Congress needs to act to protect the rights of women by promoting nondiscrimination and advancing equal pay, witnesses testified before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee today. The hearing was called to examine the experience of pay discrimination by American women in the workforce and underscored the critical need to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that will help women better fight pay discrimination.
"Equal pay for equal work is about basic fairness," said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), co-chair of the committee and senior Democratic member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. "It's important to remember that, when a worker is paid less because of her gender, a family has fewer resources to pay the mortgage, send the kids to college, or have a decent retirement."
Although the wage gap between men and women has narrowed since the passage of the landmark Equal Pay Act in 1963, gender-based wage discrimination remains a problem for women in the U.S. workforce. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women only make 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. The Institute of Women's Policy Research found that this wage disparity will cost women anywhere from $400,000 to $2 million over a lifetime in lost wages.
"My hope is that the Paycheck Fairness Act will encourage employers to do the right thing and ensure that men and women performing the same work make the same salary," said AnnMarie Duchon, who was a victim of pay discrimination and was paid $12,000 less as compared to a male coworker with the same education and experience. Duchon was able to uncover the pay disparity because she and her coworkers were allowed to talk openly about their salaries and because their state-government pay is publically available. "Congress has the power to make it safe for women to ask for fair pay. I am proof that these conversations pay off for women and their families."
However, many private companies discourage and even penalize workers for discussing salaries. The Paycheck Fairness Act would make it illegal to retaliate against workers for discussing their pay.
Loopholes created by courts and weak sanctions in the law have allowed many employers to avoid liability for engaging in gender-based pay discrimination. The Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) would strengthen the Equal Pay Act and close the loopholes that have allowed employers to avoid responsibility for discriminatory pay. It would give workers stronger tools to combat wage discrimination, bar retaliation against workers for discussing salary information, and ensure full compensation for victims of gender-based pay discrimination.
"The Paycheck Fairness Act would take the critical next steps to stop discrimination in the first place by making needed reforms to the 50 year old Equal Pay Act - putting an end to pay secrecy, strengthening workers' ability to challenge discrimination, and bringing equal pay law into line with other civil rights laws. Passing it is also critical," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), lead sponsor of the bill.
Terri Kelly faced pay discrimination as a sales consultant for Novartis Pharmaceuticals and testified today about how she was underpaid for years, despite having superior performance reviews. She was only able to uncover the discriminatory pay because her husband also worked as a sales consultant for Novartis.
"If the Paycheck Fairness Act can fix things like the lack of accountability that let Novartis get away with underpaying me and thousands of women like me across the country," Kelly said, "then it seems like passing it is the right thing to do. When you earn something through hard work, your hard work should pay off. I hope that Congress will take a stand for those values, and I thank you for letting me be part of this process."
The Paycheck Fairness Act passed the House in 2009, but came two votes short to break a Republican-led filibuster. The Senate announced that they will bring up the bill again this year for consideration. House Republicans have indicated they have no plans to bring up the bill again.