As seen in The Gazette.
By Danielle E. Gaines, Staff Writer

Paycheck Fairness Act, spearheaded by Mikulski, could come to vote Tuesday
Critics say bill is burdensome for businesses

The federal Paycheck Fairness Act would give women more protection in seeking information about the salaries of their male colleagues and allow the government to enforce equal-pay standards, Democratic lawmakers said Monday.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) of Baltimore, is expected to be put to a cloture vote on Tuesday afternoon. Mikulski and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) would not say during a news conference Monday whether they had enough support from Republican members of the Senate to end debate and move forward with the vote.

The bill doesn’t have support from many Republican lawmakers because it would allow punitive damages against employers and is burdensome to businesses, according to analysts.

Schumer, however, said the bill is a “necessary ingredient for economic recovery” because women, on average, earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to nationwide averages from the U.S. Census Bureau. In Maryland, the average full-time weekly pay for women is $822, compared with $962 for men, according to a Joint Economic Committee analysis.

“I do recognize that discrimination does exist, but that statistic is misleading,” said Marc Kilmer, senior fellow at The Maryland Public Policy Institute, a conservative think tank.

Opponents of the bill, including the conservative group Independent Women’s Forum, say women make less than men for a number of reasons, including working fewer hours on average and taking jobs that emphasize greater flexibility as opposed to pay.

Kilmer said there already are court processes in place when discrimination does take place, and Mikulski’s bill would be too burdensome on employers.

The proposed bill requires employers to demonstrate that wage gaps between men and women doing the same work have a business justification and are truly a result of factors other than gender.

The bill also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who share salary information with their co-workers.

The bill also creates a competitive grant program to provide negotiation skills training for girls and women.

The anticipated Paycheck Fairness Act vote on Tuesday comes just days shy of the 49th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, which was passed on June 10, 1963.

In 1963, women earned 59 cents for every dollar men earned, Mikulski said.

“Though it’s been 49 years, women have only advanced 18 cents,” she said. “We should finalize and close the loopholes that have so deterred us.”

Similar legislation passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support in 2009, but garnered too few votes to move forward in the Senate in 2010.

On Monday, President Barack Obama (D) staged a news conference with supporters, urging bipartisan passage of the bill.