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Obama signs executive orders aimed at granting women equal pay for equal work

To honor National Equal Pay Day on April 8, 2014, President Barack Obama signed two executive orders to help curb the pay disparity for women by federal contractors in a White House ceremony, where he announced that "I'm going to take executive action to make it easier for working women to earn fair pay." Prior to signing the executive order and presidential memorandum the president delivered remarks about ensuring women receive equal pay for equal work. The Senate will follow by symbolically voting on the Paycheck Fairness Act on Wednesday, April 9, 2014 a bill that extends the president's executive actions beyond federal contractors applying it to all employers.

President Barack Obama signed two executive actions to curb the gender pay gap for federally contracted workers at a White House National Equal Pay Day ceremony where he also delivered remarks on equal pay for equal work, April 8, 2014
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Obama promised a year of economic action, where he will use his executive power to push through legislation when Congress refuses to act. Obama explained that "in this year of action I've used my executive authority whenever I could to create opportunity for more Americans." The President is keeping his pledge to pass as much legislation he can help Americans reach the middle class through executive action, order, and presidential memorandums when Congress will not move.

The executive actions the president signed are considered a continuation of Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill the President signed into law, and it was only fitting that Lilly Ledbetter, "the plaintiff in a landmark discrimination case" was at this ceremony introducing the president stating that "My bill was just an important first step in the fight for fair pay."

Obama started out by stating the purpose of the event; "We're here because today is Equal Pay Day…. And it's nice to have a day, but it's even better to have equal pay. And our job is not finished yet. Equal Pay Day means that a woman has to work about this far into 2014 to earn what a man earned in 2013. Think about that. A woman has got to work about three more months in order to get what a man got because she's paid less. That's not fair."

The president tied equal pay with the economic opportunity program that aims at giving all American an equal chance to reach the middle-class regardless of socio-economic background. Obama explained; "America should be a level playing field, a fair race for everybody -- a place where anybody who's willing to work hard has a chance to get ahead. And restoring that opportunity for every American -- men and women -- has to be a driving focus for our country.

As with most of his recent speeches Obama included many elements heard in his remarks on his economic opportunity program including his presidential successes regarding the economic recovery and with health care, the Affordable Care Act reaching its goal of 7 million enrollees. The president again outlined his economic opportunity program to help the lower-income and middle-class recover for the economic crisis.

President Obama's women economic agenda is part of his economic opportunity program, which is compromised of four parts; creating good paying jobs, technical job training programs, education initiatives from Pre-K to college, and fair wages including equal pay for equal work and raising the minimum wage. Obama indicated that "part of that is fighting for fair pay for women -- because when women succeed, America succeeds. When women succeed, America succeeds."

President Obama explained "the challenge" regarding equal pay, saying it is of a wider economic concern than just a women's issue. Obama stated; "Today, the average full-time working woman earns just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns; for African American women, Latinas, it's even less. And in 2014, that's an embarrassment. It is wrong. And this is not just an issue of fairness. It's also a family issue and an economic issue." Continuing Obama insisted that "it's all bad for business."

President Obama discussed the necessity in passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, which the Senate plans to vote on tomorrow, Wednesday, April 9. Obama stated the Senate has "a chance to do the right thing. And it would put sensible rules into place, like making sure employees who discuss their salaries don't face retaliation by their employers." The president realizes that he cannot solve all legislative problems with his "pen and phone" and still needs Congress to pass legislation that will affect the whole country.

Explaining why the bill is important Obama pointed out that "There are women here today who worked in offices where it was against the rules for employees to discuss salaries with one another. And because of that, they didn't know they were being paid less than men."

The Paycheck Fairness Act would allow workers to discuss their pay among co-workers to be aware of any disparities without punishment or recourse by their employers. If there are pay disparities employers would have to prove it was not caused by gender discrimination, and lawsuits would be allowed including seeking "punitive damages" for gender discrimination. The bill sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-MD, has 52 Democratic sponsors and might not even pass the Senate; it definitely will not pass the House.

The Republicans have opposed the bill, and President Obama was quick to lay on the blame on them as he always does, and especially now in a midterm election year. Obama criticized; "Republicans in Congress have been gumming up the works. They've been blocking progress on this issue, and of course other issues that would help with the economic recovery and help us grow faster. But we don't have to accept that." Obama brought up that the bill originally did not pass two years ago because of Republican opposition.

Instead, President Obama asked Americans to take action and to convince their senators and House Representative to pass the bill; "America, you don't have to sit still. You can make sure that you're putting some pressure on members of Congress about this issue. And I don't care whether you're a Democrat or a Republican. If you're a voter -- if you've got a daughter, you got a sister, you got a mom -- I know you got a mom -- this is something you should care about."

Once he started in campaign attack mode, President Obama would not stop and continued to attack the Republicans' entire economic policy and philosophy, stating; "And of course, the fact that we've got some resistance from some folks on this issue up on Capitol Hill just fits with this larger problem, this vision that the congressional Republicans seem to be continually embracing -- this notion that, you know what, you're just on your own, no matter how unfair things are."

Obama listed the issues he differs on and finds fault with the Republicans, including their fiscal year 2015 budget; "The budget the Republicans in Congress just put forward last week, it's like a bad rerun," repealing Obamacare; "that novel idea of repealing the Affordable Care Act. Fiftieth time they've tried that." And their opposition to raising the minimum wage as the president has been advocating from $7.25 to $10.10; "yet here, Republicans in Congress are dead set against it, blocking a pay raise for tens of millions of Americans -- a majority of them women." Obama concluded that "Republicans seemingly opposing any efforts to even the playing field for working families."

President Obama called on Congressional Republicans to prove his accusation regarding their motives wrong by voting for the Paycheck Fairness Act. Obama challenged that "If Republicans in Congress want to prove me wrong, if they want to show that they in fact do care about women being paid the same as men, then show me. They can start tomorrow. They can join us in this, the 21st century, and vote yes on the Paycheck Fairness Act."

Continuing with promise to take action Obama announced that he would be signing at the event two executive actions to help stop the cycle; "And I'm not going to stand still either…. And today, I'm going to take action -- executive action -- to make it easier for working women to earn fair pay." The actions would essentially do what the Paycheck Fairness Act would do, but at a smaller level and apply only to federal contractors.

President Obama described the two orders he is signing, one is "an executive order to create more pay transparency by prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their pay with each other." The second is "a presidential memorandum directing the Department of Labor and our outstanding Secretary of Labor, Tom Perez, to require federal contractors to provide data about their employee compensation so pay discrimination can be spotted more easily."

The president acknowledged that solving the gender gap will involve more than legislation; "This is not something we're going to achieve in a day. There's going to be a lot of stuff that we've got to do to close the pay gap. We got to make it possible for more women to enter high-paying fields that up until now have been dominated by men…. And we've all got to do more to make our workplaces more welcoming to women." According to Obama there needs to be more women studying STEM subjects, science technology, engineering and math and entering those professions, more women need to be allowed to raise the corporate ladder, and more women need to be elected to Congress.

The president views equal pay for equal work as an economic issue of importance to the whole country. Obama concluded that; "ultimately, equal pay is not just an economic issue for millions of Americans and their families. It's also about whether we're willing to build an economy that works for everybody, and whether we're going to do our part to make sure that our daughters have the same chances to pursue their dreams as our sons, and whether or not we're willing to restore to the heart of this country that basic idea -- you can make it, no matter who you are, if you try."

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-VA responded to the President remarks by stating; "All of us support equal pay for equal work. Let's put the politics aside, and let's get to work to see how we can make sure if there are problems with the law being implemented that we can address that." Rep. Cantor was referring to the Equal Pay Act of 1963 signed into law by another Democratic President John F. Kennedy. While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY called the Democrats recent push of legislation "a never-ending political road show."

The highest ranking Republican woman in Congress, House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rogers R-WA also issued a statement to prove that Republicans are not waging a war on women just because they oppose the bill. She commented; "On this Equal Pay Day, I urge us to stop politicizing women. Let's start focusing on policies that are actually going to help women and everyone in this country have a better life. Let's focus on policies that are actually going to move forward on a jobs plan - that will create a higher paycheck, more opportunities, and that opportunity for a better life."

The Republicans also issued a memorandum in opposition to Paycheck Fairness Act, stating; "First, it is already illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender. It's been against the law to pay a woman less than a man with comparable experience in the same job since the Equal Pay Act of 1963. The 'fix' that Democrats propose, then, won't change that. It would, however, tightly regulate how employers can pay their employees. This law will not create "equal" pay, but it will make it nearly impossible for employers to tie compensation to work quality, productivity and experience, reduce flexibility in the workplace, and make it far easier to file frivolous lawsuits that line the pockets of trial lawyers."

