Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy
On Equal Pay Day
April 12, 2011
Mr. LEAHY. Today, the Nation commemorates Equal Pay Day, an annual occasion that celebrates the gains that women have made in the workplace over the last century, but which also reminds us all that pay discrimination still exists in the United States. In today's economy, a troubling constant remains: women continue to earn less than men. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, on average, women working full-time still make only 78 cents for every dollar working men receive. For minority women, this statistic becomes even more sobering.
The U.S. Department of Labor also reports an increasing number of families where women are the head of the household, and correspondingly, the primary source of income. Despite the signs of economic recovery, many women and families continue to struggle to make ends meet. This issue is not one that just impacts one individual; it creates additional economic hardship for entire families. Vermont is a leader in the Nation on fair pay practices, and eight years ago, the state acted to pass an equal pay act, which prohibits compensating women and men differently for equal work that requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility under similar working conditions. Now in Vermont, employers cannot require wage non-disclosure agreements, and employees are protected from retaliation for disclosing their own wage. Still, there is room for improvement. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Vermont women working full-time earn wages amounting to 81.9 percent of what men earn. We must work harder to ensure that women are paid equal wages for equal work, across the country.
The 1963 Equal Pay Act was enacted to protect employees against discrimination with respect to compensation because of an individual's race, color, religion, sex or national origin. While we have made progress, our work is not done. Hardworking women – and the American people – earned a long fought victory in early 2009, when President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court's devastating decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire, a decision that rolled back years of progress to eliminate workplace discrimination. But the efforts to achieve parity for women in the workplace continues.
Two bills introduced today will help the United States reach that goal. These bills include provisions similar to those enacted in Vermont. The Paycheck Fairness Act, which was introduced by Senator Mikulski and which I am proud to cosponsor, creates stronger incentives for employers to follow the law; strengthens penalties for equal pay violations; and prohibits retaliation against workers for disclosing their own wage information. This bill passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support over a year ago, and deserves action in the Senate. The Fair Pay Act, which was introduced by Senator Harkin and which I am also proud to cosponsor, requires employers to pay equally for jobs of comparable skill, efforts and working conditions, and to disclose pay scales and rates for all job categories at a given company. To effectively close the wage gap we must address the systemic problems that are resulting in pay disparities. I believe both these bills are essential steps to closing the wage gap.
Equal pay for equal work is neither a Democratic nor Republican issue; it is an American value. It is neither a private sector nor a public sector issue; it is a fundamental issue of fairness. Sadly, wage discrimination affects women of every generation and every socioeconomic background. It is not limited to one career path or level of education. The Senate should pass the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Fair Pay Act, and work toward other solutions to ensure our daughters and granddaughters, and all future generations of Americans, are not subject to the same discrimination that has plagued women for decades.
# # # # #
United States Senator