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Equal Pay's Thrill of Victory and Agony of Defeat

Women who work full time still earn, on average, only $0.77 for ever $1 men earn
Women who work full time still earn, on average, only $0.77 for ever $1 men earn
Deborah J. Vagins,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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April 10, 2014

President Obama speaking at White House signing ceremony for executive action on equal pay, 4/8/14. Author, Deborah J. Vagins, is behind the President on the right.

Four years ago, the Paycheck Fairness Act failed in the Senate. The bill, which would have helped close the pay gap between men and women by updating the Equal Pay Act of 1963, had majority support. But because a few senators blocked the legislation from consideration, the substance of the bill was never debated.

After the bill stalled, we began advocating that the Obama Administration implement what it could through executive branch action, while we continued to build support for the Paycheck Fairness Act on Capitol Hill. Urging the administration to act has proven more important than ever because a small number of senators were able to once again block the bill from moving forward yesterday.

Earlier this year, I wrote an op-ed with Lilly Ledbetter on the need for executive action on equal pay. So despite the agony of the Senate defeat yesterday, we were thrilled to stand with President Obama when he did just that earlier this week and signed two executive actions to help give workers new tools to combat pay discrimination in federal contracting.

On Tuesday, the president signed an executive order banning retaliation against employees of federal contractors for disclosing or inquiring about their wages. He also signed a Presidential Memorandum instructing the Department of Labor to establish new regulations requiring federal contractors to submit data on compensation paid to employees. This information will encourage voluntary compliance with equal pay laws and assist with more focused enforcement where possible discrimination exists with taxpayer funds. Approximately 26 million workers are employed by federal contractors – around one in 5 workers. Each year, the U.S. pays out over $500 billion in taxpayer dollars to private companies. These changes represent significant reforms.

As the President noted:

[W]hen hardworking women don't have the resources, that's a problem. When businesses lose terrific women talent because they're fed up with unfair policies, that's bad for business. They lose out on the contributions that those women could be making. When any of our citizens can't fulfill their potential for reasons that have nothing to do with their talent or their character or their work ethic, we're not living up to our founding values.

We're deeply grateful to President Obama for taking these important steps forward for federal contracting employees while we continue to press for legislative change with the Paycheck Fairness Act for the rest of American workers.

We urge Congress to follow his example. Congress must recognize that not only is correcting discrimination a matter of fundamental fairness; it's also a matter of contributing to economic prosperity nationwide.

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