Labor hires more to monitor pay equity

Friday - 8/13/2010, 10:40am EDT

Pat Shiu, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs

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By Dorothy Ramienski
Internet Editor
Federal News Radio

The Department of Labor is stepping up its efforts to monitor pay equity and wage discrimination.

As part of a new, collaborative effort among the Labor Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, the Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the administration will ensure strategic enforcement of pay discrimination cases.

Pat Shiu, is head of the Contract Compliance Office and explains that her agency is designed to level the playing field for all American workers who work for federal contractors, which she says is about 22 percent of the country's workforce.

The office works to make sure no one is discriminated against, and one of the key components of its work has to do with pay discrimination.

"[It] is a persistent problem. It's been 47 years since President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law, yet the 23 cent gap between what men and women are paid persists. This has really huge and very real ramifications for American families. It means the difference in what kinds of schools people go to, what kind of food is placed on the table -- really everything."

There are a couple of different ways that cases of pay disparity can be highlighted. For one, the office does audit federal contractors, but also investigates claims by employees.

Shiu says that most contracting companies are very aware of the problem and are doing what they can, but the office has found some bad apples over the years.

"Many, many contractors are very cognizant of this issue and want to comply with the law and try and do what they can. It's a very tricky issue. . . . It's a persistent problem among all industries."

Since President Obama came into office, Shiu says more than 200 people have been hired at the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.

"[They] are on the ground looking not only at this issue, although this is a priority issue for the OFCCP and for the White House, but for all issues. We're here to level the playing field for all workers so everybody has an equal shot at a good job."

There is a specific process the office follows, though, before a company could actually get in trouble for pay discrimination.

"Before we pursue any administrative or legal process, what we really try and do is provide technical assistance to the extent that we can [and] work with contractors. Voluntary compliance is really what we want, but we also want to make sure people are paid correctly, so sometimes we will conciliate cases. Those who have been deprived of pay that they should have been paid will get that back in terms of back pay. So there are many steps before we actually go to court."

She adds, however, that the office does exist to enforce the law, and companies should always keep that in mind.