WASHINGTON - Advocates for women's equality denounced the unanimous Republican vote in the Senate Nov. 17 that killed the Paycheck Fairness Act. The measure would have strengthened enforcement of women's right to equal pay.
"Senate Republicans today disrespected America's working women by voting to prevent any debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, blasted the Senate Republicans, saying the vote "does not bode well for the next two years."
The measure failed by two votes to reach the 60-vote supermajority needed to break a Republican filibuster.
GOP Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas, who voted for the Lilly Ledbetter Act in January 2009, voted against Paycheck Fairness. Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson was the only Democrat who voted with the Republicans.
Trumka charged that in blocking a vote on the House-passed bill, Republican senators "encourage discrimination against women in the workplace." Women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by male workers, a differential that fattens corporate profits while slashing wages for all workers, women and men alike, by driving down prevailing wages.
"Efforts like this legislation to close the income gap in our country are an essential component to long-term economic recovery," Trumka added. But, he said, the Republicans "in the cold pursuit of their political goals and interests of their Wall Street allies ... have one message to the elderly, the unemployed, the uninsured, and now even women: 'NO.'"
The vote came on the same day that a survey was released showing the prevalence of employers keeping wages and salaries secret, one of the main strategies employers use to conceal paying women workers less than men doing the same work. The survey and report was prepared by the Institute for Women's Policy Research.
The institute's president, Heidi Hartmann, said, "It took Lilly Ledbetter most of a decade to find out she was being paid less than men doing the same job."
Employers impose the secrecy by threatening to punish or fire any worker who shares information about his wages with other workers.
The Paycheck Fairness Act would have made it a federal crime for an employer to fire or punish workers who share information about their wages and benefits.
"Women are now half the paid workforce," O'Neill said. But as the recession continues, "an unprecedented number of women are family breadwinners due to deep unemployment rates among men - making pay equity essential not only to the economic security of families but also to the nation's economic recovery."
She added, "The National Organization for Women is deeply concerned that women's rights will come under attack in all the areas where we have been working so hard" including economic justice, reproductive freedom, promoting diversity and ending racism, winning LGBT rights, stopping violence against women and achieving constitutional equality.
President Obama said he was "deeply disappointed" that the bill was killed. Newly reelected Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said the Republicans had a chance "to do the right thing, work with Democrats to reduce wage inequality for women. They spurned it."