“Paycheck Fairness Act” Defeated By Procedural Cloture Vote On The Floor Of The U.S. Senate


On Wednesday, April 9, 2014, the U.S. Senate failed to get cloture, or end debate, on S. 2199 the “Paycheck Fairness Act”, legislation which would close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 that have diluted its effectiveness in combating unfair and unequal pay.  Specifically, the Paycheck Fairness Act would have updated the Equal Pay Act by barring retaliation against all other workers who ask about their employers’ pay practices or inquire about their own wages. This expands an Executive Order signed by President Obama on April 8, 2014, which bars federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their pay with one another.  While President Obama’s order yesterday applies only to companies receiving federal contracts, over which he has jurisdiction, the legislation which failed in the U.S. Senate applies to a broader set of employees, including those who work for private companies as well. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women who work full time still earn, on average, only 77 cents for every dollar men earn. The statistics are even worse for women of color.  African-American women make only 62 cents, and Hispanic women only 54 cents, for every dollar earned by white men. These gaps translate into a loss of almost $20,000 a year for African-American women and almost $24,000 annually for Hispanic women.  It should come as no surprise that in 2008, women were 35% more likely to live in poverty than men.  In one study conducted before the current recession, 20% of African-American women, and 23% of Hispanic women, reported being very worried about having enough food for their families, compared to 10% of white women.  In addition, 48% of African-American women, and 42% of Hispanic women, reported not having enough money to pay a bill on time, compared to 26% of white women.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 mandates that employers pay equal wages to men and women who perform substantially the same work.  While the Equal Pay Act has helped to narrow the wage gap between men and women in our workforce, significant disparities remain and must be addressed.   To help address these disparities, and in light of Congressional inaction, President Obama has been using his power through Executive Orders and as given to him by laws already enacted to try to help a significant portion of the population while at the same time setting an example for Congress to follow.   In addition to signing the Executive Order outlawing retaliation by federal contractors, President Obama also signed a second Executive Order which requires employers to provide compensation data to the Department of Labor based on gender and race.  He did this as a result of his existing authority under current law.

Sadly, on April 9, 2014, the United States Senate failed to get cloture, or end debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act by a vote of 53 yes to 44 nays (under Senate rules you need at least 60 votes to achieve cloture on a bill and move forward with consideration).  The vote should have actually been 54 yeas to 43 nays, but Senator Harry Reid (NV) changed his vote at the last minute to a nay vote only for procedural reasons so he could bring the bill up again at a later time for consideration.