Paycheck Fairness Act: Would This Law Actually Make a Difference?

ByTara Bardella

In a recent panel discussion on NBC, Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) stated her opposition to equal pay laws designed to ensure equal payment for female workers in comparison with their male counterparts. The congresswoman said that Washington should remove itself from negotiations for higher pay for female wage earners, because “what they [females] want is to be recognized” by the companies and organizations with which they are employed. “Making certain that companies are going to move forward in that vein — that is what women want,” Blackburn stated. “They don’t want the decisions made in Washington.”

When challenged by fellow panelist, former White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod, Blackburn added that she thought it was “more important” to make “certain that women are recognized by those companies.”

“I’ve always said,” she elaborated, “that I didn’t want to be given a job because I was a female, I wanted it because I was the most well-qualified person for the job.”

Representative Blackburn's statement is certainly worthy in theory. What hard working, talented American woman doesn’t want to be recognized for her resume rather than her gender? Sadly, though, the idealism in her statement is exactly what is wrong with it — and with her party’s general stance in opposition to equal-pay laws for women in the workplace. If we lived in a country where every company and organization was inclined or compelled to design their payroll with an eye for the experience and skill level of the employee rather than their gender, we wouldn't be having this debate in the first place.

But we live in a nation where, despite the recent Pew Report which found that women have become the primary source of income in approximately 40% of U.S. households and despite recent progress like the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the average American women still makes 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, even while doing the same job with the same required skills, demands, and qualifications. The Obama administration and the Democratic Party are now seeking to follow up on the progress achieved by the Lilly Ledbetter Act by pursuing passage of a Paycheck Fairness Act through Congress.

The Congresswoman stated that women “don’t want” these “decisions made in Washington,” that they simply want to be “recognized”. Well, as a young professional woman who would like to be seen as an equal to her male peers in terms of pay level as well as skill — in a workforce that has made great strides over the years but can still occasionally feel like a “boys club” —  I humbly submit that the best  way to “recognize” women in the workplace is with equal pay. And the most realistic way to effectively implement this is through decisions made in government, like the Ledbetter and proposed Paycheck Fairness Act. Such laws can make sure basic standards of equity are implemented and enforced in the American workplace, in a country where men and women are supposed to be equals.

How better to “recognize” the hard work of skilled women than to lawfully remedy unfair precedents set in earlier generations? The young single mother of my colleague and mentor, Obama for America-DC Director Kouri C. Marshall, worked tirelessly, day in and day out, at a factory in Peoria, Illinois to ensure that Kouri and his brothers would later attend college. Yet despite her labors, Kouri’s mom had to wonder if she was passed over for promotions or not given a raise because she was a woman. The passage of Ledbetter has made it illegal to discriminate against a woman in the workplace because of her gender, an essential first step on the path to equality in the workplace. But we need more than platitudes on a TV panel from people like Congresswoman Blackburn or the mere hope that all American companies and organizations will have the good will and conscience to do the right thing. We need actual legislative action to ensure proper implementation of these practices.

Payment equity laws are still needed to bridge that 23-cent gap between male and female employees in this country, to ensure that hardworking ladies like Kouri’s mom receive equal recognition for their work in their bank accounts as well as on their resumes. Ledbetter was the first step. Now Congress has the opportunity to truly “recognize” women with the passage of  The Paycheck Fairness Act, which would help to make full payment equity for American women a reality.