Mikulski Chairs HELP Committee Hearing on Paycheck Fairness Act

Senator introduced pay equity legislation to close wage gap costing women $434,000 over their careers

April 1, 2014

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, today chaired a hearing on the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation she introduced to help close the wage gap between women and men working equivalent jobs, costing women and their families $434,000 over their careers. The Senate is expected to take up the bill in the coming weeks.  

"We're here today for a very simple reason: to demand equal pay for equal work. Women are the backbone of our economy. They make up almost half of the workforce, and forty percent of them are the sole breadwinners in their families. The contributions of women in the workforce are undeniable, yet they still only make seventy-seven cents for every dollar a man makes. It's outrageous, and it's time for change," Senator Mikulski said. "It's not just for our pocketbooks—it's about the family checkbooks, and getting it right in the law books. It's time to end pay inequity and time for Congress to address this issue."

The hearing titled Access to Justice: Ensuring Equal Pay with the Paycheck Fairness Act, featured testimony from Associate Professor of Law Deborah Thompson Eisenberg from the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law in Baltimore, Maryland; Operations Manager ReShonda Young from Alpha Express, Inc. in Waterloo, Iowa; Mechanical Engineer Kerri Sleeman from Houghton, Michigan; Partner Camille Olson from Seyfarth Shaw in Chicago, Illinois.  

While women still make on average 77 cents to every dollar made by a male, the Paycheck Fairness Act builds on the promise of the Equal Pay Act, passed more than 50 years ago on June 10, 1963. It helps close the pay gap by empowering women to negotiate for equal pay, closing loopholes courts have created in the law, creating strong incentives for employers to obey the laws and strengthening federal outreach and enforcement efforts.  

State-by-state data on the wage gap is available here.

In January, President Obama renewed his call for Congress to pass the legislation in his State of the Union Address. The legislation would require employers to demonstrate that wage gaps between men and women doing the same work have a business justification and are truly a result of factors other than gender. The bill would prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who share salary information with their co-workers.  

The Paycheck Fairness Act also would strengthen the Department of Labor's (DOL) ability to help women achieve pay equity by requiring DOL to enhance outreach and training efforts to work with employers in order to eliminate pay disparities and to continue to collect and disseminate wage information based on gender. The bill would also create a competitive grant program to provide negotiation skills training programs for girls and women.  

Senator Mikulski's opening remarks at the hearing, as prepared, follow:  

"We're here today for a very simple reason: to demand equal pay for equal work. Women are the backbone of our economy. They make up almost half of the workforce, and forty percent of them are the sole breadwinners in their families. The contributions of women in the workforce are undeniable, yet they still only make seventy-seven cents for every dollar a man makes. It's outrageous, and it's time for change.  

"We're for policies that will help get more money into the family checkbook. And we can start by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, which will give women a raise, so they can raise their families and raise up the economy.  

"When the Equal Pay Act was signed into law in 1963, women made only 59 cents for every dollar earned by men. Today, it is 77 cents for every dollar. And it is even worse for women of color. If you are African American, you earn 62 cents for every dollar; if you are Hispanic, you earn 54 cents for every dollar.  

"Everybody likes to say to us, 'Oh, you've come a long way!' But I don't think we've come a long way. We've only gained 18 cents in 50 years! That means that every five years, we've made an advancement of just one penny. Who in this room thinks that earning one cent more every five years counts as 'coming a long way?' I sure don't. And neither do my constituents.  

"People say to me, 'Hey, Senator Barb, you led the fight on Lilly Ledbetter. Didn't that solve this problem?' That bill kept the courthouse doors open for women who are discriminated against, but that was just a down-payment on fully ending the pay gap. Now it's time to finish the job. Some claim that women already have tools to fight discrimination. But those tools are few and far between. And when they fight for fair pay, they are sidelined, redlined, pink-slipped, harassed and intimidated from getting equal pay.  

"The Paycheck Fairness Act is simple. First, no longer can workers be retaliated against for sharing information about wages. For years, Lilly Ledbetter was harassed and humiliated for just asking questions about her coworkers' salaries. Second, no longer will employers be able to use almost any reason to justify paying a woman less: 'Oh, the guys do harder jobs,' 'Oh, the guys do dangerous jobs,' 'Oh, they have a better education than you.' No—we're talking about equal pay for equal work. Third, no longer will women be limited to just back pay when they are discriminated against; under the bill, they can also seek punitive damages too. And finally, no longer will women be on their own, because we're going to provide training and education so people know when they are discriminated against, and what they can do about it.  

"The consequences of the pay gap are severe. Let's take a college graduate, a woman who's had the benefit and privilege of an education. When she goes for that first job—maybe in information technology or in some other innovation field—she could be making less from day one on the job. For women between the ages of 25 and 29, the annual pay gap is around $1,700 per year. For women closer to the age of retirement, the wage gap increases to more than $14,000 per year. By the time she retires, the average women will lose more than $431,000 over her lifetime because of the wage gap. That's enough to pay for more than seven four-year college degrees.  

"Now this is serious, because it not only affects your income as you go. It affects your Social Security, it affects your pension, it affects everything. When you earn less, you get less in Social Security benefits, you make smaller contributions to retirements plans, and this results in less retirement security. Women's Social Security benefits are about seventy-one percent of men's benefits. Women's income from private pensions based on their earnings is only about forty-eight percent of men's earnings. The negative impact just continues to multiply.  

"Women earn 23 cents less for every dollar a man earns, even when she does the same job and has the same education. Yet, women don't get a 23 percent discount on their student loans. They don't get 23 percent off their first mortgage or a discount on their utility bill, just because they earn less than men. In fact, women often pay more for many of the same goods and services. Women pay more in medical costs than men: an estimated $10,000 over a lifetime. Women are often responsible for child care—an average working mom pays more for child care than college tuition. Women even get charged more for dry cleaning!  

"We're not going to accept being paid less. We've paid attention to this problem. We've listened to the voices of the people. And we have a solution in the Paycheck Fairness Act. I believe people should be judged in the workplace on skills and competence—their unique talents and nothing else. And once you get that job, because of skills and talent, you better get equal pay for equal work. It's not just for our pocketbooks—it's about the family checkbooks, and getting it right in the law books. It's time to end pay inequity and time for Congress to address this issue. I look forward to the testimony today on this vitally important issue."