State and Local Action in 2018 Shows the Path toward Pay EquityNovember 13, 2018
Cities, states, and employers are increasingly realizing the value of equal pay: It strengthens families and communities, leads to economic growth, and fosters global competitiveness. But above all, pay equity is a matter of fairness. With broad public support across the country, voters and elected officials alike took action in 2018 to close the gender pay gap. Forty states and Washington, D.C. considered legislation on the issue, and numerous states and cities enacted policies, making it clear that they won’t wait any longer for change.
Six States Passed Pay Equity Legislation
During the 2018 legislative session, six states enacted new laws designed to close the gender pay gap. AAUW members were fundamental to each of these successes, advocating throughout the legislative process to get these bills across the finish line. California, Connecticut, Hawaii, and Vermont passed bills primarily focused on banning the use of salary history in the hiring process. Relying on prior salary to set future pay can carry forward prior discrimination in earlier salary setting because it assumes past compensation decisions were made fairly and without bias. Unfortunately, that’s not always true. Eliminating this practice can go a long way toward eliminating one source of the gender pay gap.
The laws passed in Washington and New Jersey take a comprehensive approach to closing the gender pay gap. The Washington Equal Pay Opportunity Act updates existing state law by ensuring that workers can discuss their salaries without the fear of retaliation and protects their ability to take legal action to secure equal pay. The law also closes loopholes and requires robust remedies for workers who have experienced pay discrimination. Finally, the law seeks to prevent discrimination in providing career advancement opportunities based on gender.
Similarly, the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act adds several provisions to New Jersey’s state code. Like Washington, New Jersey now prohibits discrimination against workers who discuss their wages and clarifies the reasons employers can use to justify a pay difference. Additionally, the new law establishes some of the strongest remedies in the country, seeking to ensure that employees who have been wronged recover their lost wages and that employers who have violated the law are deterred from doing so again. Finally, the new law requires that employers with a contract with the state government report compensation data in an effort to proactively identify gender and race pay gaps.
One State Awaits Further Action
For the second year in a row, outgoing Gov. Bruce Rauner (R-IL) vetoed an equal pay bill in Illinois, which AAUW member Rep. Anna Moeller (D) sponsored. AAUW of Illinois and coalition partners are actively lobbying their legislators to override the governor’s veto during the special session in late November.
States and Localities Took Creative Avenues to Pass New Policies
Passing statewide legislation is not the only avenue to change — elected officials at multiple levels of government took different approaches to bringing about pay equity this year. Governors in New Jersey and Pennsylvania penned executive orders prohibiting state agencies from using salary history during the hiring process. The Pennsylvania executive order also requires that job postings for state agencies include a salary range. Additionally, cities are increasingly passing ordinances regulating the use of salary history, including Salt Lake City, Kansas City, and Louisville.
Policy Change Is Just One Piece of the Puzzle
While policy change is an essential part of closing the gender pay gap, there is other work to be done to transform the political and cultural landscape. AAUW members in Alabama and Mississippi — the only states without any pay equity laws on the books — laid the ground work during the 2018 legislative sessions to pass good bills in the years to come. Members engaged in public awareness campaigns, held press conferences, assisted in the introduction of good legislation and defeated misguided bills, and worked to grow coalitions beyond traditional partners.
On the other side of the country, AAUW of Oregon members are helping employers and employees understand the ramifications of the pay equity law their state passed in 2017; successful implementation is just as important as passage of a good law. And across the entire nation, AAUW is empowering individual women to successfully negotiate their salary and benefits through the Work Smart program with in-person trainings and a free online course. While you can’t negotiate around discrimination, you can improve your financial future by learning these valuable skills.
Are you interested in working to close the gender pay gap in your state or city? Check out AAUW’s state-specific policy guide roadmaps, read our latest research, explore AAUW’s advocacy tools, and learn to negotiate your own salary through our online tutorial. And if you are not already a member of AAUW’s Action Network, sign up here to reach your elected officials. Urge your friends and family to sign up, too! Together we can bring about change and close the gender pay gap once and for all.
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