New House Kicks Off with Ledbetter, Fair Pay Acts

By January 2, 2009Economy, Labor Unions

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has released the floor schedule for next week, the first week of the 111th Congress. There are usual things you expect at the start of a new session: The House convenes at Tuesday noon, adopts a rules package, and on Thursday holds a joint session to count the Electoral College ballots.

Legislation has also been scheduled, a bill to improve transparency of presidential library donations and presidential records. And…

H.R. ___ – Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (Rep. George Miller (CA) – Education and Labor) (Subject to a Rule)

H.R. ___ – Paycheck Fairness Act (Rep. DeLauro – Education and Labor) (Subject to a Rule)

These are two bills pushed hard by organized labor and other core constituencies of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, opposed equally fervently by business, and they’re the first substantive legislative items out of the box? We’re not sure what the message is, but it sure seems like a message is being sent.

In its previous form, the Ledbetter legislation would eliminate statutes of limitations in employment discrimination lawsuits, inviting a flood of expensive lawsuits against employers (and discouraging prompt reporting of violations, as well). It was H.R. 2381 in the 110th Congress and passed the House, 225-199, in July 2007.

The Paycheck Fairness Act — H.R. 1338 in the 110th Congress — is targeted at gender discrimination, but offers another open invitation to sue business owners and operators on thin grounds. Here are the provisions of the bill the NAM opposed in the 110th session, as summarized in the NAM’s Key Vote letter:

  • Eliminate current caps on punitive and compensatory damages in claims made under the Equal Pay Act;
  • Expose employers to unlimited punitive and compensatory damage awards when unintentional pay disparities have occurred;
  • Eliminate key employer defenses for pay disparities;
  • Prohibit employers from disciplining or discharging employees for publicly disclosing sensitive wage information; and,
  • Mandate new federal government “guidelines” about the relative worth of different types of jobs.

H.R. 1338 passed the House in July 2008 by a vote of 247-178.

The fact that the Ledbetter and Paycheck bills both passed the House and died in the Senate last session suggests their early consideration may be as much a message to the new, bigger Democratic Senate majority as anything else. The House majority says to the Senate, in effect, “We did our work last time, we’re doing it again, and you better get going.”

As for being a message, a shot across the bow to business, well, let’s just wait and see. Heck, it’s not as if the Majority Leader scheduled the Employee Free Choice Act.

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