Paycheck Fairness Act

Floor Speech

By:  Debbie Stabenow
Date: Jan. 30, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. STABENOW. Madam President, I am so pleased to be joining colleagues in celebrating the anniversary of the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and to move on to what we need to do on full paycheck fairness with the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act.

I wish to start by thanking our leader, the dean of the women in the Senate and the House, the longest serving woman, who is Senator Barbara Mikulski. She has led us through the Lilly Ledbetter legislation and is now leading us as we move forward to the next step in making sure women receive equal pay for equal work. Her extraordinary leadership is something that has touched every woman, every man, and every family in America. I wish to thank her for her leadership, as well as the efforts of all my colleagues.

It has been nearly 50 years since President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law--a law that made it illegal for an employer to pay women less than men for the same work. With the stroke of a pen, he ushered in a new era of opportunities for women and the American economy as a whole. In those 50 years, many millions of American women entered the workforce and we have truly changed the nature of employment in our country, including in the Senate, where

we now have a woman sitting as the distinguished Acting President pro tempore, and we have 20 women who are a part of leading the country through the Senate, with 7 of us now chairing committees.

I remember coming to the Senate in 2000, when it was the first time we had enough women to even sit on every committee in the Senate. Imagine that. It was the first time our experiences, our voices, our backgrounds, our values, and our priorities were represented on every committee. So we have come a long way since that time 50 years ago, but there is more to do.

In 1963, women were often very limited in the jobs we could participate in. There were outrageous working conditions and limitations that made absolutely no sense. Today, nearly 40 percent of full-time managers in our country are women. I am proud to look around my great State and see two of the great universities in our country--the University of Michigan and Michigan State University--both led by women presidents. We are seeing women moving up in every area. We have made great strides, but we also know pay for women continues to be unequal, even though we have seen strides being made. That is why the Paycheck Fairness Act is absolutely critical.

This bill gives women tools to negotiate better pay and it stops employers from using workplace gag rules to prevent women from discovering their pay is actually less than the pay of the men working beside them. It strengthens the remedies women can use when they are discriminated against and ensures that discrimination based on sex is treated the same as any other kind of discrimination in the workplace.

Four years ago this week, we passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that overturned the Supreme Court's decision limiting the ability of women to get justice when they were discriminated against. At that time, Lilly Ledbetter did not know for a couple decades that she, in fact, was being paid less than the men she not only worked with but supervised. When she went to the Supreme Court, they said: You can't come before the Court. You have no standing because you should have done that 20 years ago. But 20 years earlier, she didn't know.

We have fixed that loophole in the law, but now we need to go on and completely revamp and be focused on putting in place all the tools available to women to keep the promise of the law that was passed 50 years ago, which is equal pay for equal work.

In my State of Michigan, women are paid only 74 cents on every dollar that a man makes. Even though we have made strides, we are still at 74 cents of what a man makes. And women are either participating as the sole breadwinner in their families now or part of a two-parent family trying to hold things together and make ends meet.

It is not fair to the family that one of those who are working is only getting 74 cents on a dollar of what males in the workplace are getting. Over a lifetime, in Michigan that 26-cent difference equals over $ 1/2 million that women are losing because we don't really yet have equal pay for equal work in every part of our economy.

When we look at this, it becomes very much about whether women are going to be able to pay their mortgage, their rent. When you walk into the store, the grocer doesn't say: You only have to pay 74 percent of the cost of this because you get paid less. The last time I looked, we pay the same for gas, food, rent, or the mortgage, and yet too many women find themselves disadvantaged because they are not being paid equally for their work. That is just not right. Everybody knows it is not right.

The Lilly Ledbetter Act took an important step 4 years ago in overturning a situation that the courts I believe inaccurately, unfairly decided as relates to women. But the Paycheck Fairness Act gives women the tools they need legally to be able to remedy unequal pay situations and have the confidence that we are going to truly enforce equal pay for equal work in this country.

Fifty years ago, Congress and the President came together and agreed that women should get equal pay for equal work. Right now, we need to reaffirm that. We need to make it real for all women in every part of our country who are working hard to make ends meet, to take care of their families, and to be able to move forward and realize their dreams. Passing the Paycheck Fairness Act is going to bring us closer to that reality.

I again thank the senior Senator from Maryland for her incredible leadership in bringing us to this point with the Lilly Ledbetter Act and now taking the next step, which is to realize the dream of 50 years and longer in America, which is to fully benefit from the ideas, the strengths, and the talents of every individual and to make sure they are equally paid for what they are worth.

I yield the floor.