Senate Republicans blocked a vote on April 9 to open the debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill sponsored by Democrats aimed at drawing attention to the wage gap between men and women in the country.

With 60 votes needed to allow the bill to be debated on the Senate floor, Republicans refused to allow the bill to be considered by the chamber, falling short in a 53-44 vote. Debate on wage equity was also blocked by Republicans in 2010 and 2012.

If the bill had passed, it would prohibit federal contractors from retaliating against employees who choose to discuss their pay. It would also mandate the Labor Department to establish new rules requiring federal contractors to provide summaries of compensation data including a breakdown by race and gender.

The bill would have also expanded the capacity of the first law President Obama signed when he entered the White House in 2009, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a law named for the Alabama grandmother who became a champion for equal pay after men in her Goodyear plant doing similar work were being paid up to 40 percent more.

According to the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE), the Ledbetter Act allows employees who are victims of pay-base discrimination to file a complaint to the government within 180 days of their most recent paycheck.

Such opposition from Republicans on pay equity did not sit well with Councilwoman Anita D. Bonds (D-At-Large).

“I just think that it’s really unconscionable that the Senate must have decided that ideology supersedes what I call human rights,” said Bonds.

With the current fight to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10, Bonds said there is a connection between equality pay among gender and races and raising the minimum wage.

“It’s interesting that in our modern society here in the District as the cost of living has risen that somehow we forgot that the workers’ pay was not rising …,” she said. “A lot of it does have to do with the workers who are trapped at the lower pay levels do tend to be women and we know that we have in the District of Columbia a large number of women head of households.”

According to the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, in 2010, about 42 percent of households who lived below the poverty line in the District were headed by a female single-parent.

Despite the fact that women make up nearly half of the labor force, they still making 77cents for every dollar compared to men, according to the U.S. Census Bureau data.

Republicans, however, insisted that while they support equal pay for equal work, the bill would have increased civil lawsuits and was unnecessary because discrimination based on gender was already illegal.

Senate Democrats promised to bring the bill up again later this year.


Maria Adebola

Special to the AFRO