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Despite strong support from the White House, the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 2199) stalled on April 9, 2014, when Senate Democrats failed to muster enough support to overcome a Republican-led filibuster of the bill.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., had 52 co-sponsors, but Democratic leaders could not persuade GOP senators to support the legislation. A procedural vote fell largely down party lines in the Senate, and supporters of the measure failed to gather the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture and allow the legislation to move forward.
Opponents have argued that federal laws against pay discrimination already exist and that S. 2199 would increase government interference in the workplace and drastically raise the number of pay-equity lawsuits. Business groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Society for Human Resource Management, have expressed concerns that the bill would cause more damage than good and create administrative headaches for employers.
“At a time when the Obama economy is already hurting women so much, this legislation would double down on job loss, all while lining the pockets of trial lawyers,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters just before the vote. “In other words, it's just another Democratic idea that threatens to hurt the very people that it claims to help.”
Republicans announced their intention to attach multiple amendments to the bill, but Democrats refused to guarantee any votes on the GOP’s proposals. The pay equity bill is one of a series of worker pay issues Democrats are pushing and hoping to turn into campaign talking points for the November congressional elections. Party leaders have dubbed the campaign agenda “A Fair Shot for Everyone.”
President Barack Obama has been a vocal supporter of the Paycheck Fairness Act. On the day before the Senate vote, he signed an executive order that prohibits federal contractors from retaliating against workers who discuss their pay packages with their colleagues. In addition, the president signed a memorandum asking the Labor Secretary to establish regulations that require federal contractors to submit employee compensation data to the Department of Labor (DOL). The DOL will use the data to promote compliance with federal equal pay laws and to focus the department’s enforcement efforts.
Democrat leaders expressed disappointment that the legislation had once again stalled in the Senate. Similar proposals failed to pass in 2012 and 2010.
“While we lost today’s vote to move the Paycheck Fairness Act forward, we refuse to lose the battle. We are going to finish the fight to get equal pay for equal work,” said Mikulski in a written statement. “We’re going to continue to fight to lift the veil of secrecy where right now in many workplaces you are forbidden to discuss the salary that you and your co-workers make.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has indicated that he would re-introduce the Paycheck Fairness Act before the Senate adjourns prior to the November elections.
Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.
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