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Ms. LANDRIEU. Mr. President, let me begin by acknowledging the leadership of the Senator from Maryland and the other Senators who have come to the floor this morning to speak on behalf of a bill whose time has come and, some might say, a bill whose time has passed. It has been almost 50 years since the original gender equity in the workplace bill was passed, and it has not been modernized in over five decades. So, in large measure, this is really a bill whose time has come, and we hope to make that law happen in the next few weeks. With support from both Democrats and Republicans and by putting common sense and heart and compassion and good business sense, might I say, before political talking points, this, in fact, could be done.
The reason this bill is so important is because 50 years ago women were not major breadwinners in families. As the Presiding Officer knows, there was tremendous hiring discrimination against women and minorities. Happily, that seems to be passing and fading. There are women now at the highest ranks of corporate America. We have had women serving in the highest positions here in Washington, DC, and around our country. While there still is a gap that can be recognized both in the private and public sector, the ability for women, with the right credentials and the right background, to get hired is easier today and is happening more than ever before.
The problem is that when we look at the wage gap, unfortunately, it still persists. With women now in many instances being the major breadwinners in their families, this is really a family issue. It is paying some families much less than others based on the fact that there is a woman as the breadwinner instead of a man. That is hurting families throughout America. It is not fair, and it should not be tolerated. That is why this bill, introduced by Senator Mikulski and cosponsored by many of us, is important.
Wage discrimination is against the law and it has been for 50 years, but the consequences and the actions individuals can take if they feel as though they are being discriminated against are, in effect, different and not where they need to be. So this law updates the Equal Pay Act that was passed in 1963 to basically put the final nail in the coffin of wage discrimination.
In 1967 women only earned 58 cents to every dollar a man earned in an equal--in an exact--position. That was grossly unfair, but it is still unfair today that women in the same job are still making only 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. It is not right, and it must be corrected. We can correct it by passing this law that gives people who believe they are being discriminated against better access to the court and, might I say, it also gives businesses that potentially are the ones being sued--even small companies or large companies--more protections in this bill than other businesses have in similar discrimination cases. In other words, frivolous lawsuits will not be allowed, and if a case is not strong, there is a screen that is tighter in this bill than in other pieces of legislation.
I realize there is some opposition from the business community that contends that this bill will simply usher in more controversy or more courtroom time. But the fact is that is exactly the way our system was created. Congress passes laws and enforces equal pay for equal work. If people feel as though they are not being treated fairly under the law, they are supposed to try to modify that behavior out of court, and if they can't, then we ask them--we, in fact, want them--to go to court to try to get it settled. That is the American system. We don't want people to overuse courts or to abuse courts, but we most certainly want people who feel as though they are not being treated fairly under the law to have access to a court system.
Might I say that despite the fact that our court system is regularly criticized, I would much prefer to show up in a court here than in Iraq or in Egypt or in Afghanistan or even in some places in Europe or most certainly some countries in Africa. America has a very transparent, fairly sophisticated and modern judiciary system, and it really is a model for the world.
Sometimes I think we overlitigate in some areas, but where are these women supposed to go? What are they supposed to do--have an appointment with their Congressman, show the Congressman their paycheck? No. Congressmen don't do that. Judges do. And when they get their day in court, they can show their pay stubs, and they can then demonstrate that they have been doing the same job as the man next door but they have been getting paid 77 cents on the man's dollar. That is why this bill is important.
I don't know for the life of me why the chamber of commerce is opposed. I think there are a lot of women in the chamber of commerce as business owners and as women who used to work for other businesses before they owned their own. I had hoped they would stand and speak for women everywhere, that when a woman shows up early in the morning and works until late at night, they deserve to be paid the same as a man doing that exact job.
According to the American Bar Association, in the 50 years since its passage, the Equal Pay Act has become outdated, ineffective, and wage discrimination remains persistent, widespread and pernicious.
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Ms. LANDRIEU. In my home State of Louisiana, wage discrimination based on gender is particularly problematic. According to the Joint Economic Committee Report, women in Louisiana do not earn 77 cents, they earn 69 cents for every $1 paid to men, which is significantly less than the national average.
At the same time, women make up almost half--48 percent--of the Louisiana workforce, and 24 percent of married, employed mothers in Louisiana are their family's primary wage earners.
This bill is the next step. It is the right step. It is the commonsense step to fight against wage discrimination, and I am proud to join my colleague from Baltimore, from the State of Maryland, in championing this particular bill.
Again, I thank the Senator from Maryland and I look forward to working with her and my colleagues to try to get this bill to the President's desk in the next few weeks. This is an economic development issue, as the Senator from Maryland knows.
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Ms. MIKULSKI. The Senator chairs the Committee on Small Business and has been steadfast and has worked with the ranking member, Senator Olympia Snowe. Much has been said on cable TV about how this is going to smash and decimate small businesses. Is that true? I come from a small business family. My father owned a small grocery store. But cashiers are cashiers, male or female.
Ms. LANDRIEU. Absolutely. And it is not. That is why I stressed, I say to the Senator from Maryland, that in this bill, which the Senator has so ably sponsored and written, the screen to get into court is tighter than in other wage discrimination laws on the books. That is for the protection of all businesses, small and large, so they are not clobbered with frivolous lawsuits.
But as the Presiding Officer knows, many women are employed in small businesses--I mean between 1 and 5 employees or 1 and 10 employees. They need to be protected in the workplace. Hopefully, we have created a balance between the owners of the business and their employees, whether they are union or not.
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