Democrats Renew Push for Equal Pay Legislation

House lawmakers on Tuesday debated the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill Democrats say will close longstanding loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., tells members of the House Rules Committee during a virtual hearing on Tuesday that Congress must pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to close legal loopholes that still preclude women from receiving equal pay. (Screenshot via Courthouse News)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Breathing new life into legislation that died in the Senate under the Trump administration, Democrats on Tuesday advanced a bill they say would close lingering loopholes in federal equal pay laws on the books for nearly 60 years.

Lead sponsor Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro said the Paycheck Fairness Act, or H.R. 7, amends existing fair labor standards that she and the bill’s proponents contend have significantly failed to protect women’s rights to equal pay, and especially the rights of women of color.

“In 1973, at its lowest point, women working full time earned 56 cents to every dollar” earned by a man, the Connecticut Democrat told members of the House Rules Committee during Tuesday’s legislative meeting on the bill.

According to a 2020 study from the National Women’s Law Center, white women who work full time year-round are on average paid just 82 cents for every dollar paid to men. For Black women, the disparity is drastically worse at 63 cents, while Native American women earn just 60 cents and Latina women earn only 55 cents.

Only Asian American Pacific Islander women came close to earning as much as men did in 2019, taking home nearly 85 cents to ever dollar, according to the study based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Census data also indicated that whether a woman is a broadcaster, museum director, athlete, engineer, university professor, nurse, elementary school teacher or cashier, she is still on average earning less than whatever her male counterpart does doing the same work.

For example, where male civil engineers earned $91,000 annually, women on average earned $79,000.

“Same job,” DeLauro said during the hearing. “Child care? $25,000 for men, $22,000 for women… Detectives? $90,000 for men, $71,000 for women. Economists? $122,000 for men. $102,000 for women.”  

Geography also has had little do with women’s earnings. In 2019, the disparity between the sexes was undeterred by borders as women’s wages stagnated compared to men’s whether a state’s political leadership leaned left or right.   The inequity of earnings and the disproportionate impact felt by different races of women is a cultural flaw that has yet to be fully reckoned with, DeLauro argued.

“It is a reflection of the lack of respect for women’s contributions to our economy,” she said. “But this could be a moment of transformative change.”

The Paycheck Fairness Act passed in the House in 2019 in a 242-187 vote. It is expected to pass again when it goes to the House floor later this week. President Joe Biden said in a statement Tuesday that the legislation’s passage is “essential to advancing American values of fairness and equity.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequity for American women while upping already steep economic stakes. A February report from the National Women’s Law Center using data mined from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found over 2.3 million women have left the workforce during the pandemic. Those job losses effectively undid labor progress made by women over the last 35 years.

If the legislation passes again, Democrats argue that progress could be reignited. Among its provisions, the bill bans employers from considering a person’s salary and benefit history when deciding what to pay them.

“The Equal Pay Act of 1963 has so many loopholes,” Representative Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat, said Tuesday. “If you’ve been discriminated against as a woman in your previous job and your new job can take your salary history and base your new salary on what your discriminated history is, you will never get out of that box. You will always be behind the curve.”

The Paycheck Fairness Act also establishes rigorous data collection standards for employers, including details on compensation, hiring, termination and promotion broken down by sex, race and national origin. Teen labor is also address; the bill sets up extensive reporting requirements that lawmakers say will examine how the teenage gender pay gap translates to greater wage gaps in the overall labor force. In addition, the bill gives women greater ability to raise claims of pay discrimination in court.

Though the legislation hurdled out of committee Tuesday, it was met with fierce resistance from Republicans. North Carolina Congresswoman Virginia Foxx was unambiguous in her opposition.

“If I thought this bill would help women, I would be there. What’s going to help them is to be guided into professions that pay more,” Foxx said, adding that women have been discriminated against for a “long, long time because we have not respected the nurturing jobs that they do.”

DeLauro retorted: “You go to the American Association of University Women and they will tell you that at their elevated professorial profession, they are discriminated against. They are in the same job as a male professor. The same job, the same department and they are not paid the same amount of money. That is what is at stake here.”

Foxx pushed back, saying that unless the nation dealt with discrimination as a culture, “nothing would change because trial lawyers bring lawsuits.”

Republicans claimed a surge of new lawsuits would come if the bill were made into law. The legislation raises the legal standards businesses must meet in order to claim any pay gaps aren’t based on discrimination.

“If the majority’s goal is to ensure it is illegal to pay differing salaries based on genders, they are in luck, that is already law of the land. But today’s bill goes further than the Equal Pay Act and does so in a way that only benefits one class of people: trial lawyers at the expense of working women,” Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, said Tuesday.

Democratic Representatives Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Ed Perlmutter of Colorado were quick to fire back.

“I’m wondering why this ideological attack on lawyers or trial lawyers comes about in certain circumstances but not in others,” Raskin said. “I spent a lot of time on the impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump’s inciting of the insurrection against Congress. He brought 62 lawsuits. He had teams of hundreds of lawyers, suing every state… He spent tens of millions that he raised from supporters to do it and no one said, ‘We should stop him from exercising his rights to due process because some trial lawyers are getting rich.’ That’s how our system works. If you want to abolish our civil system and go to a king, I suppose you could get rid of the all the trial lawyers.”

Perlmutter said it was trial lawyers who take the risk of righting wrongs for people who have been wronged by the system or their employer. He pointed out most trial lawyers will not earn anything from their client unless they can prove their case in court.

In addition to H.R. 7, lawmakers also advanced out of committee H.R. 1195, or the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act. The legislation mandates that federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration health care centers and social service centers are held accountable for implementing workplace violence prevention plans. The law does not, however, apply to private doctor’s or dentist’s offices of small clinics.

The Obama administration in 2016 attempted to set up a program for workplace violence review but it was delayed once Donald Trump got into office. Trump terminated the review, rescheduled it in 2018, delayed it in 2019 and then proceeded to delay it four more times before leaving the White House.

It took OSHA 19 years to complete rulemaking for regulations on toxic silica exposure, 18 years for regulations on poisonous beryllium to go into effect, and nearly 22 for protections for uniformed construction workers laboring in confined spaces, Democratic Representative Joe Courtney of Connecticut said Tuesday.

This bill would expedite review, training and distribution of resources for health care and social service employers dealing with violence to their staff.

“The reduction in worker’s compensation costs, the reduction in absenteeism, there will be huge savings for employers,” Courtney said.

%d bloggers like this: