Remember When Grassley and Ernst Blocked an Equal Pay Bill?

Photos by Starting Line Staff

March 15 marks National Equal Pay Day in America—the date that symbolizes how far into the calendar year women must work in order to earn what men earned in the previous year. While Equal Pay Day arrived earlier than it has in its 26-year history—a sign that progress is being made in pay fairness—the average woman working full-time still makes 83 cents to a typical man’s dollar.

Last year, Congress tried to do more to cement equal pay into law, but Senate Republicans, including Iowa’s Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act from even being debated.

Grassley and Ernst never gave a reason for it, but Grassley did the same thing in 2010. That time, it was only two votes short of the necessary votes to allow it on the Senate floor.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would have increased the penalties for paying people differently based on sex and gender identity, as well as pregnancy and sexual orientation.

Though the Equal Pay Act of 1963 made it illegal for employers to pay women less for substantially equal work, gender-based wage discrimination still exists because of holes or places where the Equal Pay Act doesn’t go far enough. (The disparity for women of color actually increased recently compared to their white male counterparts.)

The Paycheck Fairness Act would cover those with increased penalties and stronger oversight. Those measures would put wage discrimination based on gender on the same level of severity as wage discrimination based on race or ethnicity.

The existing law also has a defense for “factors other than sex” but the Paycheck Fairness Act would clarify those can only be a genuine job-related factor such as education, training or experience. It also says those factors won’t count if the employer didn’t try another strategy for the business that would have kept pay equal.

Importantly, the Paycheck Fairness Act would prohibit retaliation against employees who share information about their salaries, or who ask about others’.


Nikoel Hytrek


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