The Republicans also blamed the differences based on profession rather than gender; "There's a disparity not because female engineers are making less than male engineers at the same company with comparable experience. The disparity exists because a female social worker makes less than a male engineer - just as a female engineer would out-earn a male social worker. The difference isn't because of their genders; it's because of their jobs. The Paycheck Fairness Act wouldn't change that." The 77 cents per dollar is an average of women's pay regardless of profession.

The Obama and the White House have been touting that the pay disparity is 23 percent or 77 cents on the dollar. The White House Council of Economic Advisers released on March 12, 2014 a report on "the state of the workforce women" which determined that despite much advances, especially regarding education, women still learn less, 77 cents of every dollar men earn for the same work. The Labor Department, however, actually calculates that it is closer to 5 to 7 percent for each dollar men are paid. Therefore it seems the huge pay gap is clearly a myth in the 21st century, and that Obama is using as a midterm election rallying cry against the Republicans.

The media has been highlighting the hypocrisy in Obama's critic and calls for equal pay for equal work when there is a pay disparity in the White House between women and men working in the Obama administration. Apparently, women staffers at the White House are only earning 88 percent of what their male counterparts are according to a study conducted by the "conservative think-tank American Enterprise Institute." White House Press Secretary Jay Carney when asked about the study and contradiction on Monday, April 7 during his daily press briefing responded; "We have as an institution here, have aggressively addressed this challenge, and obviously, though, at the 88 cents … that is not a hundred, but it is better than the national average."

On CBS This Morning, White House correspondent Major Garrett commented on the issue saying "Now, the White House said it's gender pay gap is tied to job experience, education, and hours worked, among other factors. This matters because those explanations, according to the Labor Department, explain a good deal of the gender pay gap nationally."

President Obama made sure to argue back against the claim that the 77 cents per dollar claim is false and is just exaggerated to use as a campaign ploy. Obama expressed; "Even worse, some commentators are out there saying that the pay gap doesn't even exist. They say it's a myth. But it's not a myth; it's math. You can look at the paychecks. You can look at the stubs…. It's basic math that adds up to real money."

President Obama urged Americans to fight against these claims with their senators advising them "If they tell you that there's not a pay gap out there, you tell them to look at the data, because there is. It's time to get this done." The president concluded the event by stating; "And I'm going to do my small part right now by signing this executive order and presidential memoranda," followed by the signing of both executive actions.

In advance of the signing ceremony, the White House released a fact sheet entitled "Expanding Opportunity for All: Ensuring Equal Pay for Women and Promoting the Women's Economic Agenda." The fact sheet explains the two new executive actions the president signed, but also stated the importance of raising the minimum wage both hourly and tipped to combine and help women workers, a correlation the president has emphasized a number of times before. Especially since women represent 55 percent of hourly minimum wage workers, and also are "the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of U.S. households." While the gender pay is even larger for minority women with African-American women at 64 cents and Latinas at 56 cents per dollar.

The White House boasted of Obama's economic agenda that has included in the past signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009, creating the National Equal Pay Task Force in 2010 "to crack down on violations of equal pay laws." Now he is working that Congress should pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, encouraging the states to pass "paid leave initiatives," and in his FY 2015 budget, Obama expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for "childless workers."

The president is also launching "five regional forums on women's issues" and this summer on June 23, there will be a White House Summit on Working Families, which the president is hosting. The White House announced the "forums will take place in Denver on April 11; Chicago on April 28; San Francisco on May 5; Boston on May 19 and in New York City (date to be announced)."

Obama and Democrats have chosen economic opportunity as their key issue in the midterm election campaign. The Democrats are on the edge where they might lose six seats and their control on the Senate. They already realize regaining control of the House of Representatives is virtually impossible at this point. Presidents often see their parties lose seats in the second midterm elections of their terms, and Obama and Democrats are trying to curb that precedent. However, the economic opportunity program has not energized the base and voters as much as the Democrats had hoped. President Obama will no doubtably continue his campaign rhetoric as the year progresses, boasting of his administration's accomplishments, focusing on economic issues important to the Democratic base and included in the Obama budget and attack, attack and mock the Republicans hoping it will be enough to keep the Senate come November.


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