President Obama and congressional Democrats are proposing legislation designed to narrow the pay gap, based on discrimination, between the nation’s male and female workers. But the Paycheck Fairness Act was dead on arrival — even before arrival — in the Senate, where minority Republicans promptly blocked debate on the bill.
Equal pay for equal work should be standard in this country. Working women deserve a fair salary and decent benefits, just as their male counterparts do.
Employers should be held accountable for wage discrimination against women. Yet Senate Republicans, who blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act in 2010 and 2012, keep dodging the issue.
President Obama has issued an executive order that bans federal contractors from retaliating against workers who reveal their salaries publicly. He also has instructed the Labor Department to make rules that would require federal contractors to submit data about the salaries they pay their employees, including information about gender and race.
According to the White House, women who work full time earn, on average, 77 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. There is no easy way to establish pay equity between the sexes fairly: Factors such as education, family responsibilities, and differences among industries can skew the numbers.
But the principle of pay equity remains worth working for. It will take political courage — and action — to develop transparent rules that will help to close the gender gap.
The most recent version of pay-equity legislation would make it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who inquire about or disclose their wages or the wages of another worker, as part of a complaint or investigation. It would require employers to provide salary information about their employees.
Republicans argue the measure would open the floodgates to lawsuits. But movement toward establishing a level playing field is, or should be, an urgent national priority.
No one should be discriminated against because of gender, race, or ethnicity. And any employer who is paying some workers less based on any of these factors should be held legally accountable.
Lawmakers of both parties must be willing to compromise with President Obama to erase this ugly and sexist piece of history. Equal pay is not just a women’s issue; it’s an American issue.
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