WASHINGTON—Women’s groups, Democratic President Barack Obama and unions all celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, on June 10, by lauding the law and demanding Congress strengthen it.
The law, which President John F. Kennedy signed in 1963, sets equal pay for equal work as the standard for the U.S., but contains no teeth.
The result, various speakers said, is that 50 years later, the median pay for working women is 77 cents for every dollar of median pay for the working man in the same position.   The median, which is the point where half the people, are above and half below, was 59 cents in 1963.
With women being half of the workforce, that’s bad, Obama said.
 “When more women are bringing home the bacon, they shouldn’t just be getting a little bit of bacon.  If they’re bringing home more of the income and that income is less than a fair share, that means that families have less to get by on for childcare or health care, or gas or groceries,” he said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., singled out the Coalition of Labor Union Women, 9to5, the National Partnership for Women and Families and other womens’ groups for their fight to improve the law.  “Recognizing our economy depends on women in workplace, Kennedy took what he called, presciently ‘a first step,’” she told a Capitol Hill commemoration/press conference.
“He knew it was a first step to end the ‘unconscionable practice’ – his words – of paying women less than men for the same amount of work.  But in the course of 50 years loopholes in the Equal Pay Act were carved out and exploited.  Disparities among minority women widened.  And the ‘unconscionable practice’ persists.
Pelosi lauded Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., a longtime workers’ ally and Congress’ leading champion of women workers, for her Paycheck Fairness Act to put teeth into the old law.
DeLauro’s bill calls for protection of workers who exchange wage information, back pay and punitive damages when women prove firms break the Equal Pay Act, and says the firm must prove pay discrimination is not gender-based.  Like Pelosi, Obama endorsed DeLauro’s bill, but the GOP-run House refuses to even hold a hearing on it.
“Fifty years ago, President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act to confront the ‘serious and endemic’ problem of unequal wages,” DeLauro told a crowd in her hometown of New Haven, Conn., on June 10.  “But the problem still persists, with women making only 77 cents on the dollar for the same work as men.  That hurts both men and women, for when women bring home smaller paychecks than they have earned, their entire family has less money to support themselves.
“For this reason and more, we need to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.  It gives real teeth to existing law and holds employers accountable for discriminatory practices.” She noted the House passed it twice – but did not add that occurred when Democrats under Pelosi ran the House.  It also got a Senate majority, but DeLauro politely did not note it needed 60 votes to overcome a GOP filibuster last year, and did not get there.
“It took 18 years for the Equal Pay Act to pass after its first introduction and I first introduced Paycheck Fairness 16 years ago.  We are on the threshold, and American families cannot afford to wait any longer,” she concluded.