Paycheck Fairness Act, Empowering Lawyers and Bureaucrats

The full House Committee on Education and Labor is marking up today (1 p.m.) H.R. 1338, the Paycheck Fairness Act, a gender pay equity bill. The Committee held its hearing on the legislation back in April 2007, and the bill had just been hanging around then, waiting for the politically propitious moment.

So last Thursday, July 17, there was a Capitol Hill rally organized by Sen. Barbara Milkulski (D-MD) to make a push for the legislation and its Senate version (S. 766). Also speaking were House Speaker Pelosi, chief sponsors of the bill in the Senate and House, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). (Coverage from Ms Magazine and the Hartford Courant.)

Profile elevated, the politics primed, markup follows and the bill could soon be on the House floor.

Despite the title’s invocation of “fairness,” in an effort to end the “wage gap,” this legislation would radically expand government involvement in employment decisions, encourage a flood of litigation, and create disadvantages for a new group of employees.

Sue them until they cry uncle, and then sue them again for not crying aunt.

Section 3 is particularly danger-rife, creating a section “enhanced penalties” that broadens the grounds for suing and removes any limits on compensatory and punitive damages. The provisions would become a powerful tool for attacking, harassing and damaging any company that got on the wrong side of organized labor, the plaintiffs’ bar, and the grievance industry. 

In her committee testimony last year, Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Hudson Institute detailed supporters’ erroneous premises about pay and gender disparities and examined the negative consequences of its provisions.

The “Paycheck Fairness Act” would have Washington interfere with employers’ ability to set wages. Section 7 of the proposed bill reads “The Secretary of Labor shall develop guidelines to enable employers to evaluate job categories based on objective criteria such as educational requirements, skill requirements, independence, working conditions, and responsibility…”

These factors are not only difficult to measure, but favor white collar and service jobs over manual, blue collar work. The bill’s language omits experience, risk, inflexibility of work schedule, or physical strength, factors that increase men’s wages relative to women’s. The bill does not include effort, so there is little leeway to promote those who work harder.

Ultimately, as Furchtgott-Roth suggests, this looks like a stalking horse’s nose under the tent for yet another run at “comparable worth” legislation. As if government setting salaries and benefits would be fair.


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