The nation’s largest federal-worker union has called on President Obama to replace government contract workers with federal employees to help close the pay gap between women and men.

The American Federation of Government Employees argued in a statement on Tuesday the federal government is closer to pay equity than the private sector because it compensates workers based on their roles rather than subjective factors such as gender.

Lilly Ledbetter, an Alabama Goodyear worker who advocates for pay equity, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP/Susan Walsh).

The labor group said women in the private sector earn about 20 cents less than men, compared to 11 cents less than men in the public sector. The numbers come from a 2009 report from the Government Accountability Office that said the gender pay gap in the federal workforce had declined over the previous two decades.

“Simply by bringing more work in-house, President Obama could cut the gender pay gap in half,” AFGE president J. David Cox said in a statement on Tuesday.

It’s worth noting that a Pew Research Center study last year showed that the overall pay gap for women has narrowed to 16 cents compared to men, and that millenial women — those between the ages of 25 and 32 — are the first in modern history to start their work lives at near parity with men. The report did not provide figures for federal workers.

The Professional Services Council, a group that represents government contractors, said the union proposal could lead to unintended consequences, since private firms generally pay employees more than the federal government for high-demand jobs.

“Our goal ought to be to eliminate the gender gap, but we don’t want to do that in a manner that requires us to lower people’s salaries,” said Stan Soloway, president of the council. He described the union plan as “a wonderful example of incredibly twisted logic.”

The AFGE also argued that executive salaries for federal contractors has made the pay gap worse. “Federal taxpayers should not be on the hook for paying contractor CEOs double the salary earned by our government’s top officials — especially when that only perpetuates the gender pay gap that exists in the private sector,” Cox said.

Congress last year lowered the amount the government can reimburse contractors for salaries from $952,308 to $487,000. The Professional Services Council opposed the new cap, saying it would inhibit the ability of companies to attract top talent.

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