WHITE HOUSE — President Barack Obama is stepping up his push to ensure that women are paid wages equal to those of men.
In the latest episode of yet another escalating battle with Congress, the president signed an executive order he hopes will increase transparency about wage disparities between men and women.
The order bans companies that do business with the U.S. government from firing or otherwise punishing employees who inquire about or discuss their wages and compare them openly to what others in the company are earning.
Sex-based discrimination in the workplace has been illegal in the United States since 1963. At the signing ceremony Tuesday, Obama said disparities still exist.
“Today, the average full-time working woman earns just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. For African-American women and Latinas, it's even less, and in 2014, that's an embarrassment; it is wrong,” said Obama.
Allowing open discussion of wages in the workplace could make it harder for companies to defend themselves in lawsuits where they are accused of illegally paying men more than women for equal work.
Obama signed the order as the Senate prepares to vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act, a law backed by the president that seeks to remedy wage disparities between the sexes.
Political opponents accuse Obama of raising the issue to gain support among women voters in congressional elections this year.
Republican Senator John Thune said the law Obama is pushing would not help women in the workplace.
“This election year ploy would actually hurt women by increasing federal regulations that would cut flexibility in the workforce for working moms and end merit pay to reward quality work," said Thune.
Obama's efforts have included his push for a minimum wage increase, a move that opponents argue would harm women by killing jobs that are predominantly held by females.