Posted on April 8, 2014 at 4:41 AM
Tuesday, Apr 8 at 4:41 AM
WASHINGTON -- In his latest effort to circumvent Congress and highlight an issue that he hopes can help fellow Democrats' chances at the polls in November, President Obama will announce a pair of moves on Tuesday that his administration says will strengthen enforcement of equal pay laws for women.
First, Obama will sign an executive order banning federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their compensation.
It is difficult to quantify how frequently employees are retaliated against for discussing their salaries. But a 2011 Institute for Women's Policy Research study found that about half of all workers report the discussion of salary information is prohibited by employers.
"It's very difficult for women to know they are being discriminated against if they can't talk to one another about compensation," said White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.
The president will also sign a presidential memorandum instructing Labor Secretary Tom Perez to establish new regulations requiring federal contractors to submit to the Department of Labor summary data on compensation paid to their employees, including data by sex and race.
The Department of Labor will use the data to encourage voluntary compliance with equal pay laws and allowing more targeted enforcement by focusing efforts where there are discrepancies, according to the White House.
The White House has put a special focus on women over the last few weeks which kicked off with a multi-city push in Orlando last month that will take Obama and other aides to cities to talk about how economic issues facing women.
Obama's latest foray into the issue also comes with the Senate set soon to consider the Paycheck Fairness Act , which would impose new regulations on how companies pay employees in an effort to ensure women are not unfairly earning less than their male counterparts.
The Senate proposal, which faces long odds at getting though the GOP-led House, would require companies to prove that pay differences among men and women are due to factors independent of gender. It would also raise penalties for those found to be in violation of the act, broaden the opportunity for gender based class-action lawsuits and mandate that the Labor Department begin collecting data on gender and wages.
While the Paycheck Fair Act legislation has little chance of gaining traction, the White House is counting on the issue to resonate with women--particularly racial minorities--whose turnout will prove to be critical to Democrats chances in the midterm elections.
The expected executive action by Obama comes on what activists call "Equal Pay Day" - the day on the calendar that marks the extra time the average American woman would need to work to earn as much as her average male counterpart did in the previous year. The White House in recent weeks has repeatedly highlighted government data that indicates women earn 77 cents for every dollar in wages paid to men.
And on Monday, Jarrett noted that the disparity is even wider with black and Hispanic women, who respectively earn on average 65 cents and 56 cents for every dollar earned by men.
"As the president continues to fight for equality, making sure that women have equal pay is very important part of that," Jarrett said.
The action is already winning praise from some activists.
"This is a huge victory for the one in five American workers employed by federal contractors," said Deborah Vagins, ACLU senior legislative counsel and co-chair of the National Paycheck Fairness Coalition.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's spokesman, Don Stewart, questioned the substance of the White House and Senate Democrats push on the issue.
"The president has been telling us for the last five years that he already made equal pay 'a reality,' and that he made sure that women are treated 'the same,' that the first bill he signed 'ensures' equal pay," Stewart said in an e-mail. "So you have to wonder if maybe, just maybe, this is an effort to distract from the consequences of Obamacare, the economy, lack of new ideas."
Conservatives note that the White House has its own gender wage gap. According to the American Enterprise Institute's analysis of salary data from the "2013 Annual Report to Congress on White House Staff," the 229 female employees in the Obama White House are being paid a median annual salary of $65,000, compared with a median annual salary of nearly $74,000 for the 232 male White House staffers.
White House press secretary Jay Carney defended the administration on Monday.
"Men and women in equivalent work here earn equivalent salaries," Carney said. "For example, we have two deputy chiefs of staff, one man and woman, and they earn the same salary. We have 16 department heads - over half of them are women - all of whom earn the same salaries as their male counterparts."