By Mariko Lin Chang
Last week, the Senate Republicans defeated the Paycheck Fairness Act. The bill would have strengthened the Equal Pay Act by providing more effective protections and remedies to victims of sex discrimination in wages, including prohibiting employers from retaliating against employees who discuss their wages with another employee, requiring employers to prove that wage differences between women and men doing the same work are the result of education, training, experience, or other job-related factors, and providing victims of sex discrimination in wages the same legal remedies currently available to those experiencing pay discrimination on the basis of race or national origin.
Was the bill perfect? Probably not (few, if any bills could be considered perfect). But the Republican senators threw the baby out with the bath water.
I think most members of the Senate believe that women should be paid the same amount as men for doing the same job. Yet many did not support the Paycheck Fairness Act. Perhaps their reluctance had to do with partisan politics or opponents’ arguments that it would be bad for business. Regardless of their reasons for not supporting the bill, if bill had been about pay discrimination on the basis of race, I think it would have passed long ago because the political fall-out for failing to oppose racial discrimination is much steeper than failing to oppose sex discrimination.
Why is it OK to continue to allow pay discrimination against women? Why do we accept this as a fact of life? And why should victims of sex discrimination in wages be denied the same legal remedies as victims of racial discrimination?
Issues pertaining to sex discrimination have been relegated to the second-class status of “women’s issues.” And because “women’s issues” have become imbued with divisive issues such as abortion, it has become more politically and socially acceptable to oppose legislation promoting the rights of women–even if it’s the right to equal pay.
Another reason the Paycheck Fairness Act experienced push-back is that many believe pay inequities are a result of women choosing jobs that are more compatible with family responsibilities or of women having less job experience because of years out of the labor force. But the Act did not state that women and men should receive the same pay regardless of work experience, occupation, or level of education. The Act acknowledged that pay differences based on these factors are not discrimination.
The Paycheck Fairness Act was about women receiving the same pay as men for doing the same work. It’s time we hold our Congressional representatives to the national principle that everyone (regardless of gender, race, national origin, or religion) deserves equal pay for equal work.
Mariko Lin Chang, PhD, is a former Associate Professor of Sociology at Harvard University. She currently works with universities to diversify their faculty and also works as an independent consultant specializing in data analysis of wealth inequality in the US. Chang is the author of Shortchanged: Why Women Have Less Wealth and What Can Be Done About It.