On March 27th, Elise Stefanik introduced her newest bill on the House floor: H.R. 1935 or the WAGE Equity Act. This act was proposed after House Democrats introduced H.R. 7 or the Paycheck Fairness Act. Stefanik’s bill addresses several areas, including giving employers more options to allow flexible work arrangements, creating a self-audit system that would incentivize businesses to be proactive about limiting pay disparity, protecting pay negotiations, authorizing a grant to target pay negotiation education to women in college and tech programs, asking the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on the causes and impacts of women leaving the workforce for parental reasons, and supporting the empowerment of women in the workforce. The WAGE Equity Act, at the time of publication, has 55 cosponsors, all Republicans.
In contrast, H.R. 7 passed the House on March 27th 242-187, with all 235 House Democrats and seven House Republicans voting in favor. The bill would “amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide remedies for employees who face gender discrimination” according to Roll Call. The bill puts the burden of proof on employers to provide a legitimate reason for pay disparities, prevents them from retaliating against employees who talk about wages, and gives an easier path to workers who wish to take part in class action lawsuits concerning pay discrimination.
In a release discussing the points of her bill, Stefanik highlights where H.R. 7 falls short: it requires the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to collect data from employers regarding hiring, termination, and promotion records broken down by sex, race, and national origin, switches participation in a class action lawsuit from opt-in to opt-out, allows damage claims to be upheld even if there is no evidence of intentional discrimination, and establishes a higher burden of proof on employers to prove that a firing is not based on sex. Essentially, she states that the bill puts too much pressure on business owners, 40% of whom are women, and stifles growth. She also claims during a floor speech in support of her bill that “these intrusions into the operations of private businesses would add compliance costs exceeding $700 million per year.” She goes on to discuss how businesses would suffer from the shift to opt-out and would line the pockets of trial lawyers.
This bill comes at a crossroads for the GOP. While the Republican majority widened in the U.S. Senate after the 2018 midterms, the Democrats regained the House majority while flipping many districts that backed President Trump in 2016. The election saw 35 freshmen Democrats win election, bringing the total number of women in the Democratic caucus to 89. On the other side of the aisle, the number of GOP women dropped from 23 to 13, with only one GOP woman joining the ranks – Rep. Carol Miller (R-WV). There has been a movement from both the GOP leadership and the Republican National Committee to identify and empower Republican women to run for office, with Stefanik’s E-PAC leading the way.