States Notch Multiple Equal Pay Victories in 2017
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Voters are fed up with the persistent gender pay gap, and many state legislators are listening. In 2015 and 2016 dozens of legislatures proposed and enacted bills and laws addressing pay inequality. In 2017 a whopping 42 states, plus Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., offered legislative solutions to the gender pay gap. While not all of these bills passed, this growing activity shows that red, blue, and purple states realize that the pay gap is real and that something needs to be done about it.
Five States and Puerto Rico Passed Equal Pay Laws
In 2017, California, Colorado, Delaware, Nevada, Oregon, and Puerto Rico enacted legislation designed to close the gender pay gap through various strategies.
California, Delaware, Oregon, and Puerto Rico passed bills to prohibit employers from using a job applicant’s salary history during the hiring process. Dozens of other states introduced (though did not pass) similar legislation, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) issued a statewide executive order addressing the issue for state government employees in New York.
Employers asking applicants about past wages can have major repercussions on future pay: Relying on salary history to set future salary assumes that prior pay was fairly established in the first place. But for a worker who was underpaid (and thus lost wages) at her last job, using that salary to determine her next paycheck only sustains that pay gap. Questions about salary history can therefore inadvertently introduce bias and discrimination into the recruitment process of a company earnestly trying to avoid it. The work of states to curtail this practice will go a long way in our fight for pay equity.
Another way lawmakers can level the playing field is by ensuring that employees have access to information to identify if they are being paid unfairly. Many states already protect workers who inquire about or share their salary information, but this year Colorado, Nevada, and Puerto Rico enacted or expanded those protections.
Three states passed laws designed to stop pay discrimination before it starts and encourage good employer practices. The Oregon law clarifies what reasons employers may use for paying workers differently and allows employers who are undertaking a valid equal pay assessment to avoid paying damages in a wage discrimination case. Nevada enacted an employer certification program that incentivizes businesses to examine and, if necessary, correct their pay practices. Finally, Delaware created the Office of Women’s Advancement and Advocacy to work on issues of pay inequality.
Four States Halted Progress
Despite some exciting wins, the governors of four states vetoed bills that their legislatures had approved, halting equal pay progress.
Update, November 13, 2017: Although the Illinois House of Representatives voted to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s (R-IL) veto of a bill designed to help close the gender pay gap, the state senate failed to secure enough votes to override. The governor’s veto stands.
Gov. Bruce Rauner (R-IL) vetoed an equal pay bill in Illinois, which was sponsored by AAUW member Rep. Anna Moeller (D). AAUW of Illinois and coalition partners are engaging in a campaign to encourage their legislators to override the governor’s veto during the special session in late October.
Govs. Paul LePage (R-ME) and Chris Christie (R-NJ) also vetoed equal pay bills in Maine and New Jersey, respectively. This marks the second year in a row that Christie took a red pen to an equal pay bill that elected officials deemed necessary. And in Nevada, Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) vetoed a popular bill that was the most comprehensive equal pay legislation proposed during the 2017 Nevada session.
While we would have loved to celebrate victories in every state, we’re heartened to see that equal pay is clearly on the minds of elected officials and their constituents. We anticipate passing exciting legislative solutions to the gender pay gap in the years ahead, led by the hard work of AAUW advocates across the country.
Cities Take Matters into Their Own Hands
States aren’t the only ones getting in on the action! Several cities also passed ordinances or issued executive orders in 2017. Salary history bans were the hot legislative topic, with New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco enacting ordinances and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (D) issuing an executive order for city agencies on the subject. San Diego also passed an equal pay ordinance requiring contractors in the city to certify that they pay their employees equally regardless of gender or ethnicity.
Until a federal law like the Paycheck Fairness Act is passed, each state will continue operating under antiquated regulations and piecemeal laws to combat unequal pay.
Back up your advocacy with the latest research by reading about how the gender pay gap affects different people in different ways.
The exclusive AAUW in the Statehouse provides updates on state policy from across the country, tips and resources for more effective advocacy, and insider information about good and bad bills in the states.