By: Abigail Bar-Lev, FellowPosted on March 25, 2015 Issues: Equal Pay and the Wage Gap Workplace

The wage gap for working women in the United States has been stagnant over the last decade – women working fulltime, year round are paid just 78 cents for every dollar paid to men.   Not incidentally, congressional action on the Paycheck Fairness Act has also been stagnant over the last decade.  Congress has blocked action on the Paycheck Fairness Act four times, including twice in the Senate as recently as last September.  But now, Congress has another chance to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act and achieve economic security and equality for women.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, reintroduced today by Senator Mikulski and Representative DeLauro, achieves several important goals for working women by strengthening the tools that workers have to fight back against pay discrimination.  Specifically, the Act:

  • Fully compensates victims of sex-based pay discrimination,
  • Gives women and girls skills that empower them to negotiate their wages,
  • Expands collection of pay discrimination data to better inform research and enforcement, and
  • Prevents employers from retaliating against workers who voluntarily discuss their wages with coworkers.

Each of these elements works to empower employees to prevent, discover, and fight pay discrimination, which will, in turn, reduce the wage gap.  For example, T-Mobile, which employs about 40,000 people nationwide, directly prohibits its employees—in the employee handbook—from disclosing wages, along with other information.  Employees can be punished or even fired for violating that rule.  Unfortunately, this disturbing practice is not unique.  More than 60 percent of employees in the private sector report that their employer either directly prohibits or discourages them from talking about their wages.  In contrast, in the public sector, where wages are transparent and easily accessible, the wage gap is much narrower  than it is overall—at about 11 percent.  In response to such results, ten states now prohibit pay secrecy [PDF] policies for some or all employees.  And a growing number of states are passing their own versions of the Paycheck Fairness Act.

It’s time for Congress to take a cue from the states. Congress must act on the Paycheck Fairness Act, so that we can finally get some action on closing the wage gap and achieving economic security and equality for working women.