Last week, veteran newsman – and father of three daughters – Tom Brokaw published an essay titled “Welcome to the Century of Women.” He talks about the incredible gains women have made in the workforce, politics, media, law, higher education and corporate leadership, but also asks how we can do even more to remove barriers to equality. In a May 2 appearance on NBC’s “Today” show, Brokaw suggested the answer could start with “the simple idea” of equal pay.
At the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, we couldn’t agree more.
Combating pay discrimination is a top priority for our agency and for the Obama administration. We have placed a premium on identifying, remedying and preventing pay discrimination in federal contractor workplaces. Through enhanced training for our investigators, greater collaboration with our sister civil rights agencies, a more focused approach to compliance reviews and the removal of outdated protocols that hamstrung our enforcement, we have seen a dramatic increase in compensation cases.
From the time President Obama established the National Equal Pay Task Force in January of 2010 to the present, OFCCP compliance officers have identified and successfully resolved over 80 cases of race- or gender-based pay discrimination, recovering $2.5 million in back pay and salary adjustments for about 1,200 workers. In those three years, we more than tripled the number of compensation cases resolved by OFCCP compared to the three years before.
And our enforcement efforts have even broader benefits. The workers we helped in these cases will receive higher, fairer salaries throughout their careers. The companies we worked with to resolve these issues had to change their pay practices to ensure that such discrimination doesn’t happen again. And taxpayers can know their dollars are going to companies who follow the law and practice equal opportunity.
Just a few weeks ago, in marking Equal Pay Day, the president said, “Wage inequality undermines the promise of fairness and opportunity upon which our country was founded.” It goes against more than our values – it hurts our national interests. Tom Brokaw describes the failure to fully value the skills and talents of our nation’s women as a cost to the “common good.” Benefiting the common good – for workers and employers – begins with making sure that we don’t just work to create greater value. It means that we place greater value in the people doing the work.
We believe contractor success is essential to government success. The nearly 200,000 businesses that receive taxpayer-funded contracts provide essential services to our country. They prepare food and build airplanes and manage IT systems that keep the government running smoothly. They create millions of jobs. But they also promise to pay workers fairly so that we can all share in that success. At OFCCP, we are working to make good on the promise of equal pay.
Pamela Coukos is a senior program advisor at the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.