Equal Pay, Paid Leave Enter Electoral Fray

Gender pay equity and paid family leave featured prominently at this year’s Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

In July, Republicans and Democrats gathered in Cleveland and Philadelphia respectively to formally nominate their presidential candidates. While the focus of any convention is to reinforce party unity and give respective candidates an opportunity to state his or her case, they serve another purpose as well. With millions watching, parties take the opportunity to outline their platform and their stance on national issues.

Equal pay and paid leave have both been hot topics this election cycle. Several states and cities across the country have moved on both issues, but action at the federal level remains to be seen. This month, both parties gave hints as to what their positions would be if they were given the control of the White House—and potentially, Congress.

The RNC: Like Father, Like Daughter?

Support for equal pay and paid leave legislation has traditionally followed party lines: Democrats in favor, Republicans against. 

The GOP’s stance on equal pay legislation is to favor the laws already on the books, namely the Civil Rights Act and the 1963 Equal Pay Act. Laws that go beyond these, they argue, merely open the floodgates for litigators. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie made this same case when he recently vetoed an equal pay bill in New Jersey. 

In regards to paid family leave, Republicans have historically opted to leave matters to employers, arguing that government mandates would only serve to raise taxes and burden small businesses. During his presidential campaign, Marco Rubio proposed an alternative solution: offering a 25 percent tax credit to businesses that offer up to 12 weeks of paid leave. In other words, a government incentive—not a mandate.

Ivanka Trump, in an RNC speech introducing her father as the Republican nominee, may have turned that position on its head:

“Single women without children earn 94 cents for each dollar earned by a man, whereas married mothers made only 77 cents. As researchers have noted, gender is no longer the factor creating the greatest wage discrepancy in this country, motherhood is...American families need relief. Policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties, they should be the norm.”


Ivanka Trump said her position aligned with her father’s, and that he would “change labor laws” to fight for women and mothers in the workplace. The speech took many by surprise, as it seemed to run counter to long-held GOP beliefs. While some have speculated that the speech was drafted solely to boost the candidate’s low favorability numbers with women, Ivanka Trump’s business practices suggest otherwise. Her lifestyle brand offers eight weeks of paid leave and additional perks for new mothers. 

The DNC: Gillibrand and Booker Call for Action


Whereas the RNC may have potentially seen a shift in Republican attitudes on some workplace issues, the DNC saw a hardening of the existing party line. To Democrats, government action on equal pay and paid leave is necessary to protect and empower women in the workplace.

On the first night of the DNC, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand stated her case for federal action on equal pay and paid family leave: 

“...Our policies are stuck in the Mad Men era. We are the only industrialized nation that doesn't guarantee workers paid family leave. Many women can't even get a paid day off to give birth. Most parents work outside the home, yet childcare can cost as much as college tuition. Families rely on women's income, but we still don't have equal pay for equal work. This makes no sense, because we know that when families are strong, America is strong.”


Gillibrand argued that Clinton, as potentially the first female president, would be the best equipped to make equal pay and paid leave a reality. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker echoed that sentiment in a separate speech:

“Hillary Clinton knows that when we have paid family leave...when a parent doesn’t have to choose between being there for a sick child and paying rent, or when a single mom earns an equal wage for equal work, it empowers the most important building block in all of our nation, and that is the family.”


Booker’s speech was well-received by fellow Democrats and even drew comparisons to President Obama’s 2004 DNC speech—the speech that made the then-senator a household name that year. 


With their presidential nominees formally chosen, both parties return to the campaign trail with renewed focus. Subjects like paid family leave and equal pay, while politicized, carry real-world implications in the workplace. This November’s results could potentially impact the future of paid family leave, minimum wages, gender pay equity, and criminal background checks—matters that weigh heavily on the minds of human resources professionals.

To see why this year’s election could be the most impactful in decades, read our new report, The Pro-Employee Tide: Trends in HR Compliance.

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