WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) today questioned the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over a policy, known as the “safety zone” policy, that allows employers to exchange detailed wage data without violating antitrust laws. The Senators warned that this policy has produced an imbalance in access to wage information that unfairly advantages employers over workers—and ultimately holds down workers’ wages.
In a letter sent today to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FTC Chair Joseph Simons, the Senators detailed their concerns.
“The ‘safety zone’ policy…was contingent on maintaining a balance that would prevent employers from using their informational leverage to hold pay below market levels,” the Senators wrote.
The policy was intended to strike a balance between enabling employers to adjust wages based on market conditions and risking collusion by the same employers to set wages. But the Senators urged the agencies to examine how the policy is operating in practice.
“We are concerned that the current ‘safety zone’ policy clearly advantages employers over workers, with significant negative impacts on wages and benefits. Because workers are kept in the dark about their compensation relative to others’ with similar experience and abilities, they are unable to negotiate effectively for the wages and benefits that are commensurate to their value to the firm.”
This imbalance means that “American workers receive wages and compensation well below the economic value they create,” the Senators added, and may be a key factor in stagnant wages for many workers.
More broadly, the Senators stressed, the “lack of pay transparency…is also a significant contributing factor in perpetuating gender and racial pay gaps, because it is harder for workers to find out that they are being underpaid in the first place.”
Booker and Warren asked the Justice Department and the FTC how they intended to address the growing risks associated with the sharing of wage data among employers, and whether or not the agencies had any plans to revisit or change the “safety zone” guidance.
Full text of the letter can be found here.
Booker has been a fierce advocate in the Senate for promoting workers and cracking down on corporate practices that keep wages down. In April, he introduced an ambitious bill that would create a pilot jobs guarantee program in 15 distressed communities across the country, to ensure that everyone who is able to work and wants to work, can. In March, he introduced the Worker Dividend Act, targeting the increasing trend of corporations using profits for stock buybacks instead of using them to raise wages for workers. And in February, he introduced a bill to crack down on collusive “no poaching” clauses that are often used by large franchisor to prohibit franchisees from hiring each other’s workers (End Employer Collusion Act).
Last year, Booker introduced a bill targeting companies that outsource much of their labor costs to contractors and temp workers rather than hiring direct employees. He also pressed antitrust regulators on corporate concentration and the increasing trend of “monopsony” power, which limits worker mobility and depresses wages.