House Launches New Labor Agenda With Wage Discrimination Bills

Reply Sat 10 Jan, 2009 10:04 am
It's about time the Congress will correct the terrible Supreme Court decision that denied Lilly Ledbetter's back pay. ---BBB

House Launches New Labor Agenda With Wage Discrimination Bills
Friday 09 January 2009
by: Karoun Demirjian, Congressional Quarterly

The House passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which is designed to strengthen the ability of workers to combat wage discrimination.

In a bid to advance an ambitious labor agenda in the 111th Congress, the House passed legislation Friday designed to strengthen the ability of workers to combat wage discrimination.

The measure (HR 11), dubbed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, is designed to reverse a 2007 Supreme Court decision that made it impossible for workers to sue for wage discrimination they discovered only years after it initially occurred. It was passed by 247-171 and sent to the Senate, which could take it up this month.

The House also voted 256-163 for a second bill (HR 12), which would require employers seeking to justify unequal pay for male and female workers to prove that such disparities are job-related and required by a business necessity. It would bar retaliation by employers against employees who share salary information with their co-workers, and allow workers to collect both compensatory and punitive damages.

Under the rule governing the debate, that measure was combined with the Lilly Ledbetter bill and sent to the Senate as a package.

Democrats applauded the House action as an important step toward guaranteeing the right of workers to fair employment during an economic recession.

"This legislation hits home, it helps America's working women face the challenges they face economically, and it ends discrimination," said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "Pay equity, fairness in the workplace - I hope we have a big strong vote so the message will go out that this Congress has heard the message of change in the election ... that this Congress is prepared to be relevant in its actions to the concerns of America's working families."

But critics said the bills will merely lead to more litigation, energy misdirected at a critical time.

"What signal does it send to the nation and the world that the first substantive order of business of the 111th Congress is not job creation or tax relief or economic stimulus but rather a trial lawyer boondoggle that can put worker pensions in jeopardy?" said Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-California), ranking minority member of the Education and Labor Committee "This doesn't offer women any protections they don't already enjoy."

Early Test

Equal pay became a high-profile issue during the 2008 campaign season, with much attention centered on Ledbetter, an Alabama woman who worked as a supervisor at a Goodyear Tire Plant for nearly 20 years before discovering she had been paid about 20 percent less than her lowest-paid male colleague over that period.

The Supreme Court decided, in a 5-4 decision in the case of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., that because she had not filed her claim within 180 days of the first discriminatory paycheck, she could not collect almost $4 million in damages awarded by the lower court.

The bill passed by the House allows a worker to file suit within 180 days of the last paycheck received that is affected by alleged employment discrimination.

Democrats highlighted Ledbetter as an everyday heroine whose story would resonate with struggling workers.

"No worker should have to put a full day's work in and get a paycheck at the end of the week that is based upon their gender, race or religion without any recourse to justice," said Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-California), sponsor of the Lilly Ledbetter measure.

The House passed similar legislation in the last Congress, only to see if die in the narrowly divided Senate after falling three votes short of the 60 needed to surmount a filibuster. The Senate never attempted to pass the other bill (HR 12), sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut).

With an enlarged Democratic majority in the Senate, the bill may face brighter prospects this year. But it is not clear whether supporters will be able to muster the votes likely to be needed to surmount another filibuster.

A early, successful showing in the Senate this year would likely embolden the Democrats to pursue other labor initiatives that are expected to pose more difficult legislative challenges. Among those are measures to expand the availability of paid family and medical leave, and establish "card-check" procedures for union organizing in place of secret ballot elections.
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