WASHINGTON – Tennessee's two Republican senators said Thursday they opposed equal-pay legislation for women because it would lead to more litigation for businesses and was unnecessary.
Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker both voted Wednesday against allowing the Senate to consider the Paycheck Fairness Act. The chamber's other Republicans voted similarly.
The final tally of 53-44 was seven votes short of the total needed for the legislation to advance.
Supporters of the bill saw it as a way to help close the pay gap between men and women by allowing workers to discuss their wages with others on the job without fear of employers retaliating. It would also have made it easier for workers to sue employers when they feel they are victims of sex-based pay differences. Further, it would require employers to explain pay differentials between men and women for similar jobs.
The Obama Administration and Senate Democrats tried hard to create public pressure on Republicans to support the measure but to no avail. The issue is expected to be a major Democratic talking point in this fall's congressional campaigns.
"Democrats ignore the fact that existing law protects workers from wage discrimination, and are proposing more litigation and less workplace flexibility," Alexander said in a statement, explaining his opposition.
"Republicans took this issue seriously and tried to offer several amendments that would increase flexibility and freedom for workers, but the Senate Majority Leader (Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada) refused to have a real debate and proved this proposal is just an exercise to score political points."
Alexander said an amendment he offered, which didn't get a vote, would have made it easier for employers to work out flexible schedules, allowing working parents "to go to a piano recital or soccer games."
Corker had similar reasons.
"Pay discrimination already is illegal, as it should be, and unfortunately this bill does not advance that cause but instead enriches trial lawyers rather than assist those who experience discrimination," said Corker. "As an employer, I take very seriously gender discrimination and believe we should continue to strive toward eliminating all types of workplace discrimination."
While Census data says women earn on average only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man, many say the picture is more complicated.
A recent Pew survey showed women, for various reasons, are more likely to have their careers interrupted, holding down their earnings. The Pew study also shows that in 2012 median hourly wages for women were 84 percent of those for men and that among younger women, those 25 to 34, the pay differential was only 7 cents.