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Public Statements

Paycheck Fairness Act--Motion to Proceed--Resumed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, let me just say to those who are following this debate, if we go to the dictionary and look up the word ``persistent,'' there will be a picture of Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. She has been our leader on so many important issues.

The very first bill signed by President Barack Obama--and she remembers the day, as I do--we were standing there when he signed the Lilly Ledbetter law, which protected the principle of equal pay for equal work by allowing workers to pursue pay discrimination cases beyond the arbitrary, unreasonable window that had been set up by the Supreme Court. When President Obama signed that first bill, his first bill as President of the United States, he handed the first pen of that signing to Senator Barbara Mikulski. It was entirely appropriate. No one has dedicated more of her professional and public life to this cause of justice than Senator Mikulski.

It is nearly 50 years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act. Now we have to ask ourselves, well, how are things going in America when it comes to equal pay? It turns out that when it comes to the managerial positions of women and men, women make 81 cents for every dollar paid to a man when they are managers of a business. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the gap grows larger--77 cents for your daughter as opposed to a dollar for your son--when you look at the entire working population. As the father of a daughter and a son, that is unfair.

According to the Joint Economic Committee, on average, women in my State of Illinois earn about 78 cents for every dollar paid to a man. What does that add up to over a lifetime? That adds up to over $480,000 in wages that are denied to a woman who is doing exactly the same work as a man. That is money that could be used to pay the mortgage, to buy the groceries, to put kids through school, and maybe even fill the gas tank. That money is denied to women day after day, week after week, month after month because of basic discrimination in the workplace.

We cannot ignore this gender wage gap. It is too large and, unfortunately, shrinking too slowly. The Paycheck Fairness Act--when we have a chance to vote on it--will narrow that pay gap by clarifying that the difference between a man and a woman is not an adequate reason to differentiate pay. It also guarantees that women facing discrimination have access to the same remedies under the law as men and, under the law, as are afforded to racial and ethnic groups based on discrimination.

I am afraid to say it--and I hope I am wrong--that this afternoon when the rollcall is taken, it will be a partisan rollcall. There will be Democrats in favor of ending this discrimination, and virtually all Republicans--and I hope I am wrong about this--are going to vote against it.

Instead, the Republicans want to bring a different bill to the floor. I am not going to dwell on it other than to say that I like Senator Rubio, he is a friend of mine from Florida, but his bill is a very bad idea. It is called the RAISE Act. Simply stated, it innocently says that an employer who is party to a collective bargaining agreement with a union would be allowed to give a unilateral pay raise to selected employees of that employer's choice. Well, who is against a pay raise? So you take a closer look at it. What it does is it allows managers and employers to pick and choose among employees for these pay raises and, sadly, without any basis other than their personal decision. I am afraid I know where that leads. Unfortunately, it leads to the same kind of wage discrimination we see today between men and women. It may lead to nepotism. It may lead to kind of favorable treatment for some employees for reasons that have nothing to do with the workplace. This sounds so innocent, but it is not.

Under current law, unions and employers can agree to link pay increases and bonuses to performance, and that is the way it should be. In fact, many collective bargaining agreements already provide for merit-based pay increases. The Rubio approach is not good news for workers across America. It is no help to women across America facing wage discrimination.

This is not the first time or the only time we have had these battles of gender equity on the floor of the Senate on the question of whether we are going to have basic funding for health care for women across America. For over 40 years, we have been committed to title 10, and yet we have faced the elimination of title 10 funding from the

Republican leadership in the past. In fact, they threatened to shut down the government rather than provide this health care that women need. Many can remember a few weeks back on the Senate floor when Senator Blunt of Missouri filed an amendment to the Transportation bill allowing any employer or insurance company to deny health insurance for any essential or preventive health care service that the employer objected to because of his undefined religious or moral convictions. They could--for any reason--deny health coverage to an employee. Well, we defeated the Blunt of Missouri amendment. It was another attempt to try to give employers a way to discriminate against employees and, in many cases, against the women who work for them.

We have tried our very best to push through bipartisan legislation, such as the Violence Against Women Act, which in the past has passed overwhelmingly by a voice vote. Have you visited a domestic violence shelter? Have you seen a woman who has been a victim of domestic violence? I have. In Champagne, IL, a woman sitting across the table from me had a baby on her lap and had a big black eye. She had been punched in the face by her husband, and she came to the shelter looking for a helping hand. You can't look into the teary-eyed face of a mother and think that this is not a good cause and a just cause. Instead, it turned out to be a political battle here as to whether we were going to pass the Violence Against Women Act. We did, and I am glad we did. It stalled over in the House of Representatives because they refused to move that forward so we could provide this kind of protection.

Time and time again, the basic legislation to protect women, families, and children used to be done on a bipartisan basis, used to be done unanimously, with supporters from both sides of the aisle, and it has now turned into partisan political bickering. Let's hope that when it comes to this bill, this question of fairness in the paychecks of women and men across America, that maybe I will be just flatout wrong. Maybe at 2:30 we are going to see a return to that thrilling era in the Senate history when Democrats and Republicans stood together for fairness and justice. We will give our colleagues a chance at 2:30.


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