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Will Senate Republican Women Support the Paycheck Fairness Act?

12:39 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Sheila Bapat for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Official Portrait of Claire McCaskill

Senator Claire McCaskill

A record 98 women will serve in the 113th Congress — 20 women in the Senate, and 78 in the House. And in this new Congress, the gender chasm between both major parties is even more stark: Of the 20 women set to serve in the U.S. Senate come 2013, 16 are Democrats; of the 78 women in the House, 58 are Democrats. But Democratic women have indicated a desire to collaborate with their female colleagues across the aisle: Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill recently indicated this, as did New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

Is cooperation possible with respect to the Paycheck Fairness Act, an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 that was rejected by the Senate this past June? So far, all signs point to a resounding “No.” All Democratic women in the Senate supported the Paycheck Fairness Act, while all five Republican women in the Senate rejected it. There is clear evidence that party affiliation, not just gender, are the driving forces behind whether a legislator supports tougher policy to ensure fair pay. The Senate’s heavily partisan vote count on the Paycheck Fairness Act when it was under consideration earlier this year reveals this. Chances of passing the law are a bit better since Democrats have increased their lead in the Senate by two votes — though the law failed by eight votes.

Why did Republican women in the Senate join their party in opposing the Paycheck Fairness Act? The general consensus among Republicans is that the law is simply too tough on employers and that it would pave the way to excessive litigation. Specifically, the Paycheck Fairness Act would restrict an affirmative defense allowed by 1963′s Equal Pay Act. Known as the “factor other than sex” defense, a defense heavily criticized by women’s rights attorneys,  this affirmative defense has enabled employers to withstand liability when they pay male employees more than their female employees based on higher earnings at previous jobs, without evaluating whether the higher earnings are actually rooted in qualifications or higher education. In other words, this defense makes it easier to discriminate. Discrimination is found to be a major cause of the wage gap, along with career and life choices.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would restrict this defense, putting a tougher burden on employers by requiring them to prove that pay disparities are rooted in education, experience or other qualifications. The law gives teeth to the Equal Pay Act which, despite being on the books for 40 years, has not been able to resolve wage discrimination.

Even though discrimination is still a major cause of the overall wage gap and no other law on the books addresses it effectively, Republican women in the Senate, along with the rest of their party, believe that the Equal Pay Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act are sufficient. As Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins said after the Senate rejected the Paycheck Fairness Act vote in June:

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Second Presidential Debate Still Too Glossy on Women’s Economic Issues

6:53 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Sheila Bapat for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

A photo of a woman as she walks away.

(Photo: d. FUKA / Flickr).

Aside from the hysterical “binders full of women” remark that is currently blowing up Twitter and inspiring social media memes, gender and economic issues were finally woven into last night’s Presidential debate. The discussion in particular about pay equity offered an opportunity for both candidates to outline their positions on issues of deep consequence for all women and their families. But given the range of issues covered, from Libya to energy independence to the deficit, the debate offered at best a cursory discussion about pay equity and gender parity generally.

For example, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act continues to take center stage in terms of pay equity, yet there was no mention of the Paycheck Fairness Act. Passing the Paycheck Fairness Act would advance the cause of pay equity for women in the United States by providing employees with information about salaries and requiring employers to justify wage discrepancies (whereas the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act actually just restored rights that the Supreme Court had stripped years earlier in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.). Ben Adler of The Nation raised to me on Twitter the fact that President Obama had an opportunity to ask Governor Romney point blank whether he would sign the Paycheck Fairness Act were it to pass in the future (it was recently voted down in Congress). No mention of the Paycheck Fairness Act was ever made.

In addition, there was no mention of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) a bill that was recently introduced in the Senate. PWFA would provide protections to pregnant women in labor intensive positions who are still at a higher risk of being fired when their doctor instructs them not to perform their regularly assigned duties.

Finally, both candidates talk about the importance of bringing “high-wage high-skill” jobs back to the United States, such as high-level manufacturing positions. Remarks like this are aspirational, but can further marginalize the work of nannies, caregivers, and other domestic workers who remain instrumental to the U.S. economy. The domestic workers’ movement has begun to educate the public about why caregiving sectors deserve value, dignity, and protections they have historically not received, but the remarks of both candidates demonstrate that domestic labor — which primarily immigrant women engage in — is still largely left out of discourse about jobs and the economy.

Beyond the specific policy the candidates discussed, the tone and remarks of each candidate with respect to gender reflects their values and the values of their respective parties. On the question about gun control, Governor Romney pivoted and discussed the importance of marriage — a mysterious topic shift, but one that aligned with recent studies about the intersection of marriage and poverty. On the question of pay equity, Romney mentioned his chief of staff needing to be home and cook dinner for her family and read to her children — an anecdote that may resonate with social conservatives. By contrast, President Obama connected gun control issues to education, the economy and specifically, the importance of generating jobs and productive options for young adults who may otherwise find themselves in poverty and/or turn to violence.

No debate is ever focused exclusively on women and families’ economic security, and last night may be as much as we can get from Presidential candidates during this campaign season. Come November 7, there are deeper questions to be tackled by both the President and Congress, beyond the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and with a greater attention to issues of poverty that disproportionately affect women.

Fair Pay Could Mean a More Fertile Future

6:55 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

[Ed. note: Senate Bill 3772, the Paycheck Fairness Act, failed today as it only garnered 58 of the required 60 senate votes in order to proceed to a final vote. Will this bill be resurrected under the 112th Congress?]

Written by Elizabeth Gregory for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

At first blush, the debate over the Paycheck Fairness Act may not look like part of our ongoing national fertility discourse. But the two kinds of “women’s work”—the labor done outside the home (for 23 percent less pay than for men), and the bearing and rearing of the citizenry done at home (for nothing)—are entirely interdependent. Failure to pass the PFA will give women yet another reason to have fewer kids.

Sound drastic? Look at the bottom line. In the days before birth control, women were stuck having kids, and could be compensated unfairly—if at all–for the work they did both inside and outside the home. But things have changed since the arrival of birth control. Women don’t have to have any kids anymore, let alone several, and though the ongoing media campaign for the pleasures of pregnancy and childrearing continues, the deal is looking less satisfactory and less necessary to many women. Discriminatory pay is a hidden tax on women and their families – averaging more than $10,000 annually. Add to that the additional costs of rearing and educating the next generation that families bear, and you’ve got a major disincentive to have more kids.

As you’ve noticed, the terms on which women are taking up the motherhood role are changing. Single-child families have more than doubled since the sixties (now 1 in 5). Exploding numbers of women are delaying children into their thirties and forties, in large part because delay provides a shadow benefits system. Delay gives them time to climb career ladders to higher (but still not equal) pay and flexibility that they can’t access by other means, ensuring that their kids will be better off and better educated than they would otherwise. Delay also limits the number of kids women can bear by the usual means to one or two in general (though that’s okay with most). And many women (and men) are seeing attractions in living childfree. Though a lifetime of indoctrination prepares women for the job of reproduction, the spin is losing speed. Failure to pass the PFA would add more drag.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →