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WASHINGTON - President Obama plans two executive actions this week to promote equal pay for women — and to promote equal pay as a critical issue for Democrats this election year.
One action, an executive order, will prohibit federal contractors from retaliating against employees who talk about how much money they make, according to an administration official.
The other, a presidential memorandum, will require contractors to report data showing the compensation they provide their employees by sex and race.
Advocates for pay equity say that a major challenge to enforcing equal pay laws is secrecy about what people are paid. Some employers maintain policies that punish workers who voluntarily share salary information with co-workers, according to the National Women’s Law Center.
Tuesday’s actions will affect only businesses that do work for the federal government. The executive order doesn’t require workers to discuss pay or employers to make public their pay data, but the explicit ban on retaliation would provide what White House officials say will be an important tool to encourage transparency.
The actions are scheduled for Tuesday, what activists call “Equal Pay Day” — the day on the year’s calendar that marks the approximate extra time the average American woman would need to earn as much as the average man did in the previous year. According to the federal government, women make an average of 77 cents for every dollar that men earn.
Democrats are trying to make equal pay for women a major issue in the 2014 elections, as they look for ways to motivate a key voting bloc. Working women, particularly those who are single, have become among the most heavily Democratic of voting groups, and party strategists have been looking for ways to increase their enthusiasm.
Along the same lines, Senate Democrats plan to bring a bill to the floor this week that would require the Department of Labor to work with employers to do away with pay disparities between women and men.
Republicans say the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act wouldn’t create equal pay but simply place more regulatory burdens on employers.
“The ‘Paycheck Fairness Act’ doesn’t provide paycheck fairness for women,” said Kirsten Kukowski, national press secretary for the Republican National Committee. “In fact, it will cut flexibility in the workplace for working moms and end merit pay that rewards good work, the very things that are important to us.”