Democrats turn up the pressure for pay equity

President Barack Obama signed executive actions Tuesday barring federal contractors from retaliating against workers for comparing salaries and requiring those employers to report compensation data to the government by gender and race.

That came as Democratic lawmakers blasted congressional Republicans for opposing legislation to expand measures aimed at preventing gender-based pay discrimination.

That bill, the Paycheck Fairness Act, is expected to fail a procedural vote today in the Senate.

“Republicans in Congress have been gumming up the works,” Obama said Tuesday. “They’ve been blocking progress.”

The push revives a familiar line of attack from the 2012 campaign — contending Republicans are waging a “war on women.”

And it comes amid a backdrop of pushback against the Obama administration.

A McClatchy analysis in January, for instance, found that women employees at the White House make 91 cents for every dollar men make, or an average salary of $76,516 for women, compared with $84,082 for men.

The female share of the federal work force also declined under Obama, and 63 percent of the civilian government workers who earned a salary of $100,000 or more last year were men.

A Kansas City Star survey shows a mixed record on how much men and women are paid by members of the area’s congressional delegation.

Two Republican senators, the study showed — Roy Blunt and Pat Roberts — paid their female staffers more, on average, than their male colleagues in 2013. By contrast, Sens. Claire McCaskill and Jerry Moran paid their male staffers more.

All three local House members — Emanuel Cleaver, Sam Graves and Kevin Yoder — paid higher average wages to male staffers than female employees in the last quarter of 2013.

The figures come from expense reports filed with the secretary of the Senate and in the House. The reports show salaries paid to specific congressional staff members, which The Star sorted by gender.

Looking at average salaries in a congressional office, or any office, won’t precisely reflect the political disagreement over equal-pay legislation.

It’s possible, for example, to pay men and women exactly the same salaries for the same work, as the law seeks to require, but for average salaries in an office to differ because of the mix of job requirements, overall experience, whether the employees work full or part time and the number of men and women on the payroll.

A disparity in salaries might also suggest not that women are necessarily paid less for the same work, but that men have been hired and promoted to the most valued jobs.

Moran spokeswoman Katie Niederee called the average salary figures misleading for that reason.

“They don’t compare individuals who serve in the same role or have the same job description,” she said in an email. “Our salaries are based on position, experience and location of service — not on gender.”

But average salaries can reflect the general earnings of men and women in an office. Blunt, for example, paid his female workers $3,182 more per year, on average, than male employees.

Roberts paid his female employees an average of $81,081 a year in 2013, while their male colleagues earned $80,034. “The numbers speak for themselves,” spokeswoman Sarah Little said in a statement.

On the other hand, men in Moran’s office earned $6,551 more each year than women. McCaskill paid 19 men an average of $55,124 annually and 30 women an average of $46,587.

McCaskill spokeswoman Sarah Feldman said the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

“An analysis of average salaries doesn’t help answer the essential question — are women making the same as men for the same work? In Claire’s office, they are,” she said in a statement.

House members have fewer staff members than senators, so average salaries vary more widely. And, as in most offices, members of Congress can classify workers as full or part time, potentially skewing pay averages even more.

Yoder paid men an average of $8,526 more per year, based on the three-month sample submitted to the House. Graves’ gap was even wider: $21,942 a year.

Graves’ office said the figures included part-time workers, many of them female. On a full-time basis only, it said, average female earnings slightly exceed male employees of the office.

“Congressman Graves supports equal pay for equal work,” an emailed statement said.

Cleaver’s pay gap was the smallest of the House delegation, at $1,956 per year more for men. His office did not respond to a request for comment.

The figures are a snapshot in time — six months of 2013 for the Senate, and the last three months of 2013 in the House — and the annual averages have been extrapolated from those narrower pay periods.

Pay schedules and staffing may have changed since the figures were submitted. Some workers may have quit during the time period, potentially distorting the averages.

The figures did not include paid interns. In some cases, gender was not clear from the name, and those salaries were omitted from the calculation if the office did not clarify the situation.

It includes all salary figures but not benefits. It includes staffers in Washington, D.C., as well as those paid in the member’s state or district.

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