House Democrats pass equal pay for equal work act

Women earn just 80 cents to the dollar a man makes for the same work.

Ten years after President Barack Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law, House Democrats voted Wednesday to approve the Paycheck Fairness Act, delivering one of the cornerstone pieces of their “For the People” agenda to the Republican-led Senate.

The vote passed 242-187, primarily down partisan lines, as the full Democratic caucus voted in favor of the bill and seven Republicans crossed the aisle to support it.

Stressing that while there has been progress towards pay equality in recent years, Democrats renewed the push for equal pay for equal work because women still earn just 80 cents to the dollar a man makes for the same work.

Lily Ledbetter, the plaintiff in a landmark employment discrimination case, was on-hand to join Democrats at the bill’s introduction on Jan. 30, urging Congress “to step up again.”

“I’m here because equal pay for equal work is an American value,” Ledbetter said. “And it’s time that we have American reality.”

Women who work full time in the United States are paid on average 80 percent of what men are paid, according to a 2018 study by the American Association of University Women, an advocacy group that promotes equity and education for women and girls.

The analysis also found that disparities are even sharper among Latinas, at 54 percent, and black women, at 63 percent, and range by state from a low of 70 percent in Louisiana and Utah to a high of 89 percent in New York.

The political firepower that Democratic women possess heading into the 2020 presidential campaign continues to grow. There is a record number of women expected to seek the Democratic nomination and a record 102 women serving in Congress, but there is still a majority of white men serving in Congress.

"It's historic," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said of the bill. "And that it should happen at a time when we have over 100 women serving in the House of Representatives -- that it should happen in the same Congress that we will also observe the 100th anniversary of the passing of the Amendment to have women have the right to vote: it's all very historic. It's all about progress."

Ten years ago, women earned just 78 cents to each dollar a man earned at the same job.

If enacted, the bill would end so-called pay secrecy, ease workers’ ability to individually or jointly challenge pay discrimination and strengthen the available remedies for wronged employees, according to the bill’s sponsors.

The measure would strengthen and close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by holding employers accountable for discriminatory practices, ending the practice of pay secrecy, easing workers’ ability to individually or jointly challenge pay discrimination, and strengthening the available remedies for wronged employees, according to its author, Rep. Rosa DeLauro.

"Today, we can make a difference for working women and their families. The biggest economic challenge of our time is that Americans are in jobs that do not pay them enough to live on. This will be the first bill that the majority is passing to address that economic need for families," DeLauro, D-Conn., said during debate on the bill.

"Paycheck Fairness puts gender-based discrimination sanctions on equal footing with other forms of wage discrimination by allowing women to sue for compensatory and punitive damages," she said. "It better protects employees from being fired for sharing their salary with co-workers. It establishes a grant program to provide salary negotiation training for girls and women. And, it ensures employers are not reliant on wage history when they hire an employee."

There are 45 Democratic cosponsors on companion legislation in the Senate, though the bill is unlikely to advance any farther given the Republican majority.