The Senate blocked efforts to advance the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) by a 54-43 vote today along strict party lines, with Republicans and moderates - including Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) - voting no. Senator Reid, the Democratic Majority Leader, switched his vote to no so he could bring the bill to the floor in the future for an additional attempt to pass.
Immediately after the procedural vote failed, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chief sponsor of the PFA, went to the floor and vowed to continue the fight. Mikulski had delivered a passionate speech earlier imploring the Senate to "lift the veil of secrecy" on wages. She said it brings "tears to her eyes" knowing of the struggles that working women and their families experience when they try to make ends meet. Senator Patty Murray summed up the feelings of many feminists when she tweeted, "This isn't over. We aren't going to let GOP of the hook on #PaycheckFairness. Time for them to give women a #fairshot at #equal pay."
"The Feminist Majority and the women's movement will not rest until the gender wage gap is closed and women are no longer cheated on pay day," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority. "The Republicans are simply standing in the doorway blocking progress for employed women," said Smeal.
The PFA would strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by prohibiting retaliation against employees who reveal and discuss wages with co-workers, requiring employers to provide the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission pay data by sex, race and national origin of employees, facilitating the ability to file class actions in equal pay cases, and permitting prevailing plaintiffs - women or men- to receive not only compensatory or back pay but also punitive damages. Currently, plaintiffs in race or ethnicity wage discrimination cases can win punitive damages, but this is not so for plaintiffs taking gender equal pay cases to court.
The PFA filibuster came one day after President Obama signed an executive order lifting the veil of secrecy in wages for employees of federal contractors. Under this executive order, federal contractors are prohibited from retaliating against employees "who choose to discuss their compensation." President Obama also signed a Presidential Memorandum "instructing the Secretary of Labor to establish new regulations requiring federal contractors to submit to the Department of Labor summary data on compensation paid to their employees, including data by sex and race." Such data will be an effective tool in ending wage discrimination against women, African Americans and Latino/as.
"Women's rights and civil rights advocates have been fighting for these advances for over four decades. Finally, thanks to President Obama, we have a breakthrough. But we will not stop fighting until it is the law of the land for the vast majority of employers - not just federal contractors. Women deserve equal pay, and we will not stop until it is a reality and the loopholes that permit cheating women employees are closed," continued Smeal.
Media Resources: The White House 4/8/14; Huffington Post 4/9/14; Feminist Newswire 4/4/14, 4/8/14