Economy Labor Rights

Trump Administration Shuts Down Initiative to Combat Gender-Race Wage Gap

The Trump administration has announced that they will shut down a 2016 Obama-era initiative that empowered the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to collect pay data sorted by gender, race, and ethnicity from businesses with 100 or more employees.

The Trump administration called the rule, which would have required employers to provide only summary date, not specific salary information on individual employees, “enormously burdensome” and  unhelpful. But most employers were already prepared to file this data and a number of large public companies began widely disclosing this information in recent years. The policy was purposefully crafted with the employer community in mind and the goal of efficiency.

Vicki Shabo, vice president for workplace policy and strategy at the National Partnership for Women and Families, credited the policy’s dismantling to “the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the federal contractors’ business lobby and anti-worker and anti-regulatory senators on the Hill.”

The data collection, which would have begun in spring 2018, would have covered over 63 million employees and provided more concrete information on pay discrimination across industries and occupations. Unlike previous data collection initiatives, this one would have included information on benefits and retirement packages, and not simply wage information, providing a more comprehensive picture of the gender-race pay gap.

The initiative was aimed at encouraging greater voluntary compliance with equal pay laws, but would have also helped the EEOC and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) identify and focus their investigations on employers who flout the laws.

In June, the Trump administration released a budget proposal that disbanded the Labor Department division that has been tasked with policing discrimination among federal contractors for nearly forty years. Thanks to the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) millions of dollars in settlements have been awarded to Americans, who without systematic audits from OFCCP may not have known that they were subject to discriminatory practices by their employers.

In April, Trump revoked the 2014 Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order, which aimed to ensure that companies with federal contracts are in compliance with fourteen federal labor laws. This order went lengths to protect women in the workplace by addressing two major workplace concerns: pay transparency and forced arbitration clauses for sexual assault and discrimination claims.

Women currently make an average of 80 cents to a man’s dollar, but the racial disparity in the gender wage gap is vast. Based on data from 2015, compared to white men, Asian women earned 90 percent, white (non-Hispanic) women earned 76 percent, black women earned 62 percent, Hawaiian/Pacific Islander women earned 60 percent, American Indian women earned 58 percent and Hispanic/Latina women earned 54 percent.

The fights for gender pay equity on the federal level have been a back and forth tug for over 60 years. The first Equal Pay Law was signed by President Kennedy in 1963, making it illegal to pay women less money for doing the same job. However, a Supreme Court ruling later limited the amount of time that a woman had to file a wage discrimination suit against her employer to within 180 days of the first discriminatory pay check. In 2009, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, allowing women to file suit for wage discrimination no matter how much time had passed since the discrimination first began.

In 2014, Senate Republicans unanimously blocked a bill that would have made it illegal for employers to punish employees who discussed their wages. Democrats had hoped the bill would empower women and others to have constructive conversations about their position responsibilities and salaries.

This year, Representative Rosa DeLauro introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act for the 11th time, a bill that aims to strengthen discriminated workers’ position in court, end retaliation against workers who speak out, and improve federal enforcement capabilities concerning anti-discrimination laws.

Media Resources: Feminist Majority 2/1/16, 6/1/17, 4/7/17, 4/4/17; The Hill 8/29/17; Huffington Post 8/30/17

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