Debate on Capitol Hill over pay equity for women appears to be heating up as the November congressional elections approach. During the 2008 election, President Barack Obama made equal pay for women a key part of his campaign platform, and Democratic leaders appear poised to push the issue again.
By reintroducing a new version of the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 3772) on Sept. 14, 2010, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is looking to reignite debate on legislation (S. 182) that has remained stalled in the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee since January 2009, according to sources familiar with the issue.
The House of Representatives passed its version of the bill (H.R. 12) on Jan. 9, 2009. S. 182, the original Senate companion bill, was then introduced by Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. before she was confirmed as U.S. Secretary of State.
If enacted, the legislation would:
Make compensatory and punitive damages available as remedies in Equal Pay Act cases.
Authorize class actions governed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Mandate training and other outreach efforts by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Labor Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs on wage discrimination issues.
“I'm going to do my utmost to see if we can find a way to have a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act,” Reid said on the Senate floor as he introduced the new version of the bill. “It’s fair to do that, too, to do a better job of equalizing pay between men and women when they do the same work. It seems fairly basic.”
The legislation is essentially identical to the legislation passed by the House and introduced by Clinton. The reintroduction of the measure allows Reid to place his name as chief sponsor of the legislation and create new momentum for legislation that has been stalled for more than 18 months.
Reid has placed S. 3772 on the Senate’s legislative calendar, but sources familiar with the issue say that time is running short for the Senate to debate and vote on the measure. The Senate is scheduled to adjourn on Oct. 8, 2010, and the House could adjourn a week earlier as Congress wraps up its fall session and prepares for the congressional elections on Nov. 2, 2010.
The Democrats could force action on the bill, most likely procedural votes, just to get on record the senators who support or oppose the legislation. And in an election year, anything is possible, according to Michael Layman, manager of employment and labor for the Society for Human Resource Management’s government affairs department.
“There may be other election year reasons why Sen. Reid introduced his own version of the bill, but overall the new bill seems to simplify a very complicated parliamentary procedure situation for supporters of the Paycheck Fairness Act,” Layman said. “So with the elections looming, we could see a concentrated effort to get the legislation moving and a vote on the measure could happen sometime soon. It’s definitely something we will be watching closely.”
Bill Leonard is senior writer for SHRM.
Solis, Ledbetter Urge Passage of Paycheck Fairness Act, HR News, September 2010
Conduct a Pay Equity Study to Mitigate Litigation Risks, SHRM Online Compensation Discipline, September 2010
Five Reasons to Focus on Pay Equity in 2010, SHRM Online Compensation Discipline, March 2010