By LAUREN KIRKWOOD
WASHINGTON—Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski continued to push for passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, leading a group of Senate Democrats who spoke out in support of the bill on the Senate floor Wednesday.
The act, which attempts to eliminate the wage gap between men and women, would require employers to show that differences in pay are due to job performance, rather than gender, allow women to seek punitive damages, in addition to back pay, for discrimination and prevent employers from suing employees for discussing their salaries.
Nationally, women make about 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, while in Maryland, they make 86 cents to the dollar, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families.
The Paycheck Fairness Act would strengthen the Equal Pay Act, passed in 1963, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which increased the 180-day statute of limitations for cases of pay discrimination.
Women fight every day for equal pay. When they do, theyre sidelined, redlined or even pink slipped, Mikulski, dean of the Senate women, said in a statement. Right now in the marketplace it is legal to fire a woman if she asks about her pay, whether she goes to the personnel director or if she asks the person next to her at the water cooler."
Mikulski was joined on the Senate floor by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.
"The wage gap clearly hurts women, but it also hurts their families," Boxer said. "We women in the Senate were fortunate in the sense that that's one battle we don't have to wage, because a senator is a senator."
Over the course of an average woman's career, she will lose about $434,000 through pay discrimination, according to a 2008 report by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Mikulski and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., sent a joint letter to President Barack Obama urging him to sign an executive order prohibiting government contractors from punishing employees who discuss wages on Tuesday, the fourth anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Act. That act was the first bill Obama signed after taking office, and in his second inaugural address, the president mentioned elimination of the wage gap as a priority for the nation, stating "our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts."
By authorizing the order, the government would be taking one concrete step toward a comprehensive attack on pay discrimination, the senators said.
"An executive order focused on the gender gap in federal contracting would greatly enhance millions of employees' ability to learn about wage disparities and provide workers with much-needed certainty that their livelihoods would not be at stake if they discuss their wages," Mikulski and DeLauro wrote.
The Paycheck Fairness Act passed the House in 2009 but failed in the Senate after a Republican filibuster. Reintroduced in both chambers a week ago, the bill has been referred to the House Committee on Education and Workforce and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.