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Batgirl and Other Fair Pay Heroes

Rosa De Lauro 2

While the Senate recently bungled its chance to advance paycheck fairness, gender pay equality has impressive champions ready to join the battle again, as AAUW's executive director Linda D. Hallman explains.

On November 17, the Senate filibustered the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would have empowered women to learn more about how they’re paid while making businesses think twice about doling out discriminatory paychecks.

The vote ended in a 58 to 41 tally to move the bill forward, which, in most places, would have been a victory. However, the Senate makes its own rules, and without 60 yea votes on the procedural motion, the Paycheck Fairness Act cannot proceed.

But that’s enough doom and gloom. So many people worked so hard on this bill, and, while we’re not done yet, AAUW and I would like to give proper due to all those who did—and didn’t—contribute to our efforts to end the gender pay gap.

The MVP Award: Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) wins our sincerely given and much-deserved MVP award. As a longtime champion of women’s rights and House sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act, DeLauro personally made thousands of calls to colleagues and was an ever-present advocate as the bill went to the Senate. Her commitment and that of her staff to women and their families continually inspires us and humbles us.

The Never Give Up Award: After barnstorming the country to convince Congress to right the Supreme Court's wrong in her precedent-setting case, the indomitable Lilly Ledbetter wasn't finished. She spoke about the Paycheck Fairness Act in her speech the day President Obama signed her namesake bill, and she has been a vocal, moving advocate for the Paycheck Fairness Act every day since.

The Boots on the Ground Award: Thousands of women and men all over the country picked up their phones, grabbed their favorite pens, or sat down at their computers to let their senators, local newspapers, and blog readers know how important this bill was to them. They made lobby visits at home and on Capitol Hill, called into radio shows, and commented on blogs. This kind of grassroots support is priceless. We can only hope that next time a bipartisan group of senators will listen.

The Bully Pulpit Award: For their efforts to rally attention and votes, the Obama Administration wins this award and our thanks. It is beefing up equal pay enforcement, working across the government in its Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force, and ensuring that the issue of pay equity is alive and well at the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor. The president even thanked AAUW and the coalition in the Roosevelt Room this week for our efforts. You’re welcome, Mr. President, and we’re not done yet.

The Groovy Newbie Award: Fresh from their election victories, newly sworn-in Senators Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia and Chris Coons (D) of Delaware said yes to the Paycheck Fairness Act. This vote is a wonderful start, and we hope to count on the support of these senators on AAUW priorities in the future.

The Blast from the Past Award: A big thank you goes to Batgirl for showing the world that even Caped Crusaders can suffer from pay discrimination—and that we can fight back. Her starring role in our update to a 1972 public service announcement displayed the urgency of this issue in a fun, accessible way.

Honorable Mentions: Many thanks go to Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Tom Harkin (D-IA), all longtime pay equity advocates who championed this bill.

The Lamestream Award: Just one day after the Paycheck Fairness Act, an economic game-changer, failed to pass in the Senate, many news outlets focused instead on Bristol Palin’s upset on Dancing with the Stars and Prince William’s engagement. Congratulations to both, but we’re disgusted that the media saw no reason to cover a matter so important to the livelihood of American women and their families.

The Half Nelson Award: Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson was the lone Democrat to vote against the Paycheck Fairness Act. While it’s disappointing that Nelson voted no, we are ever optimistic and trust that he would have voted the right way if even one Republican had joined him.

The Lockstep Award: Despite their record of support for women’s and civil rights, Maine Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins decided to stick with their party on this bill. AAUW hopes that their vote against the Paycheck Fairness Act is not a signal that bipartisanship is already dead in the newly elected Senate.

The Father Does Not Know Best Award: It’s unfortunate that Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) cannot accept this award in person, because we’d be interested to hear him justify his no vote to his two daughters, not to mention the very blue state where he will face reelection in 2012.

Paycheck fairness advocates lost this battle, but the war on discrimination continues. We’ll no doubt encounter more stubborn senators with deaf ears, but AAUW and our coalition partners are determined to move ahead and to continue breaking through barriers for women and girls. Stay tuned.

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