Thursday, July 22, 2010
By Penny Starr, Senior Staff Writer
(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration is backing legislation that includes regulations requiring U.S. businesses to provide to the government data about employee pay as it relates to the sex, race and national origin of employees.
In an orchestrated effort that included a statement by President Barack Obama and an event at the White House featuring Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Eric Holder and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, the president and his cabinet endorsed the Paycheck Fairness Act.
The House approved the act in 2009, but the Senate did not approve it. In the 111th Congress, both the House and the Senate have offered legislation that covers a wide range of workplace requirements and regulations, including training girls and women to become better at negotiating pay and benefits, and the establishment of a data base of U.S. workers’ pay in both the public and private sector.
At the White House on Tuesday, Biden was the keynote speaker at a Middle Class Task Force event where he told invited guests that the Obama administration is “on the right side of history” by passing legislation to ensure women are paid the same as their male counterparts.
“Women make up nearly half of all workers on U.S. payrolls, and two-thirds of families with children are headed either by two working parents or by a single parent who works,” Biden said.
“Yet, the workplace has, for the most part, not changed to reflect these realities – and it must. Closing the gender pay gap, helping parents keep their jobs while balancing family responsibilities, and increasing workplace flexibility – these are not only women’s issues, they are issues of middle class economic security,” he said.
Biden said Congress should pass the bill, which includes language requiring employers to provide information about employee pay. In Section 8 of the bill, entitled Collection of Pay Information by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it calls for an amendment to Section 709 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964:
“(f)(1) Not later than 18 months after the date of enactment of this subsection, the Commission shall–
“(A) complete a survey of the data that is currently available to the Federal Government relating to employee pay information for use in the enforcement of Federal laws prohibiting pay discrimination and, in consultation with other relevant Federal agencies, identify additional data collections that will enhance the enforcement of such laws; and
“(B) based on the results of the survey and consultations under subparagraph (A), issue regulations to provide for the collection of pay information data from employers as described by the sex, race, and national origin of employees.”
In a White House-issued press release, the “enhancement of enforcement” is described as “a pledge by the Department of Justice and other enforcement agencies will coordinate and collaborate through investigations, litigation, policy guidance, data analysis, and public education efforts to make meaningful progress in closing the wage gap,” the press release stated.
“Already, the Justice Department, in conjunction with the EEOC and four of its district offices, has launched a robust and intensive pilot program to coordinate the investigation and litigation of charges against state and local government employers,” it added.
But critics charge that the Paycheck Fairness Act will be harmful to small businesses and the economy. The National Association of Manufacturers issued a statement about the bill in April.
“The Paycheck Fairness Act, which purports to prevent instances of illegal gender-based discrimination, could outlaw many legitimate practices employers use to set employee pay rates, even where there is no evidence of intentional discrimination and employers act with reasonable belief that their pay policies are lawful,” the statement said.
“Manufacturers strongly oppose unlawful discrimination in any form, but the Paycheck Fairness Act would impose unparalleled government control over how employees are paid, among even the nation’s smallest businesses,” it added.
“It would drastically alter the Equal Pay Act to allow unprecedented penalties of unlimited punitive and compensatory damages in cases of alleged discrimination,” the statement said.
James Sherk, Bradley Fellow in Labor Policy in the Center for Data Analysis at conservative The Heritage Foundation, said that the law would be a boon to trial lawyers seeking damages from employers for their clients and would allow the courts to “micro-manage” American businesses.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Obama said it was discrimination in the workplace that is harming the economy and American families.
“In America today, women make up half of the workforce, and two-thirds of American families with children rely on a woman’s wages as a significant portion of their families’ income,” the statement said.
“Yet, even in 2010, women make only 77 cents for every dollar that men earn. The gap is even more significant for working women of color, and it affects women across all education levels,” the statement said.
“As Vice President Biden and the Middle Class Task Force will discuss today, this is not just a question of fairness for hard-working women. Paycheck discrimination hurts families who lose out on badly needed income. And with so many families depending on women’s wages, it hurts the American economy as a whole. In difficult economic times like these, we simply cannot afford this discriminatory burden.”