By Fannie Flono
North Carolina's U.S. Senator Kay Hagan told the Observer editorial board it's not over for the Fair Pay Act that failed in a party-line Senate vote just hours ago. Republicans, who had called the bill an election-year ploy By Democrats and President Obama to appeal to women, blocked the bill with a 52-47 vote that came short of the required 60-vote threshold to move on.
Hagan was in Charlotte on Monday, stumping for the bill's passage. (It's a followup to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that Obama signed into law in 2009 that gave women the right to sue as long as their discriminatory pay, removing a reguirement that suit had to brought with 180 days of the initial discrimination.)
In a talk with the editorial board after the bill on Tuesday failed she said the failure of Republicans to vote for the measure aimed at ensuring equal pay for women in the workplace didn't make sense to her. The bill would prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who discuss and disclose their own salary information with co-workers, and strengthen remedies available to employees who have been wronged.
"When we look at the facts, we realize nationally that women make 77 cents for every dollar that men make, and they're doing the same job," Hagan said. "In North Carolina, we're doing a little bit better, it's 81 cents, and this is based on Census reports and good statistics. We're close to 50 years from passing the Equal Pay Act of 1963, and yet women are still not able to be equal participants in the work force."
When we asked her about the Republicans' contention that bill wouldn't be necessary if the economy was stabilized, she said: "Why penalize women based on the way the economy is today? The numbers that I've seen it looks like it would be in the year 2054 if you look at trends on economic opportunities. That's the year that women's pay would equal men's (without addressing these other issues that drive inequity). We've been waiting since 1963, I think it's high time we get this problem solved."
It might be noted that the pay disparity has persisted even when the economy was good. Ir is no "myth", as some conservative pundits contend.
Hagan also said the bill gives a boost to the punishment that employers face for paying women who do the same work less than men. Right now, if an employer is caught discriminating against women with pay, the women can only get back pay. That's hardly incentive to be proactive about paying women equitably. Businesses lose nothing by delaying, hoping never to get caught.
"This bill allows compensatory damages if someone is found in violation," she said. "For the same job, women should be paid the same thing. Obviously, there are going to be cases of different experiences, different education (studies show the gap is only partially explained by those factors). But different pay shouldn't be based on gender."
About this being an election-year ploy, Hagan said: "We tried to get this bill done in 2010. If not, when?" she asked.
She also noted that getting women equal pay could be a big boost to the economy. Here in North Carolina, women average $33,000 to men's $41,000 in income. Over a woman's lifetime, that $8,000 difference affects women's abilities to take care of their families and their retirement benefits. "It really handicaps women, who make up 41 percent of the workforce," she said.
Polls show overwhelming support for legislation giving women tools they need to be able to get equal pay for equal work, Hagan said, and that support is overwhelming among Republicans, Democrats, independents, women and men.
Too bad that commonsense support didn't show up in the Senate on Tuesday.
With Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid changing his vote to join the majority after the measure failed, Senate rules allow the bill to brought up again this legislative session. Hagan expects it will before the end of the year, but not before the November election.