Not enough support for Paycheck Fairness Act spearheaded by Mikulski -- Gazette.Net



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This story was updated at 6:45 p.m., June 5, 2012.

Maryland’s democratic lawmakers blasted Republicans in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday afternoon after a vote to approve the federal Paycheck Fairness Act was blocked by a filibuster.

"It's unfortunate that some members of the U.S. Senate have chosen politics over our people — preventing America from moving forward, growing jobs, opportunity, and hope for a prosperous future,” Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) said in a statement after the failed vote.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) of Baltimore, would have given women more protection in seeking information about the salaries of their male colleagues and expanded the government’s ability to enforce equal-pay standards.

The bill lacked support from Republican lawmakers because it would allow punitive damages against employers and was considered burdensome to businesses.

Earlier this week, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), said the bill was a “necessary ingredient for economic recovery” because women, on average, earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to nationwide annual averages from the U.S. Census Bureau. In Maryland, the average full-time weekly pay for women is $822, compared with $962 for men, according to a Joint Economic Committee analysis.

“I do recognize that discrimination does exist, but that statistic is misleading,” said Marc Kilmer, senior fellow at The Maryland Public Policy Institute, a conservative think tank.

The aggregated salary figures don’t compare what equally-qualified men and women make in identical job placements, which is how the statistic is often presented, Kilmer warned.

Opponents of the bill, including the conservative group Independent Women’s Forum, say women make less than men for a number of reasons, including working fewer hours on average and taking jobs that emphasize greater flexibility as opposed to pay.

Kilmer said there already are court processes in place when discrimination does take place, and Mikulski’s bill would have been too burdensome on employers.

The bill would have required employers to demonstrate that wage gaps between men and women doing the same work have a business justification and are truly a result of factors other than gender.

The proposed bill also would have prohibited employers from retaliating against employees who share salary information with their co-workers.

Tuesday’s vote comes just days shy of the 49th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, which was passed on June 10, 1963.

In 1963, women earned 59 cents for every dollar men earned, Mikulski said.

“Though it’s been 49 years, women have only advanced 18 cents,” she said. “We should finalize and close the loopholes that have so deterred us.”

Similar legislation passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support in 2009, but garnered too few votes to move forward in the Senate in 2010.

Mikulski vowed that she would continue the push for the legislation. “It is my hope that we can bring this bill up again and forge a bipartisan vote,” she said in a statement.

dgaines@gazette.net