Category: Pay Equity

Baker signs gender pay gap bill

Just after 4 p.m. Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker put pen to paper and enshrined in law the notion that men and women performing the same work should be paid equally.

After faltering on Beacon Hill in previous sessions, gender pay equity got a vigorous push this session from lawmakers, business organizations and advocates. Baker identified it as one of six major bills he hoped the Legislature would pass so he could sign it.

“Our daughters and granddaughters, and our sons and grandsons, will face a fairer work environment than we have,” Sen. Patricia Jehlen, who sponsored the bill with Reps. Ellen Story and Jay Livingstone, said. “This will help reduce income inequality. Fewer women will raise their children in poverty and those children will have a better chance to succeed in life and succeed in school.”

She added, “Today in Massachusetts we say, equal pay for equal work is not just a slogan, it’s the law.”

Baker signed the bill with Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, cabinet secretaries Marylou Sudders and Kristen Lepore, Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, Auditor Suzanne Bump, former Lt. Gov. Evelyn Murphy, about two dozen lawmakers, Senate President Stan Rosenberg, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo by his side.

“This is a Commonwealth of Mass. that in 1954 passed the first legislation around gender discrimination and I think it’s incredibly apt that we would be one of the first states in the country here today to pass legislation to ensure that people are paid what they are worth, based only on what they are worth,” Baker said.

The bill (S 2119) prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in the payment of wages for comparable work “unless the variation is based upon a mitigating factor” including seniority, education, training, experience, or a bona fide merit system like one that measures earnings by sales.

The compromise contains a Senate-backed provision that forbids businesses from requiring a job applicant disclose their previous salary history, though the employer may inquire about previous salaries after making a job and compensation offer to the prospective employee.

It also encourages businesses to evaluate their own pay practices and would allow self-evaluations to be used as an affirmative defense in a pay discrimination claim, if they were conducted within the previous three years and the employer could demonstrate “reasonable progress” toward closing pay differentials. The evaluation and any steps taken to close a gap could not be used as evidence of a violation of pay equity.

“It makes our families stronger, our state stronger and our economies thrive,” Goldberg said. “Wage equality is not just a women’s issue, it is a family issue. It is good for the economic security for each and every family in Massachusetts and the economic stability of the commonwealth.”

DeLeo said the pay equity bill “gets to the heart of who we are as Americans.”

Rosenberg counted it alongside an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit as part of a Senate platform to help low- and middle-class families. He made a not-so-subtle pitch for the third piece of that platform: a paid family and medical leave bill the Senate passed on Saturday, on the eve of the end of formal sessions for the year.

Story, an Amherst Democrat who is retiring after more than 24 years in the House, said she first filed a gender pay equity bill in 1995.

“This is a good day,” she said. “Better late than never.”

The legislation most closely resembles the version approved unanimously by the House, which business organizations like Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the Alliance for Business Leadership and the Massachusetts Business Roundtable had supported.

The bill cleared the Legislature with unanimous support, the House enacted the bill 151-0 and the Senate did so 40-0.

A study from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported earlier this year that the state’s earnings ratio placed Massachusetts in 18th place nationally for pay equity and, without changes, the state’s wage gap was expected to persist until 2058.

Rep. Patricia Haddad, whom DeLeo credited with pushing the bill over the finish line this session, charged everyone present for the bill signing to make equal pay for equal work a central tenant of what they teach their children.

“To change the culture, we have to bring up our sons to remind them that there is no difference, that they should revere and push forward their sisters, their wives, of course their mothers, and be the culture change,” she said. “We’ve committed to it, now you have to go out and raise your sons and daughters to know that there is no difference, that equal means equal.”

Massachusetts House passes pay equity bill

The Massachusetts House on Thursday passed a bill aimed at ensuring that women are paid equally for equal work.

“Some of us have been working on this bill since 1998,” said state Rep. Ellen Story, D-Amherst. “This is a happy day that we are passing it.”

The bill passed by a unanimous vote of 158-0, amid cheers in the House chamber.

Massachusetts was the first state to pass a law requiring men and women be paid the same amount for comparable work, in 1945. The bill that was passed Thursday, H.4509, updates and clarifies the law. The bill received support from both business groups and women’s rights groups, after earlier drafts underwent significant revisions to ensure that the bill advances the cause of equal pay without unduly hurting businesses.

Several lawmakers noted the long journey for women to gain equality in the workplace. “When I vote today, I have the great sense I’ll be standing on the shoulders of and giving thanks to the many feminists who have toiled for decades to bring us to where we are today,” said state Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown.

The bill clarifies and updates the definition of “comparable work,” and defines what factors can be used to determine salaries. The bill would make it illegal for employers to prevent employees from discussing their salaries. The bill also prohibits employers from asking job applicants about their salary history during an interview. The bill protects employers from equal pay lawsuits for three years if they complete self-evaluations and take steps to move toward pay equity.

The House version has the backing of business groups, as well as women’s rights advocates.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, called it a matter of “basic fairness” that if a man and a woman are doing the same job, they get paid the same amount. “In this day and age … for us to still be talking about this is wrong,” DeLeo said. “And this gives us the opportunity to rectify it.”

