November 18 2010

Paycheck Fairness Act Doesn't Pass in Senate

Charlotte Hays

The Paycheck Fairness Act was voted down in the Senate yesterday, despite bearing an Orwellian name that was designed to give the impression that it had something to do with fairness. The vote was 58, 41.

My colleague Romina Boccia (here and here) is IWF's ranking expert on PFA, and I feel certain that she will have much to say about this defeat. But, as the staff person who's been at IWF longest, I feel I am entitled to offers a few thoughts, starting with this: yippee!

This was a signal defeat for ideology-based law that simply doesn't reflect reality. NOW President Terry O'Neill issued a statement yesterday that was headlined: "Paycheck Fairness Act Blocked, Foreshadowing Challenging Future for Women's Equality."

Rather than view this vote as a defeat, we must take it as a rallying cry to stand up to the right wing and demonstrate our commitment to moving forward, despite their attempts to hold us back. 

Here is why we didn't need the Paycheck Fairness Act: Nobody is trying to hold women back. We get more than half the college degrees in this country, we often out-earn our male counterparts. PFA solved the problem (a discrepancy between what men and women are paid) that has solved itself over the last few decades. Yes, there once was a gap (though not such a large one as propaganda suggested), but it reflected choices women made. Women tended to take years off from the workforce or work part-time, and this was reflected in their paychecks.  But now that women make the same career choices as men, the gap has narrowed and in at least one demographic (young, never married women) the distaff side is out-earning the guys.

PFA would have been a boon not for women but for trial lawyers. It would have generated endless lawsuits, many of which were unworthy but would have been settled out of court to avoid embarrassment for a company.

A Wall Street Journal opinion piece had this to say:

Democrats hoped to get the equal pay bill through the Senate with the help of Republicans Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, who two years ago supported the Lilly Ledbetter bill, which allows people to file pay discrimination lawsuits for life without a statute of limitations. But yesterday's real surprise wasn't the wisdom of those Republican women, but was the Democrats running in 2012 who felt free to vote for this latest plaintiffs bar perk. Folks like Jon Tester of Montana, Jim Webb of Virginia and other red state Democrats put trial bar cash above job creation.

With unemployment at 9.6%, voters don't want Congress to decide what counts as "paycheck fairness." They'll settle for paychecks.

 So much really bad legislation has been passed over the years to appease a powerful lobby. Is this defeat (as Ms. O'Neill of NOW implied) a turning point?

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