Women deserve equal pay for equal work (Sen. Tom Harkin)

On average, women lose an estimated $700,000 over their lifetimes
due to unequal pay practices, and this inequality means real hardships
for their families.

And, while many factors influence a worker’s earnings — including
educational attainment, work experience, and family status — even when
controlling for many of these variables, a substantial portion of the
wage gap cannot be explained by anything but discrimination.

One of us experienced this discrimination personally. Over nearly
two decades of work, Lilly received performance awards and outstanding
reviews. Yet, late in her career, she learned that she had been paid
significantly less than men in the company doing the exact same job.
When she sued, a jury reviewed the evidence and concluded that she was
paid less because of her sex.

Outrageously, the Supreme Court reversed the jury’s verdict. They
held that even though companies that discriminate do so covertly and do
not reveal what male workers earn, Lilly somehow should have known that
she had been discriminated against within 180 days of when she was
hired. Because workers like Lilly do not learn of pay inequities for
years, the decision left no recourse for her, or other victims of wage
discrimination.

Largely because of Lilly’s determination, the first legislation
passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama was the Lilly
Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Very simply, this law reversed the Court’s
decision.

We celebrate enactment of this important law, but we must recognize that it was only a first step. We need to do much more.

First, there are too many loopholes and too many barriers to
effective enforcement of existing laws. That is why we strongly support
the Paycheck Fairness Act. This bill — which is sponsored by Senator
Dodd, Senator Mikulski, and Representative Rose DeLauro — would
strengthen penalties for discrimination and give women the tools they
need to identify and confront unfair treatment.

In January, the House of Representatives passed the bill
overwhelmingly on a bipartisan basis. And, last month, the Senate
Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, chaired by Senator
Harkin, held a hearing on this long-overdue bill. We hope that the
Senate can pass the bill and send it to the President’s desk this year.

In addition, we must recognize that the problem of unequal pay goes
beyond insidious discrimination. As a nation, we unjustly devalue jobs
traditionally performed by women, even when they require comparable
skills to jobs traditionally performed by men. Why is a housekeeper
worth less than a janitor? Why is a parking meter reader worth less
than an electrical meter reader? To address this more subtle
discrimination, Senator Harkin, along with Representative Norton, has
introduced the Fair Pay Act to ensure that employers provide equal pay
for jobs that are equivalent in skill, effort, responsibility and
working conditions. We must act this year to pass this legislation, and
eliminate the subtle and systematic issues that lead to unequal pay.

On this Equal Pay Day, let us recommit to eliminating discrimination in
the workplace and ensuring that all Americans receive equal pay for
equal work. America’s working women and the families that rely on them
deserve fairness on the job. Our aim is simple: We pledge to fight pay
discrimination until we have achieved true equality in the workplace
and there is no need to commemorate equal pay day any more.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is Chairman of the Senate Health, Education,
Labor and Pensions Committee. Lilly Ledbetter was the plaintiff in the
American employment discrimination case
Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 is named after her.

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