DeLeo said he hopes if enough states pass equal pay laws, eventually the law can be strengthened at a federal level.

State Rep. Jay Livingstone, D-Boston, an employment lawyer, said, “It is humbling that we can sit in the chamber and play a role in chipping away at the inequities of our society, as we’re doing today.”

Livingstone called it a “waste in the economy” when half of the workforce feels undervalued.

According to a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women working full time in Massachusetts earn 81 cents for every dollar men earn.

The Senate passed its own version of the bill in January. It will now go to a committee of House-Senate negotiators, who must negotiate a final version of the bill and pass it before the session ends July 31.

Attorney General Maura Healey issued a statement after the bill’s passage saying the bill “makes much-needed updates to the law to reflect our modern economy and carefully balances the needs of workers and the business community.”

Massachusetts Senate OKs bill that would ensure equal pay

Associated Press
By Steve LeBlanc

BOSTON (AP) — The Massachusetts Senate unanimously approved a bill Thursday that would ensure men and women earn equal pay for comparable work.

The legislation would prohibit employers from discriminating based on gender when it comes to wages and other compensation. The bill defines comparable work as jobs requiring similar skills, effort and level of responsibility.

The bill would allow variations in pay if the difference is based on a true merit system that measures earnings based on production or sales, on geographic location or education, or on training or experience related to the job.

Employers also would no longer be able to ban employees from discussing or disclosing information about their wages or other employees’ wages.

Companies that violate the proposed law could be fined up to $1,000, and employees who believe they’re discriminated against could go to court to recover unpaid wages.

Supporters point to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics which they say show a woman working full time in Massachusetts earns 82 cents for every dollar a man earns.

‘‘Women working hard to support their families deserve fair pay, and this bill is an important step to close this unacceptable gap,’’ said state Sen. Karen Spilka, Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and a sponsor of the bill.

Critics say lawmakers are well-meaning, but misguided.

Massachusetts High Technology Council spokesman Mark Gallagher had urged the Senate to reject the bill.

‘‘The legislation is a classic example of a well-intended proposal that is highly likely to result in unintended consequences,’’ Gallagher said in a written statement.

He said the bill would make it difficult and risky for employers to reward any worker — female or male — through commissions and other merit-based or performance-based compensation systems. He cited what he said was the high burden of proof employers would have to meet to justify higher pay for some workers.

The law could end up discouraging an employer from paying more to a woman employee who is performing at a higher level than a male counterpart, he added.

Top statewide Democratic officials, including Attorney General Maura Healey and state Treasurer Deb Goldberg, support the bill.

Asked about the bill earlier this week, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said it’s already illegal under state law to discriminate on pay based on gender.

‘‘I certainly believe that anything we can do to make sure that Massachusetts continues to be a place where no matter who you are you believe you’re getting a fair shot with respect to employment is a good thing,’’ he said. ‘‘But the devil often times is in the details with this stuff.’’

The bill now heads to the House.

Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he’s always favored equal pay for equal work, but still needs to look at all the provisions of the bill.

Legislators organize blitz of equal pay legislation in nearly half the states

By Lydia DePillis

Sometimes, state-based legislative change seems to be an incremental thing, with bills trickling through state houses across the country so slowly that a casual observer wouldn’t notice — which is often what backers of such campaigns would prefer.

And then there’s the supernova approach. That’s what a coalition of progressive and women’s empowerment groups are trying this week around the issue of equal pay, advancing bills in nearly half the states at once — from Alaska to Kansas — in a bid to elevate solutions to America’s nagging gender pay disparity at a time when little seems likely to happen in Congress.

“We decided that because legislators have been asking for it, let’s try to make a coordinated effort around this to try to nationalize the issue,” said Nick Rathod, director of the State Innovation Exchange, a three-year-old network of progressive state legislators.

On the menu of policy ideas that a state legislature might decide to take on, equal pay is relatively low-hanging fruit. It polls well — most people say they want everybody to receive the same compensation for similar work — and there are several options for how to address it, from simply increasing penalties for violations of existing laws to requiring minimum salaries on job postings, so that women and people of color can’t be lowballed.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a slam dunk. The biggest challenge, lawmakers say, is getting their colleagues to agree that the gender pay gap is still a problem, more than 50 years after Congress passed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which banned discrimination on the basis of sex. Despite that and many similar state laws, women often aren’t even aware they’re being paid less than men for similar work, much less willing to go through the hassle of a lawsuit— as many people realized when the Sony e-mail hack revealed that actress Jennifer Lawrence was paid much less than her male co-stars.

“Part of the issue with current equal pay law is that it was enough to get the brashest discrimination addressed, but it’s not enough of a deterrent to get companies to get their house in order to begin with,” says Lisa Maatz, vice president of government relations at the American Association of University Women, which has made equal pay laws its number one priority. “Right now it’s cheaper to take the lawsuits.”

