that advocates for equal pay and other economic policies for women. “When the public is told about this bill, they like it and they understand it,” she said, adding that she supports Mikulski’s view that reintroducing the bill yet again is the right move. “When you have something that when polled is extraordinarily popular, and has come so close to becoming law, it warrants bringing to the floor pretty frequently.”

The Paycheck Fairness Act would update the 1964 Equal Pay Act in a few major ways.It would force employers to cite a “business reason” for paying unequal wages to men and women. Under current law, employers don’t even have to give a specific reason.

“Opponents of the bill have tried to make a lot of hay out of that change,” Goss Graves said. But, she went on, making employers give a “business reason,” rather than some vague other reason, for paying one all-female group of workers less, is similar to what is required under other civil rights laws. “This is something that should be familiar to these employers,” she said.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would make it illegal for an employer to retaliate against someone for asking about the employer’s wage practices or disclosing their own wages. “Right now,” said Goss Graves, “women can get fired for simply talking about wages.”

It would allow workers to sue employers for damages resulting from pay discrimination on the basis of sex. For instance, if a woman was fired for asking about her employer’s wage practices, and then she had to move to a new city to get another job, she may be able to claim that she was injured by the employer and could be awarded an amount corresponding to that injury, not just the current limit of two years’ worth of back pay.

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