In his State of the Union address last week, President Barack Obama emphasized the need to address the gender-wage gap by paying women the same salaries as men for the same work.
But he has no plans to take executive action on the issue when it comes to federal contractors.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and 56 Democratic congresswomen in the House wrote a letter to Obama Friday asking him to use an executive order to ban federal contractors from retaliating against employees who disclose or inquire about their wages. The Paycheck Fairness Act, which Obama has urged Congress to pass, would enact such a ban for all United States employers, but Obama has not moved to implement the law for federal contractors.
"We'd like to have an answer from the White House," DeLauro told HuffPost in a phone interview. "We have raised the issue with the president's senior advisers before, and they tell us they are looking at the issue. But time is of the essence. Women are losing money because of this."
Obama announced last week that he would take executive action on raising the minimum wage for federal contractors, which gave some advocates and lawmakers hope that he also would take executive action on equal pay. But a White House spokesperson told HuffPost that the president does not have any immediate plans to do so.
DeLauro said half of all U.S. workers are either forbidden or strongly discouraged from discussing their pay, which makes it difficult for women to realize when they are being paid less than men doing the same work. Lilly Ledbetter, who inspired the first equal pay bill Obama signed into law in 2009, worked for Goodyear Tire & Rubber for nearly 20 years before realizing that she was being paid significantly less than her male counterparts the whole time.
While the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act restored the ability for women to legally challenge pay discrimination, it did not address the gag rule many employers have in place, either by policy or custom.
"The administration has the authority to make it clear that those sorts of policies are explicitly prohibited for all federal employers," said Fatima Goss Graves, vice president for education and employment at the National Women's Law Center. "It would help move the ball forward to ensure all workers have those protections."
DeLauro's letter also asked the administration to move the ball forward on equal pay by implementing its compensation-data collection tool, which the Department of Labor planned to roll out in January. The tool would require contractors to provide basic information about their pay practices to the Labor Department to allow effective monitoring of pay discrimination.
"It's now February, so it missed its own deadline of putting out that tool," Graves said. "So I completely get why Congress is pushing the administration so hard to take the steps that it can to deal with pay discrimination."
Obama has taken some steps to address pay discrimination. In addition to signing the Fair Pay Act, he established an Equal Pay Task Force to assess and address the problem. But the Democratic congresswomen and progressive advocacy groups are hoping for more action from the president on equal pay in the coming months.
"We are hopeful, and we're being aggressive," DeLauro said. "I think it seems like a reasonable request."
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