That’s why several states have been moving further in recent years. The effort started with Minnesota, which passed a law in 2014 requiring state contractors to ensure that their employees receive equal pay not just for holding the exact same job, but also jobs of “comparable worth,” such as janitors and housekeepers, or parole officers and child protective services workers. Last year, California followed up with a law extending that requirement to all private sector employers.

Out of the 24 or so bills that are being introduced across the country this week, some have been tried in previous sessions, and others are breaking new ground. They also offer a range of tools, ranging from conservative — simply boosting protections for people who discuss salaries at the workplace — to more aggressive. A bill in Massachusetts, for example, would prohibit recruiters from asking prospective hires their salary histories, so that being underpaid early in one’s career doesn’t permanently impair one’s earnings potential.

At the same time, that measure also grants companies an affirmative defense in court if they have already implemented a credible policy aimed at eradicating gender-based pay disparities. “Often, when these bills are proposed, there’s an accusation that it’s just to generate litigation,” says the Massachusetts bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jay Livingstone, a Democrat. “If a company undertakes a real review, and fixes the problem, there won’t be anything to sue over.”

Perhaps for that reason, the Boston Chamber of Commerce came out in strong support of the bill, calling it a “thoughtful collaboration” between lawmakers, business leaders, and the attorney general’s office. “Wage inequality not only affects businesses, it also has a negative impact on families and the overall Massachusetts economy,” said Chamber president James Rooney, in a statement issued Wednesday.

Business support isn’t always so vocal. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act — which passed in 2009 — as well as the Paycheck Fairness Act, a more comprehensive measure that hasn’t yet passed. But conservatives and business interests don’t have to be opposed, either. The American Legislative Exchange Council, the State Innovation Exchange’s much older counterpart on the right, says it doesn’t have a set policy on equal pay laws like it does on things like environmental regulations and the minimum wage.

That’s why Oklahoma Rep. Jason Dunnington (D) thinks his bill has a chance, even in a state that’s as red as can be — with a legislature that’s as male dominated as any. In trying to build support among his male colleagues, he says he tries to make a personal appeal.

“Each of them has a mother or a daughter or an aunt or a grandmother or a niece,” Cunnington says. “Do those women in their life not deserve the opportunity for wage equality? That kind of hits them where it matters.”

Bills are also being offered in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Washington, Vermont, Virginia, Utah, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Nebraska, Missouri, Maryland, Louisiana, Kansas, iowa, Hawaii, Colorado, Arizona, and Alaska.

Now, there’s not much academic research on the impact of equal pay laws. Other research suggests that the gender pay gap has narrowed over the years for other reasons, including rising female education rates and greater female workforce participation. And some scholars have suggested that what’s really necessary to close the rest of the gap is changes in the structure of jobs to make taking time off to have kids — the last remaining insurmountable gender difference — less of a disadvantage.

But the AAUW, and other groups coordinating this week’s blitz of legislation, think government tools are still necessary to raise women’s pay to what it should be — even more so than priorities like paid parental leave, which many are also pursuing.

“When you have that kind of equality and economic stability, so many other doors open up, in terms of consumer clout, even political clout,” Maatz says. “When you can really get to that equal pay element, you really start to level the field.”

Boston chamber throws its support behind pay equity bill

By Sacha Pfeiffer and Jon Chesto
The day before a bill aimed at closing the gender wage gap in Massachusetts is expected to go before the state Senate for a vote, one of the state’s biggest business groups has come out in favor of the legislation.

In a statement on Wednesday, Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce president and CEO James E. Rooney noted that half the city’s workforce is female and said that “wage inequality not only affects businesses, it also has a negative impact on families and the overall Massachusetts economy.”

The bill would prohibit employers from seeking a job candidate’s salary history, since asking a woman to disclose her earnings, which are historically lower than men’s, could put her at a competitive disadvantage.

It would also require companies to allow employees to openly discuss their salaries.

Rooney said the chamber is “proud to be a vocal supporter” of the legislation.

But another major business group in the state, the 4,500-member Associated Industries of Massachusetts, sounded a cautionary note in a dueling statement Wednesday. In its statement, the group noted that while it supports existing statutes outlawing discriminatory pay, some employers consider the bill “counterproductive.”

“The legislation encourages unbridled litigation rather than addressing the many complex issues surrounding pay and equity in the workplace,” said the statement, which the group said it plans to send to the Senate.

It’s unusual for the Chamber of Commerce and AIM, two of the state’s most powerful business groups, to take dramatically different positions on a piece of legislation.

In fact, representatives from the Chamber, AIM, the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, and the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation typically meet once a month to discuss policy issues. Often, they have a goal of presenting a united front to state lawmakers, representing the region’s business community. That’s not going to happen, at least not anymore, with the equal-pay bill.

The final version of the bill addressed previous concerns chamber officials had. Rooney said the current bill “supports both employees and employers by bringing greater guidance to differences in pay while preventing baseless lawsuits and burdensome regulations.”

If the Senate approves the bill, it would then be sent to the House. Speaker Robert DeLeo said on Monday that he supports the end goal behind the equal-pay legislation but needs to learn more about the specific proposal before deciding whether to back it.