Equal Pay Bill For Women, Minorities Denied By Senate Republicans; Menendez Reacts

Equal Pay Bill For Women, Minorities Denied By Senate Republicans; Menendez Reacts

"The glass ceiling might be a little bit higher than it was - but it's still there," says Menendez

Washington - Today - one day after Equal Pay Day - Republicans in the U.S. Senate blocked a landmark bill to guarantee that women and all Americans, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or disability, have a fair chance to ensure equal pay. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act would have overturned a Supreme Court decision that employees can only file a discrimination claim in the first 180 days from the time the discriminatory pay begins. The bill needed 60 votes to proceed to a final vote, but received only 56, with 41 Republicans voting against.

U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), a co-sponsor of a nearly identical Senate bill (the Fair Pay Restoration Act) and a strong support of the Ledbetter bill, released the following statement:

"Who would have thought that in the year 2008, when the odds are good that our next president will either be a woman or an African American, an effort to ensure fair pay for everyone in our society would be blocked in the United States Senate? It should never matter whether you are a man or a woman, what you look like, or how you worship when it comes to getting equal pay for equal work. A woman gets paid 77 cents for every dollar a man does. The glass ceiling might be a little bit higher than it was--but it's still there.

"Senate Republicans have to explain to the American people how they can support this type of discrimination and how they can deny fair wages, particularly as many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck in the midst of this economic tailspin."

Click here to listen to audio excerpts of his remarks on the Senate floor: http://demradio.senate.gov/actualities/menendez/menendez080423.mp3

Text of Senator Menendez's speech (as prepared for delivery) on the Senate floor in favor of the Fair Pay Restoration Act:

M. President,
I'm here today to stand up for equal pay for women. That's something we've been working towards for a long time, but we're still falling short of the goal.

For decades, we've come together across party lines to help men and women earn the same wage for the same work. The Senate voted overwhelmingly for Equal Pay when President Kennedy was in office.
We gave our support to the Civil Rights Act under President Johnson, and we renewed that support during President Reagan's term, and during the term of the first President Bush.

Even after all the progress we've made, we've still got a long way to go. Last year, five conservative Supreme Court Justices threw up a roadblock against fair pay for women. Here's what happened:

A woman named Lilly Ledbetter was one of only a few supervisors at a tire plant.
She worked 12-hour shifts and constantly had to endure insults from her male bosses, just because she was a woman doing what they thought was a man's job. It wasn't until late in her career that she discovered her company was cheating her-paying her up to 40% less than her male colleagues earned doing the same job.

Lilly filed a claim, and a jury awarded her full damages. But the Supreme Court said she was entitled to nothing, because she didn't discover the pay discrimination early enough.

According to the Court's narrow 5-4 decision, if you don't discover that you're being discriminated against right after your employer starts doing it, you might have to suffer the consequences for your entire career.

M. President, today we have a chance to change that-to make things right. Discrimination is discrimination, no matter when it happened. If someone breaks the law, they should be held accountable for it.

This body must make it clear that women should be treated the same as men. We must make it undeniably clear that every worker should be fairly paid for their labor. And we must proclaim in a unified voice that discrimination will not be tolerated in America.

The idea behind the Fair Pay Restoration Act is simple:

it would reinstate the rule that the clock for filing a wage discrimination claim starts running from the day a worker receives a discriminatory paycheck, not the day the employer first decides to discriminate.

If a female worker sees her wages are continuously falling behind those of her male counterparts, she should be able to challenge her employer even if the original decision to discriminate was made years ago.
As long as the discrimination continues, the right of a worker to challenge it should continue as well.

This doesn't just benefit women: it helps you if you're getting cheated in your paycheck on account of your age or your race, a disability, your national origin or what religion you belong to.

As usual, those who are trying to defend the status quo are trying to scare us into believing that this law would cause a flood of litigation and undercut corporations' bottom lines. Unfortunately for them, history just isn't on their side.

We know that this legislation is workable and fair, because it was the law of the land for decades, before the Supreme Court made its ruling. All this bill would do is make the law what it was widely interpreted to be only one year ago.

And this isn't about exposing companies to unlimited damages. Liability is still limited to two-years of back pay, following the standard set in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle will ask why workers often cannot file their claim within 180 days from the first instance of discrimination. Well, there are good reasons for that.

To begin with, many workers have difficulty comparing their salaries to coworkers with many businesses actually prohibiting it. Even if a worker sees her pay is lower than her coworkers, she might not recognize it was a result of discrimination.

If a worker does recognize it as discrimination, they often wait to contact the EEOC or decide not to, due to feeling ashamed or more often, they fear retaliation by their company.

They fear the consequences of "rocking the boat" and figure a job in which they are discriminated against is better than being fired and having no job at all.

So here's what it comes down to: if you vote against this bill, you're going on record, and telling this entire nation, that you want to make it harder for a woman to get paid the same as a man for the same work-plain and simple.

M. President,

These are challenging economic times for Americans, and the challenges are especially tough for women. A woman gets paid 77 cents for every dollar a man does. Women's earnings have fallen 6 times as much as men's as our economy began sliding towards a recession last year. The truth is, the glass ceiling might be a little higher than it was-but it's still there.

It is our responsibility, as legislators, as Americans, as human beings, to make sure this country holds the same promise for women as it does for men, and that in the future, our daughters have the same opportunities as our sons.

Restoring a woman's opportunity to fight for fair pay is a big part of that. And it has to be part of a broader strategy to get our economy back on track.
We have to bring down the cost of health care, create green-collar jobs, and help workers get the training and education they need to succeed.

If we're going to prosper as a nation, that prosperity must be shared. I've said it before, and it's as true as it ever was: only a society with no second-class citizens can be a first-class society. Today, it's time to act on that principle. It's time to vote for fair pay, and ease the way to prosperity and justice for all.

Thank you, M. President, I yield the floor.