Obama Executive Order Marks Equal Pay Day Push; Senate GOP Kills Debate on Pay Equity Bill

WASHINGTON –Democratic President Barack Obama’s executive order banning companies with federal contracts from retaliating against workers who discuss their pay with each other, and a Senate vote on pay equity legislation, marked the “equal pay day” push of 2014.

But while Obama’s orders marked Equal Pay Day on April 8, the Senate failed to come through on April 9.  Senate Democrats needed 60 votes to stop a GOP attempt to prevent debate on the pay equity bill, S2199.  The vote was 53-44 – not enough

“In a procedural vote to prevent debate on equal pay, the Paycheck Fairness Act was shot down in the Senate,” said Carol Rosenblatt, Executive Director of the Coalition of Labor Union Women.  “Despite the fact that most Americans believe equal pay is fair and just, it has been impossible to get a fair vote,” she added.  That comment refers to the same scenario of a successful GOP blockade of debate, two years ago.

“While we are outraged now, the fight will not be over until we win,” Rosenblatt added.  “But it is important now for you to know how your senators voted.  Call your senators and thank those that supported equal pay for women and let those that did not know how you feel and that you will remember when it is time for you to vote ON ELECTION DAY (her emphasis).”

Equal Pay Day, April 8, was the day when the median wage of a working woman for 2013 plus extra days of 2014 equals the median wage for a working man in the same job and with the same qualifications, in 2013 alone.

That’s because the median working woman earned 77 cents in 2013 for every dollar the median working man earned.  The median for an African-American working woman was 64 cents per dollar.  It was 54 cents per dollar for a Latina.

Obama issued his orders as part of his promise to act to improve U.S. workers’ incomes where dysfunctional Congress won’t.  Obama “strongly supports”  S2199, the Paycheck Fairness Act, he told Congress.

The measure “would give women additional tools to fight pay discrimination,” he added.  As for his orders, he told a press conference “pay secrecy fosters discrimination, and we should not tolerate it in the federal government or anywhere else.”

Leaders of unions and women’s rights groups hailed Obama’s actions, but added that because they’re executive orders – which a future president can revoke or reverse – there is no substitute for a new pay equity law, such as the one the GOP rejected.

“Today, women are paid 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, which basically means they’ve worked the first three months of this year for free.  That’s not right,” said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, the federation’s #2 official.

“For more than 50 years, equal pay law has been on the books but it hasn’t been enough,” she continued.  “The best pay equalizer is union membership, but most workers don’t have that advantage.”  Federal data show the median wage for unionized working women is 90.6% of the median for unionized working men.

“From equal pay to the minimum wage to strengthening workers’ rights, it’s more important than ever for our leaders to seriously address issues that help raise wages.  Obama’s executive order for federal contractors is a good start, but we need legislation and we need it now,” Shuler added.

Senate defeat of even starting debate on the pay equity bill “is a deeply disappointing missed opportunity to combat pay discrimination and take a step toward ensuring the equal pay women and their families want, need and deserve,” said Debra Ness, president of the pro-worker National Partnership for Women and Families.  “It is inexcusable that partisanship and baseless attacks blocked this common sense bill.”

Data released by women’s rights groups and based on federal census and income reports show a wide variation in unequal pay between men and women, by state.   The biggest gaps are in Right Wing and “right to work” states: Wyoming, Louisiana, West Virginia, Utah and Alabama, in that order.  The average working woman nationwide loses $11,607 per year to the equal pay gap, Ness said.

AFGE President J. David Cox suggested another way to close the pay equity gap: Dump private-sector contractors, who work for the government and who discriminate, and bring those jobs back in-house, where rules are more equal.  “Simply by bringing more work in-house, Obama could cut the gender pay gap in half,” Cox said.

“If the gap were eliminated, women who work in California could buy 59 more weeks of food.  Ohio’s working women could afford nine more months of mortgage and utilities payments.  Working women in Georgia could afford 10 more months of rent.  And women employed in Florida could afford 1,900+ more gallons of gas,” NPWF said.

“Unfair wages cause real and lasting harm to women, the families they support, and to our economy,” Ness added.  Shuler previously noted the minimum wage plays a role, too: More than two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women.