Every U.S. Senate Republican, including Iowa’s Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, blocked debate last week on a bill designed “to provide more effective remedies to victims of discrimination in the payment of wages on the basis of sex.”
Like most Senate actions, a motion to proceed with debate on a bill requires at least 60 votes to pass. The 49 to 50 party-line vote on June 8 was Republicans’ second formal use of a filibuster this year. The first blocked a bill authorizing a bipartisan investigation of the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
The Paycheck Fairness Act “has been on the Democratic wish list since 1997,” Jonathan Weisman reported for the New York Times. When Democrats controlled the U.S. House, they approved similar legislation in 2008, 2009, and 2019.
For nearly 60 years, federal law has banned employers from paying men and women differently for “substantially equal jobs.” But the Equal Pay Act of 1963 has failed to adequately address gender-based wage discrimination. A 2019 study found “Women’s median earnings are lower than men’s in nearly all occupations.”
The Paycheck Fairness Act would address several barriers to pay equity. It would prohibit the widespread practice of penalizing workers who discuss their salaries with colleagues, “which often prevents or deters workers from discovering wage inequities.”
The bill would also make it illegal for employers to “rely on the wage history of a prospective employee” when considering a job applicant, or require applicants to provide their wage histories.
According to the American Association of University Women, “Using salary histories, which may have been tainted by bias, means that discriminatory pay follows workers wherever they go, whatever their job, no matter their abilities.” Eighteen states regulate the use of salary history for hiring by some or all employers, but Iowa is not among them.
The bill would enhance penalties for gender-based wage discrimination, allowing plaintiffs to be awarded more damages. It would also make it easier for workers to join class action lawsuits, which is “very difficult” under the 1963 Equal Pay Act.
Only one Republican crossed the aisle to support the Paycheck Fairness Act when House members approved the bill in April. Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03) was part of the united Democratic vote in favor of the legislation, while Republicans Ashley Hinson (IA-01), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02), and Randy Feenstra (IA-04) opposed it.
No Republican senator or House member from Iowa explained their vote against this bill in a news release or on their social media feeds. Other Congressional Republicans have said the legislation is unnecessary (because gender-based pay discrimination is already illegal) or would help trial lawyers more than employees.
Axne’s statement hailing the bill’s passage noted, “With the most recent economic turmoil disproportionately affecting working women and pushing working moms out of the workforce, it is more important than ever that we address the systemic inequities and loopholes that are preserving a gap between what women and men earn.”
For employees, the Paycheck Fairness Act would:
- Protect against retaliation for discussing salaries with colleagues;
- Prohibit employers from screening job applicants based on their salary history or requiring salary history during the interview and hiring process;
- Require employers to prove that pay disparities exist for legitimate, job-related reasons;
- Provide plaintiffs who file sex-based wage discrimination claims under the Equal Pay Act with the same remedies as are available to plaintiffs who file race-or ethnicity-based wage discrimination claims under the Civil Rights Act;
- Remove obstacles in the Equal Pay Act to facilitate plaintiffs’ participation in class action lawsuits that challenge systemic pay discrimination; and
- Create a negotiation skills training program for women and girls.
For employers, the Paycheck Fairness Act would:
- Recognize excellence in pay practices; and
- Provide assistance to businesses of all sizes that need help with their equal pay practices.
For enforcement agencies, the Paycheck Fairness Act would:
- Help ensure the Department of Labor (DOL) uses the full range of investigatory tools to uncover wage discrimination, including collecting federal contractors’ wage data;
- Direct the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to conduct a survey of available wage information to assist federal agencies in enforcing wage discrimination laws and creating a system to collect wage data; and
- Instruct DOL to conduct studies and review available research and data to provide information on how to identify, correct and eliminate illegal wage disparities.
Appendix 2: April 15 news release from Representative Cindy Axne
Today, the U.S. House of Representatives advanced bipartisan legislation co-sponsored by Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) to close the gender wage gap and provide women tools to challenge wage discrimination in the workplace.
“With the most recent economic turmoil disproportionately affecting working women and pushing working moms out of the workforce, it is more important than ever that we address the systemic inequities and loopholes that are preserving a gap between what women and men earn,” said Rep. Axne. “For decades, we have pledged to make equal pay for equal work a reality in our country, but our current laws are still insufficient. With this bipartisan legislation that we advanced today, we provide the tools and policies to move us closer to equal pay in the workplace.”
The Paycheck Fairness Act aims to end gender-based wage discrimination by closing loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963. The legislation includes provisions to:
- Require employers to demonstrate that pay disparities are based on legitimate, work-related factors
- Prohibit retaliation against employees who discuss or compare their wages
- Limits employers ability to seek previous salaries of prospective employees
- Eliminate barriers in the Equal Pay Act that make it more difficult for workers to participate in class action lawsuits challenging systemic pay discrimination
- Improve the Department of Labor’s existing tools for enforcing the Equal Pay Act
More than five decades after the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, women on average still make only 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. That gap is even wider for women of color. Compared to white men, African American women are paid 63 cents and Latina women are paid 55 cents.
For a woman working full time year-round, the current wage gap represents a loss of more than $400,000 over the course of her career. The wage gap impacts women’s ability to save for retirement and reduces their total Social Security and pension benefits, contributing to more older women living in poverty.
Pay inequity not only affects women – it affects children and families and our economy as a whole – as women in this country are the sole or co-breadwinner in half of families with children. Over the past two decades, women make a growing share of the family income in all family types, but the pandemic has disproportionately affected women, forcing many to leave the workplace.