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Senate: Women are worth less

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pay.jpgIt's no surprise a pay equity bill got voted down yesterday. Women wanting equal pay is now seen as just an obsession, like needing a new pair of stilettos.

A Wall Street Journal op-ed earlier this week bashed the Paycheck Fairness Act that could not overcome a Republic filibuster yesterday, calling the drive to ensure equal pay for equal work an "obsession" and not grounded in reality. Women don't make less because of discrimination, the author contends. It's all about the choices we gals make - you know, asking for flexible hours or taking time off to birth babies. The author didn't mention the fact that more than 60 percent of women in the workplace are not even parents.

Clearly, quite a few senators, including two prominent female politicians, Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME), also thought the movement for pay equity is just the latest female fetish and shouldn't be taken seriously, voting against the bill 58-41. The bill had already passed in the House.

The Act, which was introduced in January 2009 by then Sen. Hillary Clinton and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) to amend the Equal Pay Act of 1963, would have given enforcement teeth to existing laws that have done little to shrink the pay gap between men and women, which the Department of Labor says is 23 cents on the dollar.

One key part of the legislation, which would have made it easier for employees to sue their employers for pay bias and lifted damages' caps, was prohibiting retaliation against workers who inquired about pay inequities or who disclosed their wages in order to figure out if their paychecks were thinner.

The gender pay gap shouldn't just be seen as merely a female fixation, especially in this economy. Since men have been hardest hit in this recession as far as job loss, the fact that their wives or girlfriends make 77 cents on the dollar to men suddenly hits the guys too.

"Today's vote will cost America's women fair wages, and cost its families the economic security they urgently need," said Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families in an emailed statement.

Indeed, the anemic economy may explain why complaints about gender-based wage discrimination have jumped 30 percent in the last three years, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Even without the act, the willingness by women to file charges; grass-root equal pay efforts; and an Obama labor department that has awakened after a long slumber under President Bush has spooked businesses. Already, HR managers are running scared, auditing the pay structures at their companies; and one told me last week she was surprised at the disparities she found.

And it sounds like there are no plans to turn down the enforcement heat because of today's vote. In a statement President Obama said: "my Administration will continue to fight for a woman's right to equal pay for equal work."

Obsession or not, women need to be paid fairly. If it's not enough to ensure such equity on moral grounds, then think about it as shoe money.