Focus, Human Resources, and Law

New bills aim to close the gender-wage gap

April 24, 2015
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LANSING — Employers could be required to release gender-based wage information and the state could be required to report unequal wage data under a package of bills aiming to close the wage gap between men and women in Michigan.

The Progressive Women’s Caucus laid out a plan for a 12-bill package April 14 saying they aren’t content to wait for the gap to close in 2086 under current trends.

The Progressive Women’s Caucus is a group of 17 Democratic women legislators who work to make sure women’s rights and needs are not overlooked in the government.

The bills were laid out on Equal Pay Day, meant to recognize the wage disparity between men and women workers. April 14 was selected for Equal Pay Day because it signifies how far into 2015 women had to work to match the amount of money their male co-workers made in 2014.

“Equal pay is a very simple idea,” said Rep. Marcia Hovey-Wright, a Democrat from Muskegon. “It simply means that two people who have the same background, do the same job and produce the same results get the same pay. It is a matter of simple fairness, which is something we can all understand and agree with.”

Hovey-Wright said one of the most important bills would create transparency by requiring businesses to provide wage information for similarly situated employees if they request it. Employers currently do not have to disclose such information, Hovey-Wright said, and they can actually punish employees who try to find out what their co-workers are making.

Mary Pollock, legislative vice president for Michigan National Organization for Women, said a woman who spoke at the rally on Equal Pay Day at the Michigan Capitol Building last year didn’t learn how underpaid she was until her employer filed for bankruptcy.

“She had trained people, and then they went off to make more money than she was making,” Pollock said. “And she didn’t know that until all the salaries of people came out during the bankruptcy proceedings.”

Another bill in the package would amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act by creating a clause that requires an employer to provide equal compensation for work of comparable value based on sex, race, religion and other factors.

On average, women make 77 cents for each dollar a man makes across all jobs, according to a report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

However, according to a report by the National Partnership for Women and Families, the gap becomes even larger among minorities, with African-American women coming in at 66 cents and Hispanic women at 54 cents for each dollar a white man makes.

According to Hovey-Wright, even when allowances are made for women who make career choices that result in lower-paying jobs, there is still a 7 percent pay gap.

“I think we as women and mothers raising daughters have an obligation to raise our daughters to think more broadly about their careers,” Hovey-Wright said. “When I was in high school, I was good in science, and my counselor told me, ‘Oh, well, how about home economics?’”

According to Rep. Christine Greig, a Democrat from Farmington Hills, the wage disparity starts right out of college with men receiving, on average, 7 percent more than women who have the same background and careers. The disparity grows from there, according to a study done by the American Association of University Women.

“People have to be aware all the way down the scale that there are these wage inequities,” Greig said. “You need to stand up for yourself and ask your employers, ‘What’s the policy for pay equity and how is my performance based on compensation, and where do I stand with my co-workers?’”

Detroit Democratic Rep. Leslie Love said that paying women well is not just a matter of fairness or civil rights, but an economic issue for Michigan.

“With women increasingly sole or major contributors to a family’s income, it’s hard for people to see that what hurts women also hurts our state,” Love said. “When women are paid unfairly, their families have less to spend at local businesses, such as shops and restaurants. When families can’t support local businesses, those businesses can’t support local jobs. The wage gap hurts women, hurts families and hurts our entire state’s economy.”

Hovey-Wright said there are numerous organizations throughout the state that recognize the importance of closing the wage gap and that are committed to pushing for the passage of these bills.

The 12-bill package is working its way through the introduction process. One bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Government Operations.

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