A bipartisan majority of Senators this week voted in favor of budget amendments that show growing momentum for paid sick leave for employees, social security and veterans benefits for same-sex couples, equal pay, and fair treatment for pregnant workers.
The votes, though significant, are symbolic. None of the amendments are binding. The bipartisan votes, however, show the popularity of these policy proposals and signal that both Democrats and Republicans realize that these issues are a priority for the American public.
One amendment to the budget resolution tracks the Healthy Families Act, sponsored in the Senate by Patty Murray (D-WA) and in the House by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-3), which allows employees to earn seven days of paid sick leave. Prospects for passing the Healthy Families Act were seen as slim in the GOP-majority Senate, but Thursday’s 61-39 vote in favor suggests bipartisan support is possible.
Sens. Pat Rooney (R-PA) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) surprised the measure’s supporters by voting in favor – backers of the paid sick leave amendment did not expect the measure to receive 61 Senate votes. Wisconsin has banned paid sick leave laws on the local level, but Philadelphia has recently changed to mandate employers give workers one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked.
Another amendment, which passed 56-43, calls to establish a “deficit-neutral reserve fund relating to promoting equal pay” that would apply largely to preventing sex discrimination and would prevent retaliation against employees who discuss wage information. A similar but stronger version of this amendment (vote 82), which tracks the Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-3), was rejected 45-54. Vote 82 would have allowed for punitive damages and limited the “other than sex” exceptions to the 1963 Act.
The Senate also unanimously passed a resolution calling for reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers – just one day after the U.S. Supreme Court decided Young v. UPS which set out a legal roadmap for pregnant workers discriminated against in the workplace to vindicate their rights under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
Additionally, the Senate “Vote-A-Rama” supported an amendment to the budget that would give same-sex married couples access to Department of Veterans Affairs benefits and Social Security benefits.
“Gay couples legally married in any state should be entitled to veterans and Social Security benefits identical to any other married couples. [This week], eleven Republicans joined Democrats in recognizing that gay couples deserve equal treatment, regardless of where they live,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) said in a statement. “We still have work to do to, but this is progress and a win for equal rights.”
These budget amendments are mostly symbolic, but provide insight into where Senate members stand on crucial issues. No Democrats voted for the final budget, but the budget passed anyway at 3:28 AM by 52-46.
Media Resources: The New York Times 3/27/2015; Sen. Brian Schatz Press Release 3/26/2015; The Hill 3/26/2015; US Senate 2015; National Women’s Law Center 4/12/2011