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Society of Women Engineers

Congress in Action: Maintaining the Gender Pay Gap

Failure to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act reveals problematic concerns in the Senate.

Published On: April 2015

Congress returned from their August recess on Sept. 8 and was adjourned by Sept. 19. While in session, the Paycheck Fairness Act was discussed in the Senate. It died there.

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) reintroduced the Paycheck Fairness Act (S.2199) in April 2014. It seeks to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to more effectively eliminate the gender gap in wages created by discrimination on the basis of sex. In it, employers are required to provide ‘bona fide’ proof that a disparity in pay is not due to sex discrimination. Also included is a no retaliation provision that protects employees who file complaints, penalties for violations and an establishment of a national award for pay equity in the workplace.

The passage of this amendment is long overdue. Recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that women are making 78 cents for every dollar that men make for the same work. The percentages are even lower for women of color as African American women are making 64 cents, American Indian women make 59 cents and Hispanic women make 54 cents on the dollar when compared to Caucasian males. NSF data reveals that the median annual salary of scientists and engineers in 2010 was $83K for men and $69K for women. The Paycheck Fairness Act would create a safer environment for women to contest pay equity issues and in the long run help to close the wage gap.

Though this topic was discussed on the floor of the Senate, no decision was reached as Senate Republicans effectively blocked a vote on the bill via a strategic filibuster and Democrats were unable to get the three-fifths votes needed to end the filibuster (cloture). The cloture rule is the only formal procedure for breaking a filibuster. Making no progress, the Senate moved on to other matters. A cloture motion was previously rejected back in April, 2014, making this the second time that the Paycheck Fairness Act was killed on the Senate floor. The House of Representatives will be back in session on Nov. 12 and the Senate will be back on Oct. 15.

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