Stefanik pushes GOP wage fairness bill

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik speaks with the Enterprise editorial board Oct. 5, 2018, at the newspaper’s Saranac Lake office. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Rep. Elise Stefanik spoke on the House floor Wednesday afternoon to introduce the WAGE Equity Act, a Republican alternative to H.R. 7, the Paycheck Fairness Act introduced by Democrats.

Both pieces of legislation are designed to prevent disparate rates of pay between men and women in similar positions, but the WAGE Equity Act, introduced with 48 Republican cosponsors, takes a different approach to fixing the issue.

Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, began her testimony by touting the increasing numbers of women working in the country.

“There are nearly 75 million women working in the United States, the most in our nation’s history,” Stefanik said in her remarks to the House. “Thanks to our strong economy, nearly 3 million jobs were created in the last year, and of those jobs, nearly 58 percent went to women.”

She did not disagree that wage disparity remains an issue, but said the Democratic proposal went about the issue in the wrong way, calling it a “partisan approach.”

“Despite all of these positive economic indicators, there remains evidence that some cases women do not earn the same levels of compensation as men,” she said. “Republicans strongly support equal pay for equal work, and we owe it to women to constructively engage on the support issue and put forward solutions to strengthen existing law. Democrats have put forward a bill that prioritizes trial attorneys and government regulation over women’s economic empowerment.”

The Watertown Daily Times requested a copy of the WAGE Equity Act from Stefanik’s office but did not receive one. The bill was not yet posted to the House website. A press release from her office outlines key provisions of the legislation.

Among other things, it would create a “self-audit” system for businesses to examine and fix pay disparities on their own and makes disclosure of prior salary information to a new employer voluntary.

“America’s businesses, in particular our small businesses, which are the backbone of our economy, they seek to do right by their employees,” Stefanik told her colleagues. “In recognition of this, the WAGE Equity Act creates a self-audit system for voluntary pay analysis by businesses. … By creating this environment of consistent self reflection, we can empower businesses to do what they already seek to do.”

Other provisions are not directly related to wages, such as allowing employees to use “flexible work arrangements,” commissioning a study on the impact of women leaving the workforce for parental reasons and authorizing a grant to help women graduating from college and career programs learn negotiating skills.

Stefanik criticized the Democratic proposal for, among other things, requiring the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to collect business compensation data by sex and race, which she estimated would cost businesses up to $700 million annually, and for expanding class action lawsuits.

The Democratic H.R. 7 passed several hours after Stefanik’s testimony, 242-187. While seven Republicans voted for the law, Stefanik joined the majority of her party in voting against it.