Republican Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska countered claims Friday that government mandates are needed to address the gender wage gap by arguing instead for policies that empower workers to address their own pay.
President Barack Obama’s administration has put forth “wage gap” solutions that would allow federal agencies to take further control of how businesses operate. Fischer says a better solution would be laws that protect workers who wish to openly discuss their compensation with their colleagues.
“We need to allow employees to engage in an open dialogue about their salaries,” Fischer told a gathering at the American Enterprise Institute. “To put it bluntly, Americans are afraid to ask how their salaries compare to their colleagues. Meanwhile current law does not adequately protect workers against retaliation from employers that want to prevent those conversations.”
Fischer introduced legislation in 2015 that would legally protect workers who discuss their wages. She notes that once workers can discuss and compare their wages they will be empowered to negotiate for fair compensation without government overreach. More recently the administration has put forth a proposed rule to fight pay discrimination by allowing federal agencies to collect nearly 20 times the employment information it currently collects from businesses.
“I believe this is just another government mandate that intrudes into the operations of a private business,” Fischer noted. “We cannot discount the burden this will put on employers and with every new regulation, there is a cost. Government should never be in the business of data-mining private entities for their own political goals.”
Critics of her proposal argue it just doesn’t go far enough. While lawmakers from both parties agree employees should be allowed to openly discuss their wages, many Democrats believe those protections should be met with government help. Washington Center for Equitable Growth Chief Economist Heather Boushey notes the data collecting will help the government better fight discrimination.
“One of the ways we understand what discrimination looks like is by understanding the aggregate impact, what it looks like across a wide array of firms and a wide array of jobs,” Boushey noted. “Having access to data is what allows us to know whether there is a problem.”
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