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Senate Democrats Make Play on Equal Pay

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Sens. Barbara Mikulski (left) and Patty Murray arrive at a press conference Wednesday at which they challenged Republicans to join them in support of the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Democrats on Wednesday insisted their bill had bearing on the economy.

“Every time we stood up to defend women, the Republicans would jump up and say we were creating distractions or creating manufactured issues,” Murray said. “They would say we should be focused on the economy, like we were the ones changing the subject and making partisan attacks. We are not going to stop standing up for women and our families. And to those Republicans who claim to be so concerned about the economy, now is your chance to sign on to co-sponsor this bill.

“The Paycheck Fairness Act isn’t just about women and is not just about fairness, it is about the economy,” Murray continued. “When women are not paid what they deserve, middle-class families and communities pay the price.”  

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women who work full time still earn, on average, only 77 cents for every dollar men earn. On average, black women were paid 62 cents and Latinas were paid 53 cents, as compared to white men.

The pay disparity comes at a time when almost 40 percent of women are acting as their primary household breadwinners.

Republicans were skeptical of the legislation and pointed to Democrats’ touting over the past few years of the 2009 passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act as a balm to the issue of pay equity.

The law was named after a woman who discovered she was being paid less than her male peers.

 A jury found the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company plant in Gadsden, Ala., where she worked, guilty of pay discrimination. But in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court threw out the case, ruling that Ledbetter should have filed her suit within 180 days of the date that Goodyear first paid her less than her peers. In 2009, the 111th Congress passed the legislation that  clarified the statue of limitations on pay discrimination cases.

“Either they’ve been lying about Lilly Ledbetter for three years or they’re losing so much ground among women that they’ll say anything to try to get it back,” a different senior Republican aide said.

Democrats said the Ledbetter bill only relaxed the statute of limitations on pay equity discrimination. Mikulski said the Ledbetter bill was a “down payment” by “keeping the court house doors open.”

The Paycheck Fairness Act “closes the loopholes that allow discrimination in the first place,” Mikulski added.

The bill would require employers to demonstrate that wage differences between men and women doing the same work have a business justification and stem from factors other than gender. It would also prohibit retaliation against workers who inquire about their employers’ wage practices or disclose their own wages. It would also protect certain confidential wage information.

The bill would help level the playing field by ensuring that women can obtain the same remedies as those subject to discrimination on the basis of race or national origin.

It would also seek to encourage enforcement of equal pay laws by reinstating the collection of wage-related data and providing resources to train workers who enforce equal pay laws.

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