Today's blog was written by Carol Rose and Deborah J. Vagins, Legislative Counsel for the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office and a co-chair of the National Paycheck Fairness Act Coalition.
As members of the U.S. Congress return to Washington, there is no more urgent priority than supporting families during this economic downturn, and there is very little time left in this Congress to do it.
Fortunately, our Senators have to opportunity to really do something to help. The Paycheck Fairness Act (Senate Bill 182), a much needed update to the Equal Pay Act of 1963, has been scheduled for a vote on November 17 in the U.S. Senate and is poised for passage.
Senator Scott Brown is in a position to cast the deciding vote that could help Massachusetts families struggling to make ends meet.
Unfortunately for women in Massachusets, the ongoing wage gap between them and men doing the same job makes this difficult economic time even worse than it has to be.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, in 2009, on average, women in Massachusetts working full-time, year-round earned only 79% of what men working full-time, year-round earned. Women in Massachusetts already have higher rates of economic insecurity; on average, they earn less than men ($29,391for women compared to $40,816 for men in 2009) and are also more likely to live in poverty (11% of Massachusetts women compared to 8% of men lived in poverty in 2009).
Lawmakers meant for The Equal Pay Act of 1963 to ensure equal pay for equal work, but over time, because of weak remedies and loopholes in the law, significant disparities in pay persist.
The Paycheck Fairness Act would give employees the legal tools they need to finally close the wage gap by, for example, requiring employers to demonstrate that wage differences between men and women doing the same work have a business justification; prohibiting retaliation against workers who inquire about their wages; and leveling the playing field by ensuring that women can obtain the same remedies as those subject to employment discrimination based on their race or national origin. The bill would also provide technical assistance to employers and provide important safeguards for small businesses.
The Paycheck Fairness Act already passed the U.S. House of Representatives with bipartisan support and now has 40 co-sponsors in the Senate—more than it has ever had in any previous Congress. Recently, a report from the White House National Economic Council underscored the need for the Paycheck Fairness Act as an important step towards the economic security of women and our nation’s families.
Senator John Kerry is a co-sponsor and strong supporter of the bill, but Senator Scott Brown has not yet announced his support. With votes down to the wire, Senator Brown’s backing could literally make the difference, not only for the ultimate passage of the bill, but for all Massachusetts women who receive unfair wages and for all Massachusetts families who are living on less than they deserve.
If this election taught those representing us anything, it should be to listen to their constituents. Senator Brown should know that the Paycheck Fairness Act also has widespread public support. According to a recent nationwide poll of registered voters, the Paycheck Fairness Act has the backing of the American public; 84 percent of registered voters polled said they supported “a new law that would provide women more tools to get fair pay in the workplace.”
Large majorities of men and women—Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike—all strongly support such a law. We hope that Senator Brown will agree that pay equity should not be about party politics; it is about economic survival for American families.
The Paycheck Fairness Act provides important tools so that Massachusetts workers, and all workers across this country, can bring home the pay they have rightfully earned. Given our current economy, we hope that Senator Brown will support this important safety net for Massachusetts families.
The author is solely responsible for the content.