Economy

Republicans Unanimously Block Equal Pay Bill

CREDIT: AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

After allowing the Paycheck Fairness Act to move forward last week, Senate Republicans turned around on Monday evening and unanimously voted to block the bill, which would ban salary secrecy and tighten rules to try to narrow the gender wage gap.

The vote came weeks after the Republican National Committee claimed that “All Republicans support equal pay.” Senate Republicans have unanimously shot the bill down multiple times over the past four years.

The bill includes a number of provisions aimed at preventing the gender wage gap in the first place, which currently means a woman who works full time, year round makes 77 percent of what a similar man makes and hasn’t budged in a decade.

It would ban salary secrecy, in which employers prohibit or strongly discourage employees from discussing pay with each other, thus making it difficult for women to discover unequal practices. While it’s illegal to tell workers they can’t talk about wages with each other without a business justification, since it infringes on the right to engage in concerted activities for mutual aid, it’s still widespread: about half of private sector workers say they can’t talk about pay at work. But in workplaces without this practice, the wage gap shrinks. Among the federal workforce, where pay scales are usually transparent, the wage gap has fallen significantly over the past 20 years. It’s also falling among unionized workers, who similarly tend to have wage transparency.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would also narrow the definitions of what is considered a legitimate business-related justification for pay disparities between a man and a woman with the same skills, responsibilities, and working conditions, while increasing penalties for those who are found to have no reason for gaps. It’s meant to discourage unequal pay scales so that women don’t have to remedy situations by bringing lawsuits, which are time consuming, costly, and increasingly difficult to win.

Republicans say they are in favor of equal pay for women’s work, but they haven’t articulated their alternatives to the Democrats’ bill. Instead they say women are already protected and argue that the gap isn’t as big as the statistics say. But while it’s true that many factors go into the gender wage gap, it can’t be explained away and discrimination is likely at least partly to blame.