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Statement by Senator Tom Harkin on the Paycheck Fairness Act

WASHINGTON—Today, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, spoke on the floor of the Senate in support of the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill to help close the wage gap. Today, an American woman makes an average of 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man.  In Iowa, that figure is 83 cents for every dollar paid to men.

To watch an excerpt of Senator Harkin’s floor speech, click here.

The full text of Harkin’s statement is below, as prepared for delivery:


"Mr. President, I applaud the senior Senator from Maryland, Senator Mikulski, for introducing the Paycheck Fairness Act. 

"In 1963, Congress responded to wage disparities between men and women by passing the Equal Pay Act.  At that time, 25 million female workers earned just 60 percent of the average pay for men.

"Nearly half a century after the passage of that landmark law, we have made substantial progress towards eliminating this gross inequality.  But it is not enough.  Today, a wage gap continues to exist within every segment of our economy, at all education levels and in all occupations.  For every dollar that a man earns, a woman earns just 77 cents.

"Women’s lower wages add up tremendously over a career:  Over the course of a 40-year career, women on average earn nearly $400,000 less than men.  And, women with a college degree or more face a career wage gap of more than $700,000 when compared with men with the same education. 

"The consequences of the gender pay gap are enormous, impacting not just women, but their families as well.  In today’s economy, women represent half of all workers, and earn an increasing share of family income.  Two-thirds of mothers are major contributors to family income.  In today’s economy, when a mother earns less than her male colleagues, her family often must sacrifice even basic necessities – such as purchasing needed pharmaceuticals and putting healthy food on the table.  In many cases, women have to work more hours to earn the same paycheck as men, reducing time spent with family.

"While many factors influence a worker’s earnings – including occupation, education and work experience – there is abundant evidence that actual gender discrimination accounts for much of the disparity between men and women’s pay.  Unfortunately, however, our laws have not done enough to prevent this discrimination.

"So while I am pleased and proud that the first piece of legislation President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, that important law was only the first step.  We need to do much more.  Too many women are still not getting paid equally for doing the exact same job as men.  This is illegal.  But it happens every day.  There are too many loopholes in our existing laws and too many barriers to effective enforcement. 

"That is why we need to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, and I thank Senator Mikulski for her leadership in advancing this bill.  In 2010, I chaired a hearing on this bill in the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and I was hopeful it would pass in the last Congress.  But as has happened too often in recent years, Senate Republicans filibustered the bill.  So, while 58 United States Senators, a large majority, voted to support this legislation, because of Republican obstructionism, we could not even proceed to debate the bill.

"Two years later, Republican obstructionism continues.  I want the American people to understand this.  Republicans – the minority party – are preventing the United States Senate from even considering the issue of unequal wages and gender discrimination.  Let me repeat, Republicans are not just preventing this important legislation from receiving an up or down vote, they are preventing the United States Senate, the “world’s greatest deliberative body,” from even debating and considering the bill.  Millions of women and their families are concerned about the fact that they get paid less than their male colleagues.  Nevertheless, Republicans will not even allow a debate on the issue in this body.  

"Mr. President, strengthening our existing laws by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act is the next step towards wage equality.  But, it can’t be the last one.  We must also tackle the more subtle discrimination that occurs when we systematically undervalue the work traditionally done by women.  The fact is, millions of female-dominated jobs – jobs that are equivalent in skills, effort, responsibility, and working conditions to similar jobs dominated by men – pay significantly less than equivalent male-dominated jobs.  This is hard to fathom and impossible to justify. 

"Why is a housekeeper worth less than a janitor?  Eighty-nine percent of maids are female; 67 percent of janitors are male.  While the jobs are equivalent, the median weekly earnings for a maid is $387; for a janitor $463.  Truck drivers – a job that is 95% male – has a median weekly earnings of $686.  In contrast, a child care worker – a job that is 95% female – has a median weekly earnings of $400.  Why do we value someone who moves products more than we value someone who looks after the safety and well-being of our children?  This is not to say truck drivers are overpaid.  It is to say that jobs we consider “women’s work” is underpaid. 

