The House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee passed three bills Monday that could help close the gender wage gap and make a big difference in the pockets of many working families.
The Equal Pay Opportunity Act, sponsored by Rep. Tana Senn (D-Mercer Island), would update — for the first time since its passage in 1943 — the Washington State Equal Pay Act by prohibiting pay secrecy policies, allowing discussion of wages, banning retaliation against workers that ask for equal pay, and offering administrative options as well as damages if private action is pursued.
“About two-thirds of families rely on women’s incomes to be economically stable,” said Senn, who sponsored a similar bill over the last biennium that passed the House twice but was killed in the Senate. “In addition to providing long-term economic security for women and families, it would strengthen the economy by adding billions of dollars into the economy.”
The Salary History Legislation, sponsored by Rep. Laurie Dolan (D-Olympia), would prohibit employers from asking applicants, during the initial interview, what their wages were in previous jobs. Employers could get that information once they offer the job and the salary that goes with it. The bill would also require employers to provide wage scales and salary ranges to employees, as well as to applicants upon request, and it makes administrative remedies and private cause of action available.
“Back in 1972, the Mary Tyler Moore show tackled the wage gap issue. Here we are 45 years later still fighting because women are making 79 cents for every dollar that a man earns. We have to end this inequity,” said Dolan. “When I have hired people, knowing the applicant’s past wages didn’t make finding a good fit any easier or better. The questions to ask that do make a difference are about the applicant’s experience, skills, and education. Asking about salary history low balls wages for women. They should be paid what the job pays, not what they will take.”
The Fair Chance Act, sponsored by Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self (D-Mukilteo), would help level the playing field during the application process for job seekers with arrest or conviction records. If and when the employer determines that the applicant is qualified for the position, then they can inquire about his or her criminal background. The measure exempts employers hiring a person who will have unsupervised access to children or vulnerable people, employers required under federal law to obtain criminal background information, and employers that are law enforcement or criminal justice agencies.
“This bill gives applicants an opportunity to tell their stories once employers decide that they have the necessary skills for the jobs. When employers can focus on the worth the applicants can bring to the table, and then hear the circumstances that led to the arrests or convictions, they are more likely to give them a fair chance to compete,” said Ortiz-Self. “It’s also good for the economy because it saves taxpayer dollars by keeping people out of prison, and empowers families to fend for themselves instead of relying on government programs.”
The three bills now head to the House Rules Committee for consideration.