A Win in Salem | One step closer to equal pay

May 28, 2015

Equal-Pay-FB-Profile-no FFO logoToday the Oregon Senate voted 17 to 13 in a nearly party line vote (Democratic Sen. Betsy Johnson voted against) to pass HB 2007, a bill intended to help close the wage gap for women and people of color in our state. Sponsored by Senator Diane Rosenbaum and Representatives Carla Piluso, Barbara Smith Warner, and Jessica Vega Pederson, the bill will make it possible for working Oregonians to access more information about how their own pay compares to their coworkers by removing the potential for and fear of retaliation. The bill passed the House of Representatives with a party line vote on March 3rd (34 Democrats for, 24 Republican against, and 2 excused). Ten other states have laws prohibiting pay secrecy.[1]

Family Forward Oregon sees HB 2007 as an important component of addressing pay inequality in Oregon:

“Equal pay for equal work is still a far off reality, which has dire consequences for women and the families who rely on them. We know that closing the wage gap in Oregon will take more than one policy change, but we are very pleased to see our lawmakers stepping up to take this important first step today,” said Family Forward’s Executive Director Andrea Paluso. “Without the ability to share pay information, women can’t even know when they’re being unfairly paid and by how much, let alone fix it. This is a sign that women’s economic security is a becoming a priority for our lawmakers.”

Work to close the wage gap in Oregon began in earnest with Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, who in 2011 directed the Oregon Council on Civil Rights, an advisory board appointed by the Commissioner, to create a formal set of policy recommendations to close the wage gap in Oregon. Two years later during the 2013 legislative session, the Legislative Assembly passed Senate Bill 744 to direct the Council to study wage inequality and the factors that contribute to it. In January 2014, the Council issued its formal recommendations to address pay inequality in Oregon.

House Bill 2007 was introduced to address one of the recommendations contained in the report and has been strongly supported by the Commissioner:

“Oregon’s pay gap doesn’t just hurt women and people of color, it hurts everyone,” said Brad Avakian, Oregon Labor Commissioner. “By creating greater pay transparency, we can protect employees from retaliation and take an important step in the fight for equal pay. That’s good for individual workers, but also communities around the state.”

A national study found that 61 percent of private-sector employees had been discouraged or prohibited from discussing wage and salary information.[2] When women and people of color do not know what their colleagues are earning, it is very difficult — sometimes impossible — for them to know if they are being paid equitably for equal work. In workplaces where wages are more transparent, the gender wage gap is much smaller.

Wage discrimination takes many forms, but can be seen across all industries, at all ages for working women. Accounting for all other variables, American women still make 78 cents for every dollar a man earns – a gap of 22%.[3] This is even more marked for women of color: African American women are paid 64 cents and Latinas are paid just 56 cents for every dollar a white man earns.[4]

Mothers, in particular, are affected by the wage gap. They are now the primary or sole breadwinners in nearly 40 percent of families nationwide.[5] And here in Oregon, there are 166,453 family households headed by women.[6] An incredible 34 percent of those families — that’s 56,428 family households — are living on incomes below the federal poverty line.[7] When women and mothers aren’t earning equal pay for equal work, Oregon families suffer. Women in the workforce are essential to our economy and their wages often make the difference between a family that’s just scraping by or one that’s getting ahead.

“Closing the wage gap is a priority for me. Pay inequity is clearly unfair and has significant impacts on women’s short and long-term economic security. When women earn less than men, their families also suffer the consequences, as do our communities when families are poorer and Oregonians have fewer dollars in their pockets,” said Representative Jessica Vega Pederson, a chief sponsor of the bill. “Making it easier for people to know if they’re being paid unequally, as HB 2007 does, is an important first step towards paying men, women, and people of color equally for equal work all across Oregon.”

[1] National Women’s Law Center (2015). California, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan. Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Vermont.

[2] Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Pay Secrecy and Paycheck Fairness: New Data Shows Pay Transparency Needed, (2010), available at: www.iwpr.org/press-room/press-releases/pay-secrecy-and-paycheckfairness-new-data-shows-pay-transparency-needed.

[3] National Women’s Law Center. Insecure and Unequal: Poverty Among Women & Families 2000-2013. Available from: http://www.nwlc.org/resource/insecure-unequal-poverty-and-income-among-women-and-families-2000-2013.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Wang, W., Parker, K., & Taylor, P. (2013, May 29). Breadwinner Moms.Pew Research Center Publication. Retrieved 22 March 2014, from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/05/29/breadwinner-moms/

[6] U.S. Census Bureau. (2013). American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates 2012, Geographies: All States within United States and Puerto Rico, Table DP02: Selected Social Characteristics in the United States. Retrieved 27 February 2014, from http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_12_1YR_DP02&prodType=table (Calculation uses family households headed by females living in a household with family and no husband. A family household includes a householder, one or more people living in the same house.)

[7] Ibid.