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Public Statements

Paycheck Fairness Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. BEGICH. Madam President, I thank my colleague from California for making those important remarks. I am also here to talk about the Paycheck Fairness Act for a few minutes, if I could. As she said in her last remarks, it is very important to note the last few times this issue has come up it was filibustered. We did not even get to the bill. So hopefully, according to the new rules we agreed on here and coordinated in a bipartisan way, we will get to the bill and we will debate it on its merits, not on whether it should proceed. Let's see how that works. Again, I thank her for coming down here today.

I rise here on the anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 to lend my support to the next bill we need to pass, the Paycheck Fairness Act. I thank Senator Mikulski for organizing this important discussion.

Four years ago I entered this Chamber fresh from Alaska. Madam President, you are fresh from North Dakota. I probably sat right there during that debate in 2009. I was finishing my second term as mayor of Anchorage and was excited to take on the new challenges in the Senate on behalf of all Alaskans. I am honored to say one of my first votes in the Senate as a new Senator was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. I was proud to add my support to the cause.

At the same time it was--and is--disheartening to continue hearing about pay inequity as a major economic problem, that there are still drastic wage gaps for women, that women on average still earn about one-fifth less than their male counterparts.

We all know the numbers. That is why I have cosponsored Senator Mikulski's Paycheck Fairness Act each time it was introduced. It provides women with the tools to close this long-standing gap. Her bill is an important companion to the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which kept the courthouse door open to demand justice over pay discrimination.

This was a crucial victory, but we must continue the fight and finish the job by passing paycheck fairness. At its core, the bill is really very simple: It says employees and employers can share wage information and that discrepancies in pay must be based on experience and qualifications--not on gender.

What is more fair than that?

Unfortunately, my State is not a leader on pay equity. In Alaska, women earn 78 cents for every dollar paid to men. Unless that changes, Alaska women will earn $623,000 less than men during their working careers. This pay gap has harmed the families of roughly 155,000 women in the Alaska workforce. Women in Alaska have higher rates of economic insecurity than men: In 2010, women working full time not only earned lower average wages but also were more likely to live in poverty--more than 10 percent of Alaska women compared to about 7 percent of men.

Women in Alaska make up 47 percent of the state workforce and nearly half of them are married mothers who are the primary wage earners in their families. When they earn less than men, that burden falls on the entire family--including about 112,000 Alaska children who are dependent on their mother's earnings.

The State's highest-paying industries--including manufacturing, natural resources and mining--are mostly dominated by men. Jobs such as miners, mobile heavy equipment mechanics and electrical power line installers pay much better than State average wages, but few women are getting those jobs.

Our Alaska Department of Labor puts it bluntly: "Women seem to be funneled into lower-pay occupations.''

Listen to these numbers. If the gap between men's and women's wages in Alaska were eliminated, each full-time working woman could suddenly afford to pay for 2 more years of groceries, buy 3,700 more gallons of gas or pay the mortgage and utility bills for 8 more months.

So on this 4th anniversary of the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, I say to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle: Let's finish the job and pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. As I said, it's so simple. The bill will close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act and establish stronger workplace protections for women.

In the real world there should be nothing complicated or controversial about this, but sometimes we wonder where we are; it is not always the real world. As I said at the beginning of my comments, hopefully the issue of filibuster will not be part of this equation, that we actually get on the bill, have the debate, and people can vote up or vote down, amend it or not, and determine where we stand on this issue.

I am from a household where we were raised by a mother, the six of us. My father died when I was 10. She survived raising four boys, which is a miracle in itself, and two girls. The problem was not the girls, it was the boys. But she raised six of us at a very young age. Hopefully some would consider us productive parts of society. But when I saw what my mom had to struggle through, what she had to earn to make sure we had food on the table, make sure we had opportunities in our lives, it is clear to me that this is not a complicated issue. This is a simple fairness issue.

I hope my colleague on the other side, again, would allow it to come forward. We will debate it and then we will vote on it, and the American people, Alaskans, will see what we think of fairness in the sense of a paycheck for a woman working the same job--equal job as a man does.

I yield the floor.

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