Years in the making, the federal Paycheck Fairness Act—which would address gender-based pay inequities—is expected to finally have its day at the Capitol. As the Advocate went to press, the U.S. Senate was expected to take up the bill for a vote sometime this week.
And when Massachusetts' junior senator votes on the bill, will he be swayed by a sweet lobbying effort by local activists?
On Friday, members of MomsRising—a national non-profit that advocates for family-friendly public policy—visited Sen. Scott Brown's Boston office to deliver clam-shaped cookies, along with a request that he support the bill. The group included members of MomsRising of the Pioneer Valley, an arm of the Amherst-based MotherWoman.
The clam cookies represented the clams missing from working women's paychecks, MomsRising said. The group points to statistics from the National Women's Law Center showing that, on average, women in Massachusetts earn 21 percent less than men doing the same jobs.
That disparity is not unique to Massachusetts; according to 2009 federal Census data, across the U.S., women who work full time earn 77 cents for every dollar made by their male counterparts. African-American and Hispanic women earn, respectively, 62 cents and 53 cents on the dollar, compared to white men doing the same work.
"That adds up to a lot of clams, and in the middle of this recession our families could really use those clams right now," MomsRising said in a release about the Brown event. "Sen. Brown, make us as happy as clams in high water and vote for the Paycheck Fairness Act!"
The Senate bill was introduced in 2009 by then-Sen. Hillary Clinton; supporters are anxious to see it pass during the current lame-duck session. A companion bill was passed by the House last year.
The Paycheck Fairness Act would extend the 1963 Equal Pay Act, an earlier attempt to legally prevent employers from paying men and women different wages for the same work. The new bill would prohibit employers from retaliating against co-workers for sharing salary information, and would allow more legal remedies to workers who sue successfully over paycheck disparities. It also calls on the federal government to do more to prevent wage discrimination through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Labor.
The bill is supported by women's rights groups, including the National Organization for Women, as well as organized labor.
Opponents of the bill say that allowing greater damages to plaintiffs in wage-discrimination suits would lead to unnecessary litigation and would hamper economic development.
"When each new employee is a potential lawsuit, why would a company hire anyone?" the National Association of Manufacturers asked recently on its blog, ShopFloor.org.
The Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank, earlier this month sponsored a forum on Capitol Hill warning that the bill "would vastly expand the role of government in employers' compensation decisions" and "would impose substantial new burdens on employers that would encourage hiring overseas and discourage hiring in America."