"That is why, in every session of Congress since 1996, I have introduced the Fair Pay Act, along with Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, which would require employers to provide equal pay for equivalent jobs.  My bill requires employers to provide equal pay for jobs that are equivalent in skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions.

"Mr. President, passage of my bill will make a real difference.  In 1982, Minnesota implemented a pay equity plan for its state employees.  The state had found that women were segregated into historically female dominated jobs, and that women’s jobs paid 20 percent less than male dominated jobs.  Pay equity wage adjustments were phased in over four years, leading to an average pay increase of $200 per month for women in female dominated jobs.  The wage gap closed by approximately nine percent.

"For the women in this country who are currently being paid less not because of their skills or education but simply because they are in undervalued “female” jobs, making sure they received their real worth would make a huge difference for them and the families that rely on their wages.

"My bill would also require employers to publicly disclose their job categories and their pay scales, without requiring specific information on individual employees.  If we give women information about what their male colleagues are earning, they can negotiate a better deal for themselves in the workplace.

"Right now, women who believe they are the victim of pay discrimination must file a lawsuit and endure a drawn-out legal discovery process to find out whether they make less than the man working besides them.  With pay statistics readily available, this expensive process could be avoided.

"The number of lawsuits would surely go down if employees could see up font whether they are being treated fairly.  In fact, I asked Lilly Ledbetter if the Fair Pay Act had been law, would it have obviated her wage discrimination case. She said that with the information about pay scales that the bill provides, she would have known that she was a victim of discrimination and could have tried to address the problem much sooner, before it caused a lifelong drop in her earnings and before she had to go all the way to the Supreme Court to try to make things right.

"Mr. President, if Republicans allowed us to proceed to the bill, I would offer the Fair Pay Act as an amendment.  Yet, I emphasize again, because of GOP obstructionism, we cannot even debate the issue of the wage gap, gender discrimination, and ways we can better ensure woman are receiving fair pay on the Senate floor. 

"Finally, Mr. President, I want to comment on the RAISE Act.  My Republican colleagues would have us believe that we can solve the pay gap by allowing employers to give merit-based pay increases above levels negotiated in a collective bargaining agreement.  This is nonsense.  The RAISE Act has nothing to do with women’s pay.  Rather than seriously discussing gender discrimination, Republicans have tried to change the subject by resorting to yet another partisan attack on unions. 

"In fact, not only does the RAISE Act do nothing to address the discrimination faced by too many women in this country, the RAISE Act would both exacerbate the wage gap and lower pay for all workers.  Collective bargaining agreements raise wages for all workers.  The RAISE Act would undermine collective bargaining by requiring that all union contracts include a provision allowing employers to unilaterally grant wage increases to select groups of employees.  The primary effect of this change would be to weaken unions’ ability to bargain for higher wages for all workers.  It would also give employers unfettered discretion to dole out pay increases to preferred employees.  That is a recipe for more discrimination, not less. 

"So, Mr. President, I urge my colleagues to stand with me in support of the Paycheck Fairness Act today.  It is a simple, commonsense piece of legislation, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t take it up and pass it right away.  And, once we have closed the loopholes and ensured effective enforcement of the Equal Pay Act, we must turn our attention to the millions of women—especially low-wage workers—whose work is undervalued.  We must ensure that they receive the recognition and fair treatment they deserve by also passing the Fair Pay Act. 

"The fight for economic equality is far from over, and it shouldn’t be over until every working woman in America receives a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.  As Chair of the HELP Committee I plan to keep advocating for fair pay and focusing on equal wages until we’ve achieved real equality for women across the country.  But first things first:  It is time for our Republican colleagues to end their filibuster and allow the Paycheck Fairness Act to come to the floor for debate and a vote."