Do My State Officials Care about My Equal Pay?

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY). Image via Marc Herman, Flickr Commons.

April 08, 2016

Every year governors across the country offer up their assessments of the state of their respective states. While each one undoubtedly claims, “The state of our state is strong,” it is unfortunately less common for governors to examine the issues that AAUW members prioritize. In 2016, of the 42 governors who gave speeches or wrote addresses, only two governors discussed equal pay: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who recently signed the AAUW-backed Women’s Equality Act, and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards. AAUW members and staff thank you for including this vital issue in your assessments of the health and progress of your states.

Unsurprisingly, many of the gubernatorial addresses focused on the economy. But what could be more crucial to a working, thriving state economy than providing fair and equitable pay to its citizens? Education was also a hot topic, which we applaud the governors for tackling. But very few governors —only 14 in addition to Cuomo and Edwards — commented on other issues that are priorities to AAUW members. This November, governors in 12 states will be up for reelection. If you live in Delaware, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington, or West Virginia, make sure to demand that the candidates talk about policies that are important to you. Then talk to your elected representatives about the changes you would like to see. Demand equal pay for all citizens!

Even though the majority of governors largely ignored equal pay, state legislators are paying more attention to the demands of their constituents. State houses are seeing a deluge of equal pay legislation in 2016, with bills introduced or pending in 34 states thus far. While some of those bills — in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming — have already failed due to roadblocks or short legislative sessions, several are moving forward. Nebraska and Utah have already amended their laws to protect more people from pay inequality, and the Maryland and New Jersey legislatures each passed bills that are awaiting gubernatorial signatures. As of early April, bills in Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Oklahoma had passed at least one House. Other states that we are monitoring include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Vermont.

Governor John Bel Edwards (D-LA) on far left.

Governor John Bel Edwards (D-LA) on far left. Image via Facebook.

These bills present a range of approaches to close the gender pay gap. Actions include

  • Banning employers from keeping their workers from discussing wages
  • Prohibiting queries about prior salary history during hiring
  • Requiring contractors to certify that they comply with state and federal equal pay regulations
  • Clearly delineating the reasons an employer may use for paying unequal salaries
  • Prohibiting discrimination against employees who exercise their rights related to equal pay laws, including protecting those who bring legal action
  • Increasing damages that workers may recuperate for being wronged and allow for recovery of costs and attorney’s fees.

Legislators are using tactics that research suggests work to narrow the pay gap, but lawmakers are also introducing new and creative approaches to tackle this pervasive problem.

The 2016 legislative session is poised to continue the progress seen across the states in 2015. Last year, seven states — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, New York, North Dakota, and Oregon — passed equal pay legislation. The bill passed in California, which went into effect on January 1, created the strongest equal pay protections in the country. Not to be outdone, Massachusetts is gearing up to fight for their own equal pay bill, which would arguably be even stronger than the new California law. Boston is already leading the way on the fight for equal pay, but passage of this bill would mark another historic step in the battle.

gender pay gap by state map

Gender pay gap by state

Curious about the state of equal pay in your area? Check out where your state ranks nationally, and learn about the existing state laws. Take the extra step and speak to your elected representatives about the changes you would like to see. Tell them that the residents of your state deserve equal pay!


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Kate Nielson By:   |   April 08, 2016

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