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Public Statements

Paycheck Fairness Act - Motion to Proceed--Resumed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. HARKIN. Mr. President, I thank Senator Mikulski for her tremendous leadership on this issue--a lot of issues, quite frankly. But she has focused laser-like attention on this issue for so long, and I would hope, when we have this vote at 2:30, we can at least get to the bill and debate the bill and have amendments on the bill. But I am afraid our Republican colleagues are not going to let us do that.

Again, I applaud the senior Senator from Maryland, Ms. Mikulski, for introducing the Paycheck Fairness Act and fighting so hard for so long for it.

Again, to repeat what has been said before--but I think it needs to be repeated time and time again--in 1963, Congress responded to wage disparities between men and women by passing the Equal Pay Act of 1963. At that time, 25 million female workers earned just 60 percent of the average pay for men.

Now, nearly half a century after the passage of that landmark law, we have made some progress toward eliminating this gross inequality, but it is not enough. There should be no gap. But today, a wage gap continues to exist within every segment of our economy, at all education levels and in all occupations. So for every $1 a man earns now, a woman earns just 77 cents. That is better than 60 cents, as it was in 1963. But one would think a half a century later we would at least be equivalent. But now it is still just 77 cents.

Women's lower wages add up tremendously over a career. Over the course of a 40-year career, women, on average, earn nearly $400,000 less than men. Women with a college degree or more face a career wage gap of more than $700,000 over a lifetime of work when compared with men with the same education.

The consequences of the gender pay gap are enormous, impacting not just women but families as well. In today's economy, women represent half of all workers and earn an increasing share of family income. Two-thirds of mothers are major contributors to family income. In today's economy, when a mother earns less than her male colleagues, it is her family--her family--that often must sacrifice even the basic necessities, such as purchasing needed pharmaceuticals and putting healthy food on the table. In many cases, women have to work more hours to earn the same paycheck as men, reducing time spent with their family.

While many factors influence a worker's earnings--including occupation, education, and work experience--there is overwhelming evidence that actual gender discrimination accounts for much of the disparity between men's and women's pay. But, unfortunately, our laws have not done enough to prevent this discrimination.

While I am pleased that the first piece of legislation President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act--again, that was only a first step; we need to do much more--too many women are still not getting paid equally for doing the exact same job as men. This is illegal, but it happens every day. There are just too many loopholes in our existing laws and too many barriers to effective enforcement.

That is why we need to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. I thank Senator Mikulski for her leadership in advancing this bill. In 2010, we had a hearing on this in our committee, and I was hopeful it would pass in the last Congress. But as has happened too often in recent years, Senate Republicans filibustered the bill. So understand this: 58 U.S. Senators--58; that is more than just a small majority, that is a big majority--voted to support this legislation. But because of Republican obstructionism and filibusters, we could not even proceed to debate the bill because we had to have 60. We had 58 Senators supporting the bill. That was 2 years ago.

Two years later, Republican obstructionism continues. I want the American people to understand this. Republicans--the minority party--are preventing this Senate from even considering the issue of unequal wages and gender discrimination. Let me repeat: Republicans are not just preventing this important legislation from receiving an up-or-down vote, they are preventing the Senate--supposedly the world's greatest deliberative body--from even debating and considering the bill. Millions of women and their families are concerned about the fact that they get paid less than their male colleagues. Nevertheless, Republicans will not even allow a debate on the issue in this body, debate and amendment on the bill.

As an aside, I might say another reason why we need filibuster reform. This country cannot go on like this. This country cannot go on with gridlock as we have had it in the Senate. We need to reform and do away with the filibuster as it now is being used. We need to do away with it when the Senate reconvenes after the election next January.

Strengthening our existing laws by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act is the next step toward wage equality, but it cannot be the last one. We must also tackle the more subtle discrimination that occurs when we systematically undervalue the work traditionally done by women--I repeat, when we undervalue the work traditionally done by women.

The fact is, millions of female-dominated jobs--jobs that are equivalent in skills, effort, responsibility, and working conditions to similar jobs dominated by men--pay significantly less than the male-dominated jobs. This is hard to fathom and impossible to justify.

Let me point out a couple things. Why is a housekeeper worth less than a janitor? Mr. President, 89 percent of maids are female; 67 percent of janitors are male. While the jobs are equivalent, the median weekly earnings for a maid is $387; for a janitor, it is $463.

