WASHINGTON – Senator Mark Udall came under fire from Republicans this week for supporting equal wage legislation even as the Colorado Democrat was shown to have paid female employees in his congressional office less than their male counterparts.
The pushback came amid a heated election-year debate in the U.S. Senate over legislation that would remove limits on punitive damage awards against businesses that discriminate based on gender.
The Paycheck Fairness Act would also prohibit employers from punishing workers who compare paychecks, and require the Labor Department to collect wage information based on gender and provide more workplace training on discrimination.
Udall and Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet both voted in favor of a procedural measure to advance the legislation, but the issue failed because it did not receive the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster.
Udall released a statement Wednesday that echoed President Barack Obama’s assertion about gender-pay inequity, adding that the gap is not outright discrimination, but based on an unequal playing field for women in the workplace.
“When measured across all jobs, Colorado women currently make on average nearly 79 cents for every dollar made by their male counterparts who perform on the same job,” Udall said.
Colorado Peak Politics reported Monday that female aides in Udall’s office have not earned as much in salary as their male counterparts. A glance at the list of the 53 employees who worked for Udall from last April to September confirms the report.
For example, the top three compensated staffers on his congressional staff were men. Chief of Staff Michael L. Sozan earned $77,499.96. Deputy Chief of Staff Joseph Ross Britton earned $67,500. Administrative and Systems Director John D. Fossum earned $54,996.96. The fourth highest-paid staffer was State Director Jennifer Rokala, who received $54,889.92 in compensation.
Rep. Cory Gardner, a Republican Senate contender who hopes to unseat Udall in November, supports the paycheck fairness legislation but criticized his opponent’s stance as hypocritical.
“I support equal pay for equal work — Senator Udall can’t even pay the female aides on his staff,” Gardner said in an interview Wednesday at the Capitol.
“It’s pure politics, and it’s sad they’re doing this to the American people,” Gardner said.
Another pay equity report by Peak Politics on Tuesday reviewed the salaries of Gardner’s staffers, and found that female workers there earn an average of $1.04 to every dollar that a male staffer makes.
The same report examined the salary report of Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman, who also supports the paycheck fairness bill, and found that females on his staff made $1.12 for every one dollar earned by a male staffer
Interestingly, Colorado Democratic Rep. Jared Polis, one of the wealthiest men in Congress, paid his female staffers a meager 65 cents to every dollar that male staffers in his office make.
Udall declined an interview request outside the Senate chamber and his spokesman Mike Saccone did not reply to a reporter’s question about whether female staffers in the senator’s office earn less than male staffers.
Instead, Saccone replied to a question about whether female staffers earn as much as their male counterparts for the same job.
“Women on Sen. Udall’s office doing the same work as men make the same wages or better,” Saccone said.
The six-month pay period report supports Saccone’s claim in one instance; two of Udall’s regional directors, Jerry D. Otero III and Pamela A. Shaddock, earned $24,754.92 from April to September last year.
The flurry of charges and counter-charges came as Obama declared Tuesday “National Equal Pay Day,” and obscured the nuances about working women’s wages and economic competition between the sexes.
On the one hand, some analysts have concluded that discrimination may pay no more than a minor role in pay inequity.
“Of the 21-cent differential, 17.7 cents, or 84.3 percent of the gap, can be explained by largely innocuous, non-discriminatory factors that have more to do with careers and life choices than employers’ prejudices,” said June O’Neill in a 2012 report she coauthored for the National Center for Policy Analysis. O’Neill served as director of the Congressional Budget Office during the Clinton administration.
“Thus the charge of wage discrimination based on the 77-cent statistics is grossly misleading,” O’Neill said.
On the other hand, O’Neill wrote that discrimination is unlikely to account for more than five percent of the gap and may not account for the gap at all.
With the congressional mid-term election seven months away, both parties are eager to court female voters. Democratic presidential nominees have had a durable advantage over Republicans among female voters, however, the role of pay inequity in that support is unclear.
Sen. Bennet’s “Colorado strategy” that he used to defeat his Republican opponent Ken Buck in the 2010 election was built on attracting female voters.
Guy Cecil, Bennet’s top aide at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, similarly is executing a strategy for vulnerable Senate Democrats to encourage female voters to head to the polls at the rate they do in presidential elections.