Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Tuesday April 12th, 2016, 6:32pm

On Equal Pay Day, Dems Slam Republicans Over Federal Inaction On Paycheck Fairness

Tuesday is Equal Pay Day, marking how far into 2016 women must work in order to earn what men made in 2015.

Women today still earn just 79 cents on average for every dollar paid to men. For African-American women and Latinas, the wage gap widens to 60 cents and 55 cents, respectively, according to an analysis by the National Partnership for Women & Families.

Equal pay advocates say it's time to end the gender wage gap, which could be closed in part by passage of the long-proposed federal Paycheck Fairness Act. Under the bill, employees could share salary information between co-workers without retaliation, among other provisions.

Some Democrats are using Equal Pay Day to slam Congressional Republicans over their repeated efforts against the legislation. 

U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL,8) is among the Democratic cosponsors of the Paycheck Fairness Act. Duckworth, who is running for incumbent Mark Kirk's (R-IL) Senate seat, is seeking to draw a contrast with her opponent on equal pay issues.

"In Congress, I've worked hard to protect basic civil liberties and to promote equality for all Americans. I'm proud to be a cosponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act, unlike Mark Kirk, who opposed it and actually called it sexist," reads Duckworth's prepared remarks for a Tuesday evening event hosted by EMILY's List. "Pardon me, Senator Kirk, but I don't think that word means what you think it means. What is sexist -- and unacceptable -- is for working women in Illinois to make on average $12,000 less than a man."

Duckworth was referring to comments Kirk made in April 2014 regarding trial lawyers and the Paycheck Fairness Act. 

Kirk was quoted in a Chicago Sun-Times article as saying, "I would have to say that this legislation is probably the most sexist legislation you can have against women," because trial lawyers would be able "to take control of your sex discrimination case," and a result "this very well-connected, I would say likely Democratic Party-connected lawyer, comes in and takes control of your case . . . and a right to one-third of your recovery, that would be the ultimate sexism."

Duckworth's campaign, which held a conference call to denounce Kirk's record on equal pay issues, says the senator voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act six times.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) spoke on the Duckworth campaign conference call.

"It's frustrating and unfortunate in spite of all of the progress we have made, women are still paid 79 cents a dollar, and it's even worse for minority women. We need action and, as an Illinoisan, I'm embarrassed that Republican Mark Kirk has blocked paycheck fairness legislation and cluelessly described paycheck fairness legislation as 'the most sexist legislation you can have against women,'" Cassidy said. "Paycheck fairness isn't sexist, the wage gap is. It's galling that Mark Kirk would rather protect big corporations that are guilty of wage discrimination instead of the women and working families across Illinois who are hurt by it."

U.S. Rep. Bob Dold (R-IL,10) is another Republican under fire from his general election opponent, Democrat Brad Schneider, over the Paycheck Fairness Act. Schneider's campaign manager Magen Ryan blasted Dold for voting last year to block consideration of the legislation. She also brought up Donald Trump, calling on Dold to "condemn" the Republican presidential frontrunner's "continued anti-women rhetoric."

"Bob Dold may be doing his best to avoid the political fallout from Donald Trump but he still refuses to hold Trump accountable for his toxic positions," Ryan said. "Not only does Dold refuse to denounce Trump, he has joined with other Republicans to further perpetuate the gender pay gap by blocking consideration of the Paycheck Fairness Act. Dold can claim to be a moderate all he wants, but the facts tell otherwise as he continues to side with Republicans and ignore Trump's unconscionable record on equal pay, choice, and women's health."

In Illinois, the gender wage gap is also 79 cents. The gap widens to 72 cents in the state's 17th congressional district.

"In the year 2016, it's inexcusable that women still earn less than men doing the exact same job," U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL,17) said in a statement. "Even though women are graduating college at higher rates than men and making up nearly half of the workforce, the women in our congressional district still earn an average of $0.72 for every dollar that men make at the same job. Equal pay for equal work is not just a women's issue, it's a family issue. As we mark this Equal Pay Day, I strongly urge Washington to stop playing games and finally take real action to ensure equal pay for equal work."

According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, women nationwide lose nearly $500 billion every year as a result of the gender wage gap. 

"It is unacceptable that the wage gap has persisted, punishing the country's women and families for decades," said the National Partnership's President Debra Ness. "Some state lawmakers have taken steps to address the issue by passing legislation to combat discriminatory pay practices and provide other workplace supports. It is past time for federal lawmakers to do the same. We need Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which is a common sense proposal that has languished for much too long."

Nick Rathod is executive director of the State Innovation Exchange, SiX, a group working with state legislators to advance progressive policies across the country. He spoke about state-level efforts to close the gender wage gap.  

"With Congress in a state of perpetual gridlock, there's only so much that can be done at the federal level. It's time for states to lead the way on equal pay - and that is exactly what they're doing," Rathod said. "We saw what can happen when we work together: in late January, progressive legislators led an unprecedented nationwide push that resulted in equal pay legislation moving forward in nearly half of the states. This year alone, no fewer than 70 equal pay bills have been introduced in more than 30 states - even in the reddest of red states like Oklahoma, where many Republicans crossed the aisle to pass equal pay legislation in the House. Today, legislators and advocates alike are keeping that momentum going with Equal Pay Day events and activities across the country. We're proud to stand alongside them on behalf of women and working families."

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