“Only by enlisting the full potential of women in our society,” President Donald Trump said at the Women’s Empowerment Panel,” “will we be truly able to — you have not heard this expression before — make America great again.” However, Trump’s words don’t seem to align with his actions. While Trump touts the role of American women in a Trump era economy, with the sweep of a pen, he seems to be undermining his own words, rescinding rights for women by executive order.
Shortly before “Equal Pay Day” on April 4, Trump pulled back Obama-era protections for wage equality by revoking the 2014 Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order. Aimed at ensuring that businesses that receive federal contracts comply openly with labor and civil rights law, the 2014 order has two clauses Trump came particularly under fire for nullifying. In particular, the order required paycheck transparency, and banned forced arbitration clauses for sexual harassment, assault, or discrimination claims.
The first rule required companies to provide all employees with detailed information regarding their hours and compensation, protecting workers against wage theft. The second rule addressed what are known as “cover-up clauses” by critics — forced arbitration clauses in employee contracts requiring allegations to be settled in private proceedings, keeping public records clean. Such clauses become essentially a way to keep sexual harassment allegations out of sight — neither the general public nor other employees are likely to find out, creating the impression that there are no problems and discouraging potential victims from speaking out.
“We have an executive order that essentially forces women to pay to keep companies in business that discriminate against them — with their own tax dollars,” Noreen Farrell, director of Equal Rights Advocates, said to NBC. “It’s an outrage.”
The Fair Pay order additionally mandated submission of employee salary details to the government that made it possible for employees and regulators to discover wage gaps like one alleged at Wal-Mart in the class action case Dukes v. Wal-Mart. “No one, including workers at Wal-Mart, would have understood the issues in that case had there been forced arbitration clauses,” Farrell also said to NBC. Instead, Farrell noted that arbitration clauses “would have kept all of those claims in secret.”
Such clauses were brought to public attention last year when anchor Gretchen Carlson’s sued former Fox News CEO, Roger Ailes, for sexual harassment. Carlson’s direct suit, which avoided company involvement, evaded her contract’s arbitration clause. Carlson subsequently testified before Congress on the issue of forced arbitration, pushing the issue into the public spotlight.
“If Ms. Carlson had followed Mr. Ailes’s reading of her contract, her colleagues might never have learned that she was fighting back,” wrote Senators Richard Blumenthal, Dick Durbin, and Al Franken. “They might never have followed her example; Roger Ailes might never have been exposed; and Fox News might never have been forced to change its behavior. Decades of alleged abuse — harassment that should disgust and astound any reasonable person — could have been allowed to continue.”
This is, of course, not the only protection women are losing under the Trump administration. Shortly after Women’s Marches across the nation became the largest demonstration in U.S. history, and a day before the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Trump revived the global gag order on abortion first put in place by Reagan, rescinded under Clinton, replaced by Bush, and then removed again by President Obama. This means that any overseas organization receiving U.S. aid cannot have anything to do with abortion — not only in providing them, but also in educating about them.
“You can do anything” to women, Trump said in Washington Post’s released 2005 tapes. It was those comments that incited widespread outrage from both the public and politicians across the spectrum. A number of leading Republicans withdrew support at this point, including Senator John McCain and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Even Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, expressed offense in a statement shortly following the incident, although he stood by his candidacy. Such outrage seems not to have carried over to Trump’s actual policy decisions.
The impact of the Trump administration on women seems to have been negative thus far, despite positive campaign promises. Donald Trump’s actions betray a certain flippancy with the fate of American women. For example, public criticism was heaped on Trump recently for signing an anti-abortion executive order without a single woman in the room.
In terms of the Fair Pay order, unlike with Carlson at Fox News, it is unlikely that the majority of workers will be able to work around arbitration clauses in their contracts. Cases like Carlson’s also are able only to hold an individual liable, instead of entire corporations, meaning their impact is limited. With the revoking of the 2014 order, women in the workplace have once again been left vulnerable to abuse.
If President Trump truly believes that the role women play in American society is integral to America’s success, his actions so far have been woefully misplaced. Handicapping fifty percent of the population in the workplace certainly doesn’t seem logically to be a winning move. As someone who prides himself on knowing “the art of the deal,” surely President Trump should see that too.