When the first version of the Paycheck Fairness Act was introduced in Congress in 2009, its sponsors likely did not anticipate that Republican lawmakers would block the common-sense law from consideration for more than five years.

Last week, Senate Republicans, including Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, again prevented the bill from coming to a vote. Sen. Angus King, an independent, voted with those Republicans. As elections draw closer, voters should pay attention to those lawmakers who vote against the interests of women and their families.

More than 50 years after the authorization of the federal Equal Pay Act, American women still earn just 77 cents for every dollar their male colleagues are paid for the same work. The Paycheck Fairness Act would help correct this gap by closing key loopholes in the earlier law.

It would limit the factors that employers are allowed to cite to justify pay differences between men and women who do the same work to legitimate matters such as education and experience. It would require employers to show that such differences are dictated by business needs. The legislation also would prevent employers from retaliating against employees who discuss wages.

The gender pay gap has remained an intractable economic and social problem long after it was diagnosed, because it is the product of various factors. Overt gender discrimination by employers is partly to blame, but just as important are insidious social messages that discourage women from seeking higher salaries.

Republican senators who voted to block the bill argue that existing laws are sufficient to enforce equal-pay measures and that additional regulation would discourage employers from hiring women for fear of lawsuits. But gender pay disparities still harm nearly half of the American work force and most U.S. households, which rely on the earnings of female breadwinners.

The Equal Pay Act made crucial progress in narrowing the gap, but it has not done enough and it is long overdue for an update.

Editorial by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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