Now the administration appears to be zeroing in on the pay practices of government contractors, which employ nearly a quarter of the nation’s workforce and represent 200,000 businesses with contracts totaling $700 billion.
Since May, the arm of the Labor Department that oversees contractors’ compliance with anti-discrimination laws in employment (the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, or OFCCP) has floated two initiatives that could make the government much more privy to how contractors pay their workers — including one that could require contractors to report detailed information about salaries, raises, bonuses and benefits.
The OFCCP says the efforts are to help regulators hone in on — and enforce against — pay discrimination on the basis of gender, race and other protected categories. Eliminating the gender pay gap would raise the standard of living for working families and reduce the number of children living in poverty, supporters say.
But contractors are crying foul, saying it’s the wrong time to burden companies with more recordkeeping duties when the government should be focusing on creating jobs.
In the Washington metropolitan region, women overall fared slightly better than women nationally, earning 80 cents for every dollar paid to men, though women locally in some ethnic groups trail in national comparisons.
Pay discrimination alone can’t be blamed for these wage differences. A 2009 wage disparity study done for the Labor Department found that differences in raw wages “may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers.” A greater percentage of women work part time, leave the labor force to have children and choose lower-paying jobs in exchange for more flexible schedules — all of which contribute to the wage gap, the study found.
Currently, all federal contractors with at least 50 employees must file annual reports to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, breaking down the company’s workers by job category, gender and race or ethnicity. Those reports do not ask for pay data. Although federal anti-discrimination law already requires contractors to keep records on pay data, contractors don’t normally disclose the information unless they’re among the small percentage of companies — about 4,000 annually — that get audited by the OFCCP. One of the Labor Department proposals would tighten requirements for those contractors from providing a summary of total employees and compensation by pay grade or job title, to disclosing pay information for individual workers. That kind of employee-level data is typically used in litigating systemic pay discrimination cases against private sector businesses.