Clinton vs. Trump: Equal Pay for Equal Work

By Tony Lee Jul 25, 2016
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​​As part of SHRM's "Year of Advocacy," staff members of SHRM and the Council for Global Immigration (CFGI), led by President and CEO Hank Jackson, attended the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia after attending the Republican National Convention in Cleveland the previous week. SHRM was the only human resources organization attending these events, representing 285,000 SHRM members.

  • For SHRM's complete coverage of the 2016 Republican National Convention, click​ here.​​​​​​​
  • For SHRM's complete coverage of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, click​ here.​​​​​​​

PHILADELPHIA—Ensuring that employers provide equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender, has traditionally been a priority of the Democratic Party, while Republicans historically have pushed back on any laws that would potentially infringe on an employer's ability to reward its workforce primarily on the basis of merit with minimal government interference. Those positions have held true so far in the 2016 presidential election season during the primary debates, in speeches on the stump and in position papers released by both candidates. 

However, a new wrinkle appeared during the Republican National Convention when Ivanka Trump, presidential candidate Donald Trump's eldest daughter, offered a different message from the podium during her speech to the delegates. "At my father's company, there are more female than male executives, women are paid equally for the work that we do, and when a woman becomes a mother she is supported, not shut out," she said. "Policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties, they should be the norm. Politicians talk about wage equality, but my father has made it a practice at his company throughout his entire career." Ivanka Trump added that her father "will fight for equal pay for equal work, and I will fight for this too, right alongside him." 

Reaction on social media was swift and primarily negative from Republicans dedicated to defeating new gender pay equity laws, and Democrats pounced on the opportunity to advance their agenda. "Nice concept. Equal pay for equal work. They should put it in their platform!" tweeted David Axelrod, former chief strategist for both of Barack Obama's presidential campaigns.  

The Trump camp has yet to publicly revise its stance on the gender pay gap issue in light of Ivanka's comments, but the candidate has in the past repeatedly said that women who work as hard as men will "make the same if [they] do as good a job," but that legislating equal pay is a mistake. 

Hillary Clinton has said that as president, she would work to close the pay gap. "Women earn less than men across our economy—and women of color often lose out the most," she says on her website. "We should promote pay transparency across the economy and work to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to give women the tools they need to fight discrimination in the workforce." The Paycheck Fairness Act is a bill Clinton introduced as a New York senator in an attempt to update the 1963 Equal Pay Act, which prohibits unequal pay for equal or "substantially equal" work performed by men and women.

The primary changes required by the Paycheck Fairness Act are that employers would have to demonstrate that any pay differential is not sex‐based, is job‐related and is consistent with business necessity. Opponents say it would decrease employers' flexibility to tie pay to performance and would move the economy closer to a "comparable worth regime," in which government plays an increasing role in determining wage rates.

For HR professionals, the issue is more than academic. "Hillary Clinton has been outspoken about her interest in closing the pay gap and passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation opposed by SHRM because it would restrict employers' pay practices and limit legitimate factors in making employee compensation decisions," said Kelly Hastings, a government relations senior advisor at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). 

"On the other hand, Donald Trump is more elusive on what policies, if any, he would promote if elected," Hastings said. "Ivanka Trump's remarks at the Republican National Convention indicate that Trump will fight for equal pay for equal work and making quality child care affordable for parents. Additional details would be welcomed by HR professionals on how exactly the candidates will work to ensure compensation equity in the workplace in a way that doesn't limit employer flexibility to reward employees using legitimate pay practices."

Paid leave also is a contentious issue. Clinton has laid out a thorough plan on her website, while Trump has yet to release a detailed position. Clinton's platform calls for enacting laws that would:

  • Guarantee up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave to care for a new child or a seriously ill family member, and up to 12 weeks of medical leave to recover from a personal serious illness or injury.
  • Ensure Americans receive at least two-thirds of their current wages, up to a ceiling, while on leave.
  • Impose no additional costs on businesses, including small businesses.
Clinton says she will fund her paid leave plan with tax reforms that will ensure the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share, according to her website. 

Trump hasn't publicly communicated his position on paid leave on his website or in interviews this year. But when asked specifically about paid leave in a Fox News interview in 2015, he said, "it's something that's being discussed. I think we have to keep our country very competitive, so you have to be careful of it."

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