OLYMPIA—The Equal Pay Opportunity Act was the last bill considered on the House floor this evening. It passed on a 61-36 vote and is on its way to the Senate. This is the third year in a row that the House sends a version of this legislation to the other chamber.
“Washington passed equal pay protections ten years before the federal government did,” said Rep. Tana Senn (D-Mercer Island), the bill’s sponsor and longtime equal pay advocate. “Unfortunately, without any updates since then, we have fallen behind.”
The Equal Pay Opportunity Act, aimed at helping close the gender pay gap, addresses income disparities, employer discrimination and retaliation practices, and reaffirms Washington’s longstanding pursuit of equality in the workplace.
Rep. Senn’s legislation prohibits pay secrecy policies, allows discussion of wages, bans retaliation against workers that ask for equal pay, and offers administrative options as well as damages if private action is pursued.
“My granddaughter is one year older than she was the last time we voted on equal pay in this chamber,” said Rep. Mike Sells, Chair of the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee. “I said it was outrageous then that I couldn’t look at her in the eye and assure her that hard work will result in fair compensation. That we have been unable to right that wrong continues my sense of outrage. We can do better, and this bill does it.”
The gender pay gap affects women from the day they begin working until they reach old age. In Washington, over the course of 40 years of work, the average woman will make $497,280 less than her male counterpart. Due to this disparity, women can save less toward retirement, which means more women end up living in poverty in their senior years.
Women are almost half of the workforce. They are the sole or co-breadwinner in 40 percent of American families with children, yet, on average, dollar for dollar, women are earning twenty percent less than men. African American and Latina women fare worse, making $.61 and $.46 respectively, for every dollar paid to white men.
While women are taking home smaller paychecks to provide for their families, many don’t know it because, currently, many businesses actively discourage or even ban employees from discussing earnings with co-workers. Lacking the freedom to talk about their own pay makes it impossible for women to know if they are being underpaid. By allowing workers to discuss their wages, the Equal Pay Opportunity Act will help all employees to better understand their positions and determine if their pay is fair.
“This bill has moved forward in baby steps, getting farther through the process each year. There’s been progress, but now it’s time to take a ‘mama step’ and get this to the Governor’s desk,” said Senn.
If passed by the Senate, Rep. Senn’s bill will update the existing Washington State Equal Pay Act, bringing our state in line with more than 30 other states, such as California, Idaho, Massachusetts and Tennessee, offering greater protections for women.
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