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Republican Minority Denies Women Equal Pay Rights


Republican Minority Denies Women Equal Pay Rights

by James Parks, Apr 23, 2008

One day after Equal Pay Day, a minority of primarily Republican senators once again made it harder for women workers to overcome pay discrimination.

The Senate failed to cut off debate on the Fair Pay Restoration Act (H.R. 2831) and bring the bill to the floor for a vote. The 56-42 margin fell four votes short of the 60 needed to end debate and vote on the bill. The House passed the legislation in July 2007. President Bush has threatened to veto the bill if passed by the Senate.

The legislation, also known as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, would reverse a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision dismissing a suit by Lilly Ledbetter, an employee for 19 years at a Goodyear Tire plant in Alabama. Her suit alleged she was paid less than her male counterparts. (see video.)

Both Democratic presidential candidates, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama, took time out from their campaigns to vote for cloture. But the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, didn’t bother to show up for the vote. Campaigning in Kentucky today, McCain said he opposes the bill and that there are better ways to help women find better-paying jobs.

They need the education and training, particularly since more and more women are heads of their households, as much or more than anybody else.

Apparently, McCain has not read the recent reports which show working women continue to earn less than men even though statistics indicate they are better educated.

Equal pay advocates, including the AFL-CIO and a constituency group, the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), mobilized members to urge the Senate to pass the bill. If enacted, the act would restore the ability of U.S. workers to sue for pay discrimination.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), sponsor of the Fair Pay Restoration Act, says the combination of the credit crisis, the recession and unequal pay has “put many American women on the verge of financial ruin,” and it will be very difficult for them to recover.

That’s why Congress must take decisive action to help working families—and women in particular—cope with the troubled economy and create new opportunities for the future. To start, we must make it clear there must be zero tolerance in the United States for pay discrimination. When women earn less than men, it makes them more vulnerable to economic downturns.

Earlier this week, Kennedy’s Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee released a report showing that women are at greater economic risk in today’s sinking economy than in past recessions. In the past year, women’s real wages fell by 3 percent, compared with half a percentage point for men’s wages.

In the Ledbetter ruling, the Supreme Court said she did not file her lawsuit against Goodyear within 180 days after the discrimination occurred, as required by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The court let the company off the hook by calculating the deadline from the day Goodyear made its original decision to pay her less than her male colleagues. The law had previously made it clear the clock did not start until she received her last discriminatory paycheck. The bill would remove the 180-day limit.

Ledbetter says the ruling isn’t fair:

The Supreme Court believes that people like me should have to live with continuing discrimination if they don’t immediately challenge it. That rule doesn’t reflect American values. And it doesn’t value Americans’ opinions either. Poll after poll has shown that equal pay for equal work continues to be the highest-priority women’s issue around. If we’re serious about making equal pay a reality, this is a critical first step.

Deborah Vagins of the American Civil Liberties Union explains why the high court ruling is so bad.

Americans now have only 180 days from the time their employer decides to discriminate against them to file a claim. This standard is nearly impossible to meet. Employers don’t disclose when they decide to discriminate. Why should employees be forced to be discrimination detectives? Even if they should, how could they? In many workplaces, employees are discouraged, if not forbidden, from discussing their salaries. If unscrupulous employers can hide their unfair pay decisions for just a few months, under this new rule, they can never be held to task for discriminating.

Rosalyn Pelles, director of the AFL-CIO Civil, Human and Women’s Rights Department, told a Capitol Hill press conference today the union movement is strongly behind pay equity legislation:

Like our founding fathers—and mothers—we in the labor movement have some basic beliefs that we hold to be self-evident. We believe in paychecks that reflect an honest day on the job. We believe in fairness. We believe that there is dignity in work—all work. Paying a woman less than a man is an affront to human dignity.

Because women are paid 77 cents for every dollar paid to men, they have $23 less for every $100 worth of work to spend on groceries, housing, child care and other expenses. Over a lifetime of work, the 23 cents on the dollar women are denied adds up. A 25-year-old working woman will lose more than $523,000 to unequal pay during her working life. For women of color, the numbers are even worse. African American women are paid 63 cents and Latinas 52 cents for every dollar men receive. As a result, working families lose about $200 billion in income every year because of this pay discrimination. It is clear that equal pay helps everybody.

Rep. Tom Allen (D-Ore.), who co-sponsored the bill in the House last year, said the Supreme Court’s decision in the Ledbetter case demonstrated once again that

President Bush’s appointees have moved the High Court decisively away from the interests and aspirations of ordinary, hard-working Americans.

You’d think everybody would be in favor of paying people a fair wage for a fair days work. But not some leading Senate Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell yesterday claimed the bill was a way to start new litigation. He said the Fair Pay Restoration Act would “dramatically” increase the amount of new litigation in the country. But the facts contradict McConnell. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported last year that the act would not increase the number of discrimination claims. Click here to read the CBO report.

Two other bills that would expand protection against pay discrimination—the Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Sen. Clinton and the Fair Pay Act, introduced by Del. Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-D.C.) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)—are still in committee.

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