Truckdrivers--a job that is 95 percent male--have a median weekly earnings of $686. In contrast, a childcare worker--a job that is 95 percent female--OK, we got that: truckdrivers are 95 percent male, they get $686 a week, median; a childcare worker, 95 percent female, has median weekly earnings of $400.

Why do we value someone who moves products more than we value someone who looks after the safety and well-being of our children? I am not here to say the truckdriver is overpaid; it is to say that jobs we consider ``women's work'' are underpaid.

When we connect these things we say: You are right. Jobs we think of traditionally as being women's jobs are totally undervalued in our society. That is why in every session of Congress since 1996 I have introduced the Fair Pay Act along with Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, which would require employers to require equal pay for equivalent jobs--equalize pay for equal jobs. This bill would require employers to provide equal pay for jobs that are equivalent in skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions.

Now, one might say: Well, that sounds way out. How can we do that? Well, in 1982, the State of Minnesota implemented a pay equity plan for its State employees. They found that women were segregated into historically female-dominated jobs, and these jobs paid 20 percent less than male-dominated jobs. So the State of Minnesota instituted this law. Pay equity wage adjustments were phased in over 4 years, leading to an average pay increase of $200 per month for women in female-dominated jobs. The wage gap closed by approximately 9 percent.

In 1984, the Republican Governor, Republican Legislature, passed similar legislation in the State of Iowa: pay equity for equivalent jobs--equivalent jobs. So this is not unheard of in this country. It is unheard of for us to do it at the Federal level covering everybody, but some States have already taken leave--as I said, Minnesota in 1982 and Iowa in 1984.

This bill would require employers to publicly disclose their job categories and pay scales--not individual employees' pay but their categories and pay scales. That way a woman would know whether she needed to negotiate a better deal. Right now women who believe they are the victim of pay discrimination must file a lawsuit and endure a drawn-out legal discovery process to find out whether they make less than the man working beside them. Well, with pay statistics readily available for categories and pay scales, this whole process could be avoided.

I asked Lilly Ledbetter at a hearing once: If the Fair Pay Act, the one I am talking about now, had been law, would it have obviated your wage discrimination case? She said with the information about pay scales this bill provides, she would have known she was a victim of discrimination and could have addressed the problem much sooner, before it caused a lifelong drop in her earnings and before she had to go all the way to the Supreme Court to try to make things right.

If Republicans allowed us to proceed to the bill, I would offer the Fair Pay Act as an amendment. Yet I emphasize again, because of the Republican obstructionism, we cannot even debate or amend the bill. We cannot even bring it up and amend the bill.

Finally, I want to comment on the RAISE Act. My Republican colleagues would have us believe that we can solve the pay gap by allowing employers to give merit-based pay increases above levels negotiated in a collective bargaining agreement. Well, this is nonsense. The RAISE Act has nothing do with women's pay. Rather than seriously discussing gender discrimination, the Republicans have tried to change the subject by resorting to yet another partisan attack on organized labor--on labor unions.

In fact, not only does the RAISE Act do nothing to address the discrimination faced by women in this country, the RAISE Act would both exacerbate the wage gap and lower pay for all workers. Collective bargaining agreements raise wages for all workers. The RAISE Act would undermine collective bargaining by requiring that all union contracts include provisions allowing employers to unilaterally grant wage increases to select employees.

The primary effect would be to weaken the union's ability to bargain for higher wages for all workers. It would also give employers unfettered discretion to dole out pay increases to preferred employees. That is a recipe for more discrimination, not less.

I urge my colleagues to stand with Senator Mikulski in support of the Paycheck Fairness Act today. It is a simple, commonsense piece of legislation. There is no reason we should not take it up and pass it right away. Once we have closed the loopholes and ensured effective enforcement of the Equal Pay Act, we must turn our attention to the millions of women, especially low-wage workers, whose work is undervalued. Think of childcare workers. Think of the women who are now taking care of our elderly who are living longer but need supportive care in their later years, mostly women. Why is that work being undervalued? We must ensure they receive the recognition and fair treatment and fair pay they deserve by passing the Fair Pay Act.

In closing, the fight for economic equality is far from over. It should not be over until every working woman in America receives a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.

As the chair of the HELP Committee, I plan to keep advocating for fair pay and focusing on equal wages until we have achieved real equality for women across the country. But first things first. It is time for our Republican colleagues to end the filibuster and allow the Pay Check Fairness Act to come to the floor this afternoon for debate, amendments, and a final vote.


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