WASHINGTON — After more than two decades of persistence, Representative Rosa DeLauro sees a chance growing for Congress to pass her Paycheck Fairness Act and make good on President John F. Kennedy’s affirmation in 1963 that “when women enter the labor force, they will find equality in their pay envelope.”
“Women are motivated, they are activated, they are watching and we are listening,” DeLauro said.
DeLauro first introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act in 1997 as a way to address the gender wage gap that today leaves women earning 20 percent less than men. It’s been opposed broadly by Republicans over the years, who have kept it from becoming law.
The House last week approved the bill sending it to the Senate where the Republican majority likely will not allow it to come up for a vote this session.
DeLauro, however, is encouraged as she sees public opinion turn in favor of treating women with respect. On Tuesday, she stood in the U.S. Capitol next to actress Michelle Williams, who became a poster child for the issue of gender pay gap when it was reported she earned $1,000 for reshooting movie scenes in 2018 while co-star Mark Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million. Her story blew up on social media during a time when the Me Two and Time’s Up movements gained widespread attention.
Williams retold her story Tuesday noting that she was not surprised to learn she was paid less than a man. But, it raised concerns for how women in low-wage industries are harmed by such discrimination.
“If it’s this way for me — a white woman in a glamorized industry — how were my sisters suffering across their professions?”
Williams reported that her work environment has improved dramatically. She was paid the same as male co-stars on her last job and was treated with respect. “Rather than being grasped too tightly or hugged for too long at the morning meeting my hand was shaken and I was looked squarely in the eye as I was welcomed to my Monday morning,” she said.
Tuesday’s event was scheduled to commemorate Equal Pay Day — marking a point on the calendar when the average woman finally catches up to the average man’s earnings from the previous year. At 80 cents on the dollar, that means a woman must work an additional 92 days in the year to equal a man’s annual salary.
DeLauro first introduced her “Paycheck Fairness Act” in June 1997 — and has reintroduced it in every session since — to make good on a law signed by President John F. Kennedy in June 1963 to abolish wage disparity based on sex. The “Equal Pay Act” prohibited employers from paying different wages for the same work based on gender.
Last week, the House voted in favor of the bill, 242-187, with seven Republicans in favor.
During floor debate, DeLauro explained the legislation is needed to correct ongoing gender disparities in pay.
“Under existing law, damages are too insubstantial to provide women with full restitution or provide bad-acting companies a meaningful deterrent,” she said.
DeLauro said her bill would:
• Allow women to sue for compensatory and punitive damages.
• Better protect employees from being fired for sharing their salary with coworkers.
• Establish a grant program to provide salary negotiation training for girls and for women.
• And, ensure employers are not reliant on wage history when they hire an employee.
DeLauro said pay discrimination is “very real.”
“Women continue to earn 20 percent less than men, on average, according to Census data. Women earn less regardless of the choices they make in their career or education. Across industries, whether you are a financial manager, a registered nurse, a schoolteacher, or an executive, a pay gap exists between men and women,” she said.
Calling the bill “deeply flawed,” Missouri Republican Vicky Hartzler argued during floor debate that the legislation would offer no new protections to women but simply encourage lawsuits against employers by providing unlimited monetary damages and stacking the deck against employers by creating an “impossibly high burden of proof” for them to defend against gender pay discrimination claims. She also complained it would establish onerous reporting requirements on “job creators.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised DeLauro’s efforts calling her “the godmother” of “so many initiatives” for working families.
“The ability to balance work, to balance work and home is a challenge that many families face, men and women alike, but Rosa DeLauro has been a constant champion for America’s working families,” Pelosi said. “While we are talking today about equality in the paycheck, she has also been a champion for paid sick leave and affordable childcare. The list goes on and on.”
Pelosi said paycheck fairness is a first step for Democrats as they seek to “unlock the full economic power of women.” She pointed to paid sick leave and affordable childcare as issues that House Democrats will tackle in the future.
Senator Patty Murray of Washington has introduced companion legislation in the Senate with 46 co-sponsors including Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy. There are no Republican co-sponsors.
DeLauro’s bill had 239 co-sponsors including one Republican, Christopher Smith of New Jersey. Connecticut’s John Larson, Joe Courtney, Jahana Hayes, and Jim Himes all co-sponsored.