Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Equal Pay in MA: House Unanimously Passes Pay Equity Legislation

On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed An Act to Establish Pay Equity 158-0. This bill is just the most recent effort to establish pay equity in Massachusetts. Senator Patricia Jehlen and Representative Ellen Story, two of the bill’s sponsors, have been working on similar legislation since 1998. With the help of Senator Karen Spilka and Representative Jay Livingstone, they worked on a more comprehensive bill.
Included in this legislation is a clear definition of comparable work, “work that is substantially similar in that it requires substantially similar skill, effort and responsibility and is performed under similar working conditions.” Focusing on “comparable” rather than “equal” work is key, as occupational segregation is responsible for 27% of the gender wage gap. This means that much of the pay gap is attributed to lower pay for jobs that are traditionally “female” or female-dominated, rather than pay disparities within specific occupations.
The current bill also prevents hiring managers from requiring applicants to disclose their past salary history or asking their former employers for that information, as this disclosure can often reinforce the cycle of discrimination. However, it does allow employees to discuss their salaries with each other.
Furthermore, the bill gives companies more leeway to defend against discrimination claims if they can prove that they have tried to fix pay inequities; in doing so, it gives them incentive to conduct self-evaluations to show their “good faith,” and makes it more appealing to businesses who feared they would be “vulnerable to wage discrimination lawsuits.”
Although the fight to end wage disparities based on gender has been strong since the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963, a 2014 study from the National Women’s Law Center revealed that women in Massachusetts make just 82 cents compared to every dollar earned by men. This discrepancy increases among women of color: black women make 61 cents on the dollar, while Latinas make just 50 cents. Not only does the gender pay gap hurt women who are deprived of their hard earned dollars, but it also hurts families. Nationally, 40% of women are the breadwinners or sole earners of their households. Lower wages throughout life means that women contribute less to retirement plans, receive lower pensions and lower Social Security benefits.
The Senate unanimously passed their version of the bill in January; as both chambers of legislature have now voted, a conference committee negotiate the differences before the final bill heads to Governor Charlie Baker. With the passage of this bill, Massachusetts is one step closer to closing the wage gap. Here’s to achieving economic parity for all women!
- Abigail and Sarah, MWPC Interns