President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order for the non-retaliation for disclosure of compensation information on April 8, 2014. The next day, April 9, 2014, the Paycheck Fairness Act failed to pass in the Senate with a vote of 53-44, missing the needed 60 votes.
In part one of this article, the Ban Bossy campaign was discussed by two Arizona business leaders, and what women need to do to break the glass ceiling. The Executive Orders and the Paycheck Fairness Act are two items that are meant to help women receive equal wages for equal work because statistics show that women make 77 percent of what men make for equal work.
One of the major problems facing women in the workplace is that wages cannot be discussed, so most people do not know if they are receiving discriminatory wages. The Executive Order for non-retaliation for disclosure of compensation allows employees of Federal contractors to discuss their compensation without fear of adverse action. Section 1 of the policy states that the executive branch is trying to enforce the civil rights laws of the United States including those laws that prohibit discriminatory practices with respect to compensation and that Federal contractors that employ such practices are subject to enforcement action.
Section 1 states, “When employees are prohibited from inquiring about, disclosing, or discussing their compensation with fellow workers, compensation discrimination is much more difficult to discover and remediate, and more likely to persist.”
This Executive Order follows Obama’s first signed bill from 2009: the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration. When signing the bill in the company of Lilly Ledbetter, Obama exclaimed, “Lilly Ledbetter didn’t set out to be a trailblazer or a household name. She was just a good hard worker who did her job – and did it well – for nearly two decades before discovering that for years, she was paid less than her male colleagues for the very same work. Over the course of her career, she lost more than $200,000 in salary, and even more in pension and Social Security benefits – losses she still feels today.”
Five years later, women continue to fight for equal pay for equal work, leading to the new Executive Order and Paycheck Fairness Act. Although women, especially women of color, suffer from unequal pay, Obama stated at the 2009 bill signing that equal pay is not just a women’s issue, but a family issue. He said, “It’s about parents who find themselves with less money for tuition or child care; couples who wind up with less to retire on . . . And in this economy, when so many folks are already working harder for less and struggling to get by, the last thing they can afford is losing part of each month’s paycheck to simple discrimination.”
So why would the Senate block the Paycheck Fairness Act in 2014? There are many thoughts about why the Senate Republicans blocked the bill including that the Senate would not consider Republican amendments to the measure, Senate Democrats wanted to control the debate, the bill would lead to job losses and the bill was only an election-year ploy.
Senator Mitch McConnell explained that the bill would hurt employers. He stated, “At a time when the Obama economy is already hurting women so much, this legislation would double down on job loss – all while lining the pockets of trial lawyers. In other words, it’s just another Democrat idea that threatens to hurt the very people it claims to help.” He continued to explain that the bill was part of a broader strategy to appeal to low- and middle-income voters, the same as the move to increase the federal minimum wage and long-term unemployment benefits.
McConnell explained, “For weeks now, they’ve blocked the efforts Republicans have made to improve the picture. Senate Democrats want to control this debate from start to finish and basically do nothing to help with our efforts to expand opportunity and jobs for women and for men. They continue to block all the innovative ideas that Republicans have been offering to turn the tide.”
Senator Kelly Ayotte also explained why Republican women opposed the bill. “There are two other laws that already cover this issue in addition to Lilly Ledbetter. I believe those laws should be enforced. And obviously I think it’s self-evident that I’m for women receiving equal pay. In fact, I’d like them to be paid more.”
From the other perspective, Senator Barbara Mikulski, who sponsored the bill, gave a passionate speech about the bill before the vote occurred. She said, “I’ll tell you what I’m tired of hearing – that somehow or another we’re too emotional when we talk. You know, when we raise an issue, we’re too emotional. Well, I am emotional. If we don’t pass this bill, I’m so emotional I’m going to press on. It brings tears to my eyes to know how women every, single day are working so hard and are getting paid less. It makes me emotional to hear that.” She concluded with a call to action: “Today is the day that’s a reckoning on ‘Do you want equal pay for equal work?’ and I want men and women all across America to be emotional about it. If you think we’re emotional, wait till you see what happens if this bill fails.”
After the bill failed to pass, Mikulski called for women to keep fighting. “Let’s suit up. Let’s square our shoulders. For the women, put your lipstick on and let’s fight on. We will be back another day for another vote,” she exclaimed.
Based upon the social movements looking to empower women and the persistence of senators like Mikulski, women are not going to put down this fight. This is the third time that the Paycheck Fairness Act has failed to pass, but it appears that Mikulski refuses to admit defeat. Lean In, Ban Bossy, the Paycheck Fairness Act and other movements are calling women to use their voices and to empower themselves. We shall see what these movements bring for the future.
If you missed part one of this article, check it out here.