House Passes Pay Equity, Discrimination Bills; Senate Battle Coming

An eight-year run of business groups mostly getting their way in Congress may not yet be finished, but two votes today in the U.S. House of Representatives are warning shots. The House voted 256-163 in passing the Paycheck Fairness Act and 247-171 in passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, sending to the Senate two measures that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and other employer groups are determined to stop.

U.S. Chamber Labor Policy VP Randy Johnson denounced the votes and said the Chamber will redouble its efforts to defeat both in the Senate. "While it's disappointing to see such flawed legislation race through the House without as much as a hearing, we're confident the Senate will recognize that these bills sweep much more broadly than their proponents contend and that this is nothing more than a giveaway to the trial bar," he said.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, H.R. 12, introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Ct., would require employers seeking to justify unequal pay to bear the burden of proving their actions are job-related and consistent with a business necessity; bar employer retaliation against employees who share salary information with their co-workers, and place gender-based discrimination sanctions on equal footing with discrimination based on race, disability, or age by allowing women to sue for compensatory and punitive damages. It would require the Department of Labor to enhance outreach and training efforts to employers, to continue to collect and disseminate wage information based on gender, and to create a new grant program to help strengthen the negotiation skills of women.

The Ledbetter Act would overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's May 29, 2007, Ledbetter v. Goodyear decision that limited the rights of employees to sue for pay discrimination.

This morning, U.S. Rep. and Labor Secretary-designate Hilda Solis had her first confirmation hearing in the U.S. Senate. U.S. Rep. George Miller, who chairs the House Education and Labor Committee and championed the two bills, today urged quick confirmation of Solis. "Congresswoman Hilda Solis is a strong champion of working families and will be an outstanding secretary of Labor," Miller said in a news release. "Given our enormous economic challenges facing our nation, I urge the Senate to take swift action and confirm her nomination. Just today, we learned that 524,000 workers lost their jobs in December for a total of 3.6 million since the recession began. And economists tell us that we may have not hit bottom. This is why our nation's workers demand a Labor secretary who understands the everyday struggles Americans are facing. Hilda Solis is the right person for the job. Her record in the California legislature as a leader on labor issues and her excellent work in Congress on behalf our of nation's working men and women will restore the Department of Labor as an advocate for hard working Americans."

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