By Kathy Greenier, Director, Patricia M. Arnold Women's Rights Project, ACLU of Virginia
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2008, women who worked full time earned, on average, only 77 cents for every dollar men earned.  This statistic is even worse for women of color.  African American women only earned approximately 61 cents and Latinas only 52 cents for each dollar earned by a white male.  The Paycheck Fairness Act, passed by the House and pending in the Senate, (S. 182) ensures equal pay for equal work.
In a nationwide poll of registered voters, 84% said they support “a new law that would provide women more tools to get fair pay in the workplace.”  In January 2009, The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Paycheck Fairness Act, with bipartisan support.  Now, the Senate must move to pass this Act and close the wage gap.
Now is the time to end wage discrimination once and for all.  While progress has been made in closing the pay gap for women, the pace of reform has been slow.  At the time Congress passed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, women earned 59 cents for every dollar a man earned.  Without updates to the law, women’s financial welfare will continue to suffer.  Chronic wage discrimination can deprive a woman of between $700,000 and $2 million over her career.  In these tough economic times, families need to bring home every dollar they deserve.  Women tend to be hurt first and worst during economic downturns. Moreover, due to rising unemployment rates, families are relying more than ever on women’s income – making pay equity even more critical, not only to families’ economic security, but also to the nation's economic recovery.
The Paycheck Fairness Act would update the Equal Pay Act of 1963.  It closes the loopholes and weak remedies that have made the Equal Pay Act less effective in combating wage discrimination.  The Paycheck Fairness Act makes the following changes to the Equal Pay Act by:

•    Requiring employers to demonstrate that wage differentials between men and women holding the same position and doing the same work stem from factors other than sex. •    Prohibiting retaliation against workers who inquire about their employers' wage practices or disclose their own wages. •    Permiting reasonable comparisons between employees within clearly defined geographical areas to determine fair wages. •    Strengthening penalties for equal pay violations.  The bill's measured approach levels the playing field by ensuring that women can obtain the same remedies as persons subject to discrimination on the basis of race or national origin. •    Authorizing additional training for staff at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to better identify and handle wage disputes.

The Paycheck Fairness Act passed the House in January 2009, but has not been scheduled for a vote in the Senate.  The current Congressional session is quickly coming to a close, and it is urgent that this legislation is passed by the Senate before they leave for election season.
With just a few weeks remaining to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act in this Congress, we need Virginia’s  Senators to act now — please take action!
A copy of the ACLU letter urging Senator Webb to support the Paycheck Fairness Act is available online at http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Paycheck-Fairness-Letter-to-Senator-Webb-9-16-2010.pdf.