This afternoon, the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee heard compelling testimony from advocates, workers and business owners in support of HB 1506, the Equal Pay Opportunity Act aimed at helping close the gender pay gap.
The measure, sponsored by Rep. Tana Senn, D-Mercer Island, addresses income disparities, employer discrimination and retaliation practices, and reaffirms Washington’s longstanding pursuit of equality in the workplace.
“My bill is about ensuring economic security for Washington families, at the same time as we strengthen the economy,” said Senn, who sponsored a similar bill during the last biennium.
Income disparities limit a woman’s ability to provide for her family, which leads to higher rates of poverty among women and children. It also leads to significantly greater poverty among elderly females.
Women decide on most everyday items, like groceries and clothing, but if they take home a smaller check, they have less spending power.
The National Women’s Law Center reports that, at $.79 for every dollar paid to men, Washington state ranked 25th in the 2015 Wage Gap State Rankings. The national average is $.80. African American and Latina women fare worse, making $.61 and $.46 respectively, for every dollar paid to white men.
In its “Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap” report, the American Association of University Women found that, while the wage gap has narrowed over the past five decades due largely to women’s progress in education and workforce participation, it is still sizeable. Progress has stalled since the turn of the century and if change continues at such a slow rate, women will not reach pay equity with men until 2152.
The legislation Rep. Senn is proposing would update the existing Washington State Equal Pay Act not updated since its passage in 1943. It would prohibit pay secrecy policies, allow discussion of wages and prohibit retaliation for asking for equal pay.
While salary information is usually openly available in public sector jobs, one third of private firms actively discourages or bans employees from discussing their pay with co-workers, making it impossible for them to know if they are being underpaid. This legislation will allow workers to discuss their pay, which will help all employees to better understand their positions and determine if their pay is fair.
“We must give women the information they need to determine if they are being paid less and ask for equal pay without fear of retaliation,” said Senn.
During WWII many women took on traditionally male jobs, so the Equal Pay Act was passed to prohibit employers to pay women less than men in similar work or in jobs formerly held by men. But to pursue a discrimination claim, a woman must sue her employer in court and can only recover lost wages. Senn’s measure offers administrative options as well as damages if private action is pursued.
For testimony and more information, watch the committee hearing on TVW here.