Margaret Eby
September 17, 2014 10:30 am

Maybe you’ve noticed the Paycheck Fairness Act trending all over Facebook and Twitter this week. That’s because on Monday, Senate Republicans unanimously voted to block the bill. This is nothing new: the GOP has repeatedly shut down attempts to pass the bill, which began in 2009. So why is everyone talking about? Let’s break it down.

1. What is it? The Paycheck Fairness Act is a bill that extends the laws established in the 1963 Equal Pay Act. It would make it illegal for employers to prohibit or strongly otherwise discourage employees from discussing pay. The added transparency would help employees find out when they are being paid less for roughly the same job.

2. Why does it matter? Women still make only 77 percent of what a man makes, for one. In situations where wage transparency is present, the wage gap between sexes has shrunk. As of now, in order for an organization to be in violation of the Equal Pay Act, the employee has to prove that their employer is paying substantially different wages to employees of the opposite sex. That’s difficult, given that many places discourage their employees from talking about wages.

3. How would it change things? The Fairness Act would mean that businesses have fewer justifications for pay gaps between employees with similar skills and working conditions. The penalties for businesses in violation would also be harsher.

4. Why was it shut down? Republicans argue that women are already protected by the original bill and that the wage gap isn’t as statistically wide as studies have indicated. They claim that the bill would encourage frivolous lawsuits, and actually pose more of a challenge for women in the workplace as a result. But they haven’t put forth an alternative bill to help enforce equal pay. It is the fourth time that Republicans have voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act, so their rejection was expected. But, on the plus side, news of the vote shifted focus once again to the very real issue of women working the same jobs as men and being unfairly under-compensated.

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