Obama Wants Federal Contractors to Pay Men and Women Equally

Carolyn Kaster/AP

This story has been updated. 

President Obama on Tuesday will issue two executive orders aimed at the federal contractor workforce as part of an effort to eliminate gender-based pay disparities.

The first executive order will protect a federal contractor’s right to discuss their pay openly with coworkers. The order will prohibit an employer contracted by the federal government from retaliating against employees who disclose their pay.

A White House official told Reuters that pay secrecy can lead to women not even knowing they are underpaid compared to their male colleagues. In turn, the women “cannot take steps to remedy the pay gap.”

The second order will enable the government to better track pay information based on race and gender. Obama will direct Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to create regulations that require federal contractors to collect and submit this information, which the agency could then use to enforce existing laws.

Obama will sign the orders ahead of the Senate’s consideration of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would apply the provisions of the executive orders to the entire American workforce, in addition to other measures to help employees facing paycheck discrimination. This mirrors a strategy the White House pursued earlier this year, when it boosted by executive order the minimum wage for federal contractors to $10.10, while calling on Congress to do the same for all workers.

Women currently earn about 81 cents on the dollar compared to men, according to the Labor Department. Obama will sign the orders on National Equal Pay Day, celebrated annually to show how far in the current year a woman must work to earn what a man earned in the previous year.  

Not all parties are convinced the executive orders are a good idea. Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, called the unique focus on federal contractors arbitrary.

“Government contractors are employers like all other employers and to the extent possible you’d like to see people treated the same,” Soloway said, adding there has been no communication between the White House and the contractor community. He said he will await seeing the specifics of the orders before issuing further judgment.

Sabrina Schaeffer, executive director of the Independent Women’s Forum -- a conservative women’s group -- told reporters on Monday figures such as the Labor Department’s 88 cents on the dollar for women do not take into consideration other factors such as experience and education.

“Perpetuating the myth that women are a victim class harms women by making them feel weak, and it distracts them from learning smart ways to increase their earnings, expand their influence in the workplace and pursue the lives they want,” Schaeffer said. 

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