State legislators are leading the charge for pay equity, particularly for women in the workforce, with a debate on a bill aimed at closing the wage gap tentatively scheduled for later this week in the Senate.
According to stats provided by Nai Collymore-Henry, policy and operations manager at Mass Now (Massachusetts Chapter of the National Organization for Women), the average woman makes 82 cents for each dollar a man makes. However, she said that average typically applies to white women. For black women, that number drops to 66 cents for each dollar and Latina women typically make 54 cents for each dollar.
Collymore-Henry also said the pay gap doesn’t exclusively affect women, as the stats typically apply to white men. Black men make 78 cents for every dollar earned by white men and latino men make 72 cents for each dollar.
According to Collymore-Henry, the Equal Pay Coalition, an organization founded by Mass Now, the Women’s Bar Association and the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, worked with state lawmakers to help draft the pay equity bill.
Rep. Lori Ehrlich, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the bill provides a definition of comparable work. She said it encourages employers to conduct internal reviews of their payroll to ensure compensation is within industry standards.
Ehrlich said the bill also prevents employers from asking people about their previous salary history in the interview process and encourages salary offers to be based on what the applicant is worth.
In addition, Ehrlich said the bill protects employees from being fired for disclosing compensation to their co-workers, adding transparency to the pay structure in the company. She said historically, employers have not wanted people to share that information with each other.
Ehrlich said women in Massachusetts make up almost half of the workforce, but earn approximately 81 percent of what men earn.
Stats from the Equal Pay Coalition show that figure is 80.8 percent and lead to women in the state losing a combined total of over $12 billion annually due to the wage gap.
Ehrlich said 40 percent of households include a mother as the breadwinner.
“It makes it hard not only for these women to get ahead, but support their families,” Ehrlich said.
Ehrlich said the bill is “just a matter of simple equity and fairness” and “its time has come.” She added that since women live longer than men, lower wages over the course of their lifetime makes it even harder for them to be self-sufficient through retirement.”
One Swampscott business owner is in favor of women being paid equally, but is not in favor of the bill. She wants legislators to back off and allow companies to make their own decisions regarding pay equity.
“As a business owner, these things are always great in theory,” said Erin Calvo-Bacci, owner of Bacci Chocolate Design and its online retail division CB Stuffer. “I’m tired of legislators telling businesses what they should be doing.”
She said companies have to be the ones to take on the changes themselves. “Let the companies make these decisions themselves,” Calvo-Bacci said. “They don’t need government interference.”
Rep. RoseLee Vincent, another co-sponsor of the bill, said it will effectively give equal pay for comparable work.
“It’s a bill that is a long time coming,” Vincent said.
Vincent said the bill would encourage pay transparency by permitting employees to talk about salary with other employees. She said it would also promote fairness by requiring employers to include what the minimum pay would be when advertising the job.
“It would prohibit them from paying less than what is advertised in their ad,” Vincent said.
Vincent said the bill is common sense as it promotes equal pay for equal work. She said it “should have been done a long time ago.”
Vincent said the bill is before the Senate now and if it gets through, it will come into the House. She said she is “hopefully optimistic” the bill will pass.
Gayla Cawley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.