So much for being the 'workers' party.'
The House of Representatives passed a bill on Thursday by a margin of 217-210, aimed at fighting pay discrimination and reducing the pay gap between men and women.
The Paycheck Fairness Act, officially titled H.R. 7, would bolster the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibits employers from paying unequal wages to men and women if both are performing the same work.
The new bill aims to protect employees from being penalized by employers for discussing their salaries. It would also require employers to demonstrate that any inequity in pay among employees is not gender-based, but related to the nature of the job performed.
The legislation would also establish a program to help train women on negotiation skills in the workplace and mandate that complainants filing gender-based wage discrimination claims be able to access the same resources as those provided by the Civil Rights Act for individuals filing race-based claims.
H.R. 7 would ban employers from asking salary history in job interviews or using salary history to determine employment eligibility for job applicants, and eliminate certain provisions in existing law that make it hard for plaintiffs to sue employers for pay inequity.
The bill seeks to address the stark employment gap that still exist decades after the Equal Pay Act was first passed. Census Bureau data from 2018 notes that women still make only 82 cents for every $1 that men earn. The gap is even more significant for Black and Latina women, with Black women making 62 cents for every $1 earned by white men and women identifying as Hispanic or Latino making 54 cents.
According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, as of 2019, American Indian and Alaska Native women made just 59.7 cents for every dollar paid to White non-Hispanic men. And a March report by the Center for American Progress showed that, among many Asian American Pacific Islander subgroups, women were vastly out-earned by white, non-Hispanic men.
Taken individually, the wage gap amounts to a discrepancy of $10,157 a year between men’s and women’s wages; collectively, the wage gap results in an annual loss of $956 billion for women who work full-time.
Some of the factors behind the wage gap include direct gender-based pay discrimination as well as women who are forced to leave the workplace or work fewer hours to care for their children or families, resulting in fewer years of work experience overall.
Studies have found that if nothing changes, the current wage gap won't be closed until 2059.
The bill's lead sponsor, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), and her Democratic colleagues have been trying to enact similar legislation for many years. DeLauro first proposed a Paycheck Fairness Act back in 1997 with 95 co-sponsors — all of them Democrats.
Versions passed the House in 2008, 2009, and 2019 — mostly along party lines, but each time attracting a handful of Republican votes. Each time, the bill died in the Senate due to fierce GOP opposition.
The Biden administration, by contrast, has strongly endorsed the Paycheck Fairness Act. On Tuesday, the Office of Management and Budget issued a statement expressing its support for the bill.
"Ensuring equal pay is essential to advancing American values of fairness and equity," it read in part. "Women lose thousands of dollars each year, and hundreds of thousands over a lifetime, because of the gender and racial wage gap."
The statement noted that women in the workplace have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic due to caregiving responsibilities and increased domestic labor.
Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik (NY), meanwhile, has attempted to substitute her own watered-down Wage Equity Act for the Paycheck Fairness Act backed by Democrats.
Stefanik's bill is patterned off state legislation and encourages employers to enact strictly voluntary studies of potential pay inequity. It would also permit workers in some circumstances to discuss salaries, and establish a grant program for women to learn more about effective salary negotiations. It stops short of allowing women to sue for equal pay protections.
The Wage Equity Act is a practical, 21st-century solution to achieve equal pay for equal work once and for all by empowering businesses and employees to work together in pursuit of this common goal," she told a local outlet on Wednesday. "The Democrats’ alternative legislation would pave the way for frivolous lawsuits and unnecessary burdens on businesses, including those owned and operated by women themselves."
Republican opposition to the Paycheck Fairness Act comes as the party seeks to brand itself as the party of working Americans. As House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy claimed to Punchbowl News in February, "[The Republican Party has] always been about conservative ideas, promoting opportunity, and the uniqueness of this party today is we're the workers party, we're the American workers' party."
Sen. Ted Cruz has pushed similar rhetoric that month, tweeting, "The Republican Party is not the party of the country clubs, it's the party of hardworking, blue-collar men and women." This, despite the fact that Republicans for years have been passing legislation to cut taxes for the super wealthy and corporations, and undermining the manufacturing and agriculture industries to prop up Donald Trump's trade wars, among other things.
The bill now moves to the Senate, where it faces an uphill battle under the current filibuster rules. That version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) is co-sponsored by every single member of the Democratic majority. But not a single Republican has co-sponsored the bill or indicated they will vote to end a possible GOP filibuster.
Without a change to the three-fifths requirement for cloture, Democrats will need to find at least 10 Republicans to vote to end debate or the bill will be stuck